Educating Trumps Blocking

We’ve been blocking Google from our school computers because of the image search portion of the engine. This has made teachers insane because they can’t search for anything without being screen-doored. One of our elementary teachers couldn’t even search for a picture of a dove to supplement a reading activity today. Our students don’t even try to look for anything while at school if they’ve got access to a computer at home. One of our seniors, Nick, reported at the technology committee meeting that students who only used the school computers produced substandard projects for English class because their search for advertisements was so limited.

Enter the alternative to blocking everything—education. Stop filtering everything, teach kids how and where they can go on-line while in school, and give consequences to the 2% who make a mistake. Our students are supervised at all times in school, so add software that allows the study hall teaching assistant to monitor all computers from his desktop. Talk to teachers and students about appropriate use. Remind parents in the district newsletter about our acceptable use policy and explain our philosophy about educating our students rather than prohibiting them.

I think they call this common sense. Wise use of our computer investment. Using our resources to educate our young people. Preparing a response through consequences for those few students who get past the filtering of salacious content. Talk about our plan.

And yes indeed folks, that’s just what our technology committee, including Superintendent Rinaldi, decided to do today.  Teachers and students of G-Town prepare to get back out there, investigate, discover and LEARN.

Thank goodness I work in G-Town where learning comes first, where students are respected, trusted, and held accountable. Thank goodness we’re not fashioning little lockers outside of our school where students must leave their connections locked up. I’d rather we help them make good connections right inside our door.

  1. Brings home to me the depth of your dilemma over there Don. Schools staff here are likewise denied access to anonymous email, but SysAdmins _are_ allowed, in the interest of fulfilling their jobs presumably.

    I wish I could think of an answer to your problems, although it seems the glaringly obvious one of your central supplier filtering resposibly and reactively is the only sensible option really. He’re hoping they wise up soon!

  2. I’ve looked at SchoolGuardian last year and it does a great job, but our budget can’t absorb that cost at present. We did use Squid and Dansguardian a couple of years ago. I’d like to go back to them because of the local autonomy. However our upline ISP (BOCES) tells us we must block anonymous email, i.e gmail,yahoo etc. The Federal Government Erate dollars have us over a bit of a barrel. How do we satisfy Children’s Internet Protection Act requirements and allow students have access to rich content like Youtube and Google Video etc.

    I’m glad to have this conversation because you are stimulating me to find a solution. Thanks.

  3. Yes that’s true Don. This is the most intelligent of those dumb agents tho’ – for instance you can deny en masse those filter bypassing students! The answer is to have local control. You can then specify a specific web page to be unblocked.
    We use ABTutor control in the classroom (i’m starting to sound like a commercial!)- teachers can view all pupils screens at once and block and unblock URLs at will, even launch a specific URL on all pupils PCs he or she wishes.

  4. Hi Kimberly,

    I haven’t visited in a while, but when I do, I am not disappointed. What a sensible post and what a sensible decision.

    Some of the younger teachers in my school communicate with even younger siblings and cousins through MySpace. (one of your commenters mentioned teachers, rather than kids, being inconvenienced). Fortunately we have students who showed us how to bypass the blocks! Our policy in NYC is ridiculous (that probably extends far beyond blocking, but those are other stories)


  5. I know, we used it at Franklinville for a couple of years. Dansguardian is great. My problem was how to do it transparently. Open source has gained a great foothold in the area in recent years, but we need some technical support. I’ve been a leader in its implementation but there are a couple of bugs that keep me from fully implementing it. I believe also that there are tremendous resources found on Youtube and Google Video that shouldn’t be blocked but at present how do we block the objectionable and open up the fabulous. Filters are just dumb agents that operate on algorithms rather than logic.

  6. Open source Dansguardian is the best there is IMHO. DG is a content filter rather than a dumb URL filter, so you can filter content types very effectively. DG is also affiliated with Smoothwall who sell a comercial product to schools too. Both highly recommended.

  7. I like your idea of being proactive about a solution to filtering. Filtering is a pain and I’m inclined to be a civil libertarian, but how do you fail to comply with CIPA and still get your federal money? Have you considered using an open source solution like Squid and Squidguard? I just learned of your blog from Tim C. at CA BOCES.

  8. The issue is not ‘unblocking’ but competent blocking. It is possible, you just need someone who knows what they’re doing to set it up for you.

  9. Today I received a taste of my own medicine. As the G-Town superintendent, I am working with Kim Moritz and our Board of Education to lessen the internet blocking that occurs on staff/student computers. Usually, my computer is not blocked. Last week my hard drive crashed so today I have a temporary computer with internet access blocked the same as everyone else in the district. This morning I tried to search for material on the philosophy of leadership and was sumarily blocked. Very frustrating. If this is what our staff and students experience on a regular basis it is definitely time for a change.

  10. This is great news! If only more people in education were to be as enlightened. I’d be really interested in finding out how things develop as I have long been campaigning for a similar move in Scottish Education.

    Now, that’s one school down, only ?????? to go!

  11. Two reactions,

    Coincidentally, my son asked some of his teachers to respond to a survey from National Young Leaders State Conference. I got an email from one of the teachers today saying that the school blocks would not allow her to do so, but that she would do it from home.

    Aren’t we being a little overprotective of our children? There isn’t a whole lot out there that I hadn’t seen by the time I was in the 8th grade, and I still managed to become a reasonably productive member of society. Google has become pretty much an essential part of my life. The fear of running across offensive material does not justify restricting access to it.

  12. I would respectfully disagree.

    The circumstances stated seem extreme. Your filtering is inadequate I would agree. And whilst I agree wholeheartedly that as much freedom that is responsibly possible to give should be granted, there is always a line to be drawn.

    It sickens me the number of teachers blogging about de-restricting internet access. I reason that the motvation for this is not child centred.

    I absolutely agree that responsible use should be taught.

    The downside to unfiltered browsing is the innocent stumbling across disturbing content that as an adult, you wouldn’t want to know about – certainly not every time you performed an innocent search anyway.

    I choose not to spend time looking at things that I find repulsive, and I certainly guide my small children’s activities so that they are protected until a time when exposure is appropriate to their age/ understanding.

    It is possible to filter content without loosing value – you just need to invest time and money.

  13. Just a note of clarification for readers who misinterpret, it’s NOT that we are removing all filtering from our system. As you probably know, there are many levels of blocking that occur. We’re trying to take a better approach, certainly blocking the most questionable material, while teaching students about appropriate internet activity. And, we still have Wednesday night’s Board meeting before we can effect the change. Because we have one of the best Board’s I’ve ever worked with, who always put education first, I’m optimistic they will agree. I will also meet with faculty to ensure they understand their responsibilities to teach and monitor the appropriate use.

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  16. The whole no Google thing is driving me NUTS. And I have a computer at home but when your just trying to look something up, it is quite a pain that we have to go home to do it.

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  18. Woooooo-Hoooooo! What a concept! Reminds me of the quote I heard Chris Lehmann give on the recent interview he did with Steve Hargadon: “The fear of what could go wrong can’t stop me from doing what’s right.” Congrats, Kim! On! On!

  19. Bravo! Congratulations on taking advantage of a learning opportunity and not being scared to let your teachers really teach with technology and all its implications.

  20. Thank you so much for this post. Our school came back from winter break to find that our filters had gotten even more stringent; in fact, they now encompass,, and pretty much every other site I use to follow education news outside my own classroom. Also blocked were any website hosted by free website hosts (geocities, etc), any website containing some sort of commenting or message board forum, and sites like YouTube. Those who queried The Powers That Be about the changes received the following answer:
    “…at this time [district] policy is to block any site that allows unmonitored “real-time” communication. It is certainly possible that this policy will be discussed sometime in the future, but as a rule, those sites will not be unblocked.”

    This really discouraged me, especially as about 50% of our students have no access to the internet at home and that many of my students are trying to work on their National History Day projects and are now finding even more challenges. I have always come down on the “educate them” side of things, but in a recent department meeting, I was told that it’s impossible to teach middle schoolers the difference between good and bad information.

    I will be bookmarking your post (at home, of course) to save for the hopeful day when our blocking policies come up for review. Thank you for your thoughts on the matter.

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