from the open-discussion dept
While I don't disagree that they have their place, the practical application of internet content filtering software and hardware seems to suck when it's applied large-scale. There are several reasons for this. The general category blocking that's done when settings are low flat out doesn't work. Some inappropriate content will be blocked while some won't be, with the same holding true for appropriate content. Yay. And, gosh, wouldn't you know it, but kids are generally really good about getting around the filters we adults put in place. And even when government groups that should know better have the best of intentions, they often end up blocking sites that shouldn't be blocked out of a misplaced sense of prudishness. That's how you end up getting WiFi on the Maryland Amtrak, but don't you go reading about gay topics (non-pornographic) because that's just icky icky.
It gets more interesting in schools, because everyone's sensitivity jumps up a notch when children are involved and because there's entirely too much sensitivity from different groups of parents who instill different values, religious traditions, and morals in their kids. I get that. If you're a strict Christian, you may teach your children the strict dogma about homosexuality. That's absolutely your right. That isn't the argument. Like, at all. But here's the fun question: exactly how verboten is the topic of gay marriage or homosexuality going to be in our schools now that the topic is regularly discussed on the news and amongst our lawmakers? And how is that question going to butt up against the way webfilters work, are programmed, and utilized by schools?
Here's one example of how this is done wrong. Full disclosure: Paul France is both a teacher here in Illinois and a very close friend of mine, but what happened when he wanted to look into teaching tools to discuss the recent marriage equality law passed in our state provides a partial look into why webfilters need to make some changes.
As a teacher of young children, and in light of Illinois’ recent ruling on gay marriage, I decided that I wanted to find out if there were any resources or news articles that would be relatable to and appropriate for children.Now, while I can appreciate that not everyone will agree, I would hope that many/most will think that discussing current events and a major law being passed in our state would be a good topic of discussion amongst school children. After all, they live under this law. More importantly, as France notes later in his post, this was to be an open discussion with no push on telling kids they should "agree" with the law. It was purely a teaching moment. Unfortunately, in his search for appropriate resources, he came across a webfilter message that said sites were blocked as a "forbidden category: gay and lesbian issues."
Same-sex relationships are not inappropriate for children; the physical and explicit nature of sex is, and an article related to same-sex marriage does not always mean there will be sexually explicit content. Having said this, the website that I visited did, in fact, end up having some content that would be inappropriate for children. However, this content should have been more correctly coded as Forbidden Category: Sexual Content.If you happen to view homosexuality as a negative, which is again your right, you might find this to be nit-picky...until you read that second paragraph. Because he's exactly right; gay and lesbian issues are no more a legitimate target for a block than African American issues. Sexual content should of course be blocked on school networks (assuming it isn't gobbling up sex-ed class material as well), but that's not what we're talking about. In what world is blocking "Gay and Lesbian Issues" appropriate? That's sending all the wrong messages about how children in schools (and the rest of us too, by the way) are supposed to be engaging in an educational dialectic. Banning the topic gets nobody anywhere. This isn't about pushing anything, it's about having a discussion in a secular public school system.
In my mind, it would be like filtering an article with explicit photos on slave mistreatment in the 1800s as “African American Issues.” Of course, we would not want children to see disturbing photos depicting violence; however, we would code them as Forbidden Category: Violence.
Let’s try something new. Let’s open up our minds, accept that there are many diverse viewpoints, and come to terms that we don’t all agree. Let’s have a discussion, encourage debate, and promote divergent thinking. I think we’ll all be better off for it in the long run.I'll add to that a couple of things. Parents, give yourselves credit for your parenting. Mere discussion isn't going to change the values you've taught your children. And let's also give our kids some credit. I think they can take on more serious topics than we imagine, no matter which side of this or any other argument you might be on.