Internet Filtering Impacts Education

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

Jaylin Paschal, Editor-in-Chief

Our generation was lucky enough to be born into the Age of the Internet. We have a power that no generation before us has had. We have access to an unlimited amount of knowledge. With cell phones, we walk around with the world in our pockets. We have information at our fingertips, and can access almost anything with the literal click of a button.

You would expect a high school and its administration to embrace this. After all, we come to school to learn and endless things can be both taught and learned online. Schools are here to encourage an inquisitive nature and teach students to observe, using all of the resources available. The internet should be the best thing that ever happened to the education system, right?

It seems as if any high school anywhere would appreciate and utilize all that the internet has to offer. Unfortunately, this is not the case. High schools all across America use a filtering system to prevent students from having access to certain sites and searches. This is okay and even necessary, to an extent. Of course students should not be able to surf through pornographic images or websites and of course watching videos of someone getting high off of illegal drugs should be prohibited.

“I absolutely feel there should be some censorship. For example, things that are truly distracting us from learning like games, or things that are obviously inappropriate, like pornography (should be censored),” said sophomore Tori Washington.

However, the filtering that happens usually extends far beyond the obviously and blatantly inappropriate. A lot of schools are guilty of blocking content that not only is completely appropriate, but is also educational. Northmont is one of these schools.

It is ironic that Northmont has decided to filter internet searches as much as they have, considering the fact that Northmont has also attempted to incorporate technology and the internet into lessons. The majority of the students have been given iPads, just to find out that almost everything they could use them for is prohibited.

“They’re not letting anyone use this technology at all. We can’t look up things for school or even listen to music,” said senior Molly Ford.

Ms. Janelle Ehninger’s Spanish III class is doing a creative online project, that involves using Spanish in the real world and posting on Instagram. Instagram is blocked. In the same class students were required to make a Pinterest account. Pinterest is blocked. Students are often writing research and argument papers on controversial issues. Searches on the majority of these issues are blocked. Students in government and history classes are always looking at current events. The content covering a lot of these current events is blocked. A student in the AP American Government class recently had an assignment that required her to Google a senator’s stance on marijuana legalization. This search was blocked. The photography classes need photos to practice editing. Several other classes involve projects in which photos are required. Google Images is blocked. (Yes, all of Google Images.) This is ridiculous! How are we expected to complete these assignments when we cannot access the information we need? Completing these assignments becomes extremely difficult, especially for students without internet access at home.

“I don’t think anyone wants it. I don’t think the teachers want it, I don’t think the principals want it, but I also don’t think anything is going to change,” said Ehninger.

The teachers also struggle to work around these blocks when they are designing lesson plans.

“I design the project so that it is to be done at home. But for my students who don’t have technology, I just have to create an alternative assignment,” said Ehninger.

Again, it is understandable and obvious why certain searches are blocked. Irresponsible teenagers often take the school’s internet network for granted and abuse it. However, the mistakes of very few students should not lead to a filtering system that hinders the educational process of all of us.

“The interference (with the educational process) is growing as they block more things,” said junior Maggie Laing.

“Students are taking entire class periods to look up free VPNs or finding apps that allow us to get around the blocks. We’re switching our search engines to be able to get pictures just to finish projects,” said Washington.

The discussion of filtering becomes even more complicated when one mentions the “real world.” High school is supposed to prepare us for life after graduation. That’s why we have programs like College Week and classes like Jobs for Grads. If we are really in preparation for going out into the real world, then shouldn’t we be able to access information about real world topics, like sex and drugs and violence? Will “explicit” content not exist in the real world? The more we can learn the real facts about these issues under the safety of our school building and with the guidance of a teacher, the better. We cannot be sheltered from the very things we will encounter.

“I kind of think it’s a disservice to our students. We should be teaching them how to use the internet responsibly, but we can’t do that with the filtering,” said Ehninger.

Although most high school students can handle this information, younger students cannot. Unfortunately, the Northmont network is district-wide, and so the filtering must be set to protect students of all ages from inappropriate searches.

“In high school they expect you to start growing up but by censoring everything they’re treating us like children,” said Laing. “Censorship is more detrimental than beneficial,” said Laing.

In addition to this, there is also a major problem with Google’s filtering system.

“Google’s filtering system does not work correctly. Students can access things that are supposed to be blocked,” said library media specialist Jan Duckro.

Due to the faulty Google filtering, all of Google Images has had to be blocked in order to censor the forbidden searches.

Music apps and other recreational installments have been blocked to increase productivity. The administration does not view these apps as school-related, and the apps have been slowing down the system.

“It (Pandora) definitely affects how much we get done but at the same time I feel bad because I do think it helps the students to listen to music,” said language arts teacher Jacob Whetstone.

The biggest of all of these reasons for censorship is the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). This act provides the funds for the high school’s technology, if and only if an internet safety policy is adopted that prohibits minors from accessing inappropriate content and enforces other similar requirements. If Northmont gets rid of its filtering system, all of the technology here at the school will no longer be funded.

When this is considered, it is easier to understand why there is a filtering system at Northmont. It was created and is enforced with good intentions. However, filtering and censorship can be harmful and have a serious impact on the education of the student body.