An article in today’s Morning Links on how internet filters limit children’s learning had me nodding in agreement as I read. I have not seen content filters at my own school limit kids per se—when given free reign, they tend to go on the same half-dozen familiar sites and they seldom go exploring. But I have seen them limit teachers who are trying to prep activities. And I think they teach a certain kind of supervisory laziness that does nobody any favours.
Let’s start with the cludginess aspect. I don’t know what my boss has put into the content filters, other than Facebook, which I know she has a thing about. But the filter seems to block some odd things. I have been banned from Google Images more than once, and maybe I could see it because it’s a great big wooly landscape out there and who knows what you’ll find on Google. But we all use Google Images, extensively, to find clip art to put on on self-created materials. And really, banning all of Google is kind of defeating the point of the internet, isn’t it?
Other websites that seem perfectly innocent by any account somehow get caught in the content filter from time to time, too. I remember trying to access a curriculum document from the Ministry of Education website and getting a banned message more than once. Really? The Ministry of Education is an inappropriate site for a school computer? Is it because the word ‘sex’ appears in the health curriculum document? I don’t know. But I do know that as a teacher, it is pretty frustrating to have the guidelines by which you plan your whole job be blocked on a work computer!
As for the supervisory laziness, I think that for me, it boils down to this—it is our job, as educators, to be showing kids how to use technology properly, not to block them from using it in the first place. I am the technology resource person for our school, and there have been a few times I have actually taught the tech classes too. My internet usage with the students was usually for a specific purpose, and they knew—because I set the expectations that way—that usage outside those purposes would not be permitted. I never had a student go anywhere they shouldn’t have gone.
When the Beloved and I have spoken about our technology ‘plan’ with the kids in our lives, the point he’s made to me is this: if we had a kid who had some sort of problem with it—overuse, for instance, to the exclusion of other things—we would of course intervene and make the necessary changes. But, absent a special situation, his preference is to give them free reign because he believes that IF you happen to have the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs on your hands, and you buried that by too many rules and limits and interferences, then you are not letting that child be who they are supposed to be. He would rather let them explore—and guide the exploring so that it’s useful and healthy and empowering. Internet filters don’t let kids (or the adults who are teaching them!) explore or empower. Supervise. Don’t filter. There is a difference.