Online Filtering: Help or Hindrance?

Filtering-URLOne of the ways schools attempt to protect students from the big, scary internet is through online filtering.  Proponents of filtering will say that this prevents students from accessing inappropriate sites and protects their privacy by keeping them from revealing too much identifying information on the internet.  But is this the whole story?

Not exactly.  Filters do block a lot of inappropriate sites, but, truthfully, they block a lot of beneficial ones, too.  In addition to legitimate educational websites, many social networking sites are blocked.  While revealing too much personal information and the possibility of cyberbullying are legitimate concerns when it comes to social networking, it is also true that tools like blogs, Twitter, and Pinterest can have many interesting uses in classroom instruction and activities.

internet-safety-thumbAdditionally, those who see online filtering as less than ideal (including myself) may argue that by preventing access to so many websites, we are not actually teaching students all that they need to know about evaluating information and online safety.  Allowing students to access the “bad” sites gives teachers and librarians an opportunity to teach them how to determine if the information they find is accurate, or unbiased, or completely false, or created by a hate group.  Similarly, allowing students to utilize social media provides an opportunity to explore internet etiquette, respect, and ethical use.  If everything is blocked and teachers and librarians are unable to give students the chance to practice these skills, then odds are they’ll leave school without the appropriate tools to analyze and evaluate information, or the proper attitude about how to interact with others on the internet.

When schools use filtering, they don’t just prevent teachers and librarians from instructing students on information literacy, they also jeopardize intellectual freedom.  Basically, people have the right to access whatever information they want, from any viewpoint, without restriction by others.  Online filtering, while ostensibly for students’ safety, takes that right away from students.  It is better to teach students how to find a wide variety of information in a smart, safe manner than to take away their right to obtain that information.

nsscomic2Most likely, online filtering isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  However, school districts can begin to utilize filtering more effectively, so that students are not only safe, but also have the opportunity to learn and practice important skills for information literacy and online safety.

Banned Books Week

Hello lovely readers! Today marks the beginning of Banned Books Week, which runs from September 30th to October 6th this year.  This is something that I think is still incredibly relevant and meaningful despite our current tendencies to seek information from digital resources.  When people attempt to ban books, they are trying to dictate what others are able to think, write and read, and this is a BIG problem, since freedom of expression is sort of protected by the Constitution and all.  Whether you prefer to get your information from good old-fashioned books or those newfangled e-readers or just your favorite website, you should have the freedom to decide what to read, what to think, and what to say about what you read and think.

Bottom line: Censorship=BAD. Intellectual freedom=GOOD!

Ok, I’ll step down off my soapbox now.  Meanwhile, if you happen to live in the central New York area and want to do something to participate in Banned Books Week, here are some local events:

-The Tomkins County Public Library is kicking off Banned Books week with a Freedom to Read Celebration on September 30th from 2-4 pm in the Borg Warner Room. This will feature a presentation by Ithaca’s writer in residence, human rights activist and journalist Sonali Samarasinghe.

-The Baldwinsville Public Library is hosting a Banned Book Week Freedom to Read Event on October 2nd from 12-1 pm in the Community Room. People can go just to listen, or can read aloud from a favorite banned book for 5-10 minutes.

-The Beauchamp branch of the Onondaga County Public Library is hosting a community read-out called “Black and Banned” on October 2nd from 3-6 pm. Community members are invited to read a short excerpt from a work by an African-American author that has been censored, or just go and listen.

-The Mundy Branch of the Onondaga County Public Library is hosting a read-aloud of passages from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World on October 2nd at 3:30 pm.

-The Hamilton Public Library and the Colgate University Bookstore are joining together to host a Banned Books Week Read-Out on October 2nd at 7 pm. Head to the Hamilton Public Library’s community reading room to hear readings and discussion of banned books.

Not in central NY, or just not able to make one of these events?  No worries!  You could head over to the Banned Books Week website to see what events are happening in your area, or participate in a virtual read-out instead.

What’s YOUR favorite way to celebrate Banned Books Week?  Let me know in the comments, or find out what others are doing on Twitter at #bannedbooksweek.