Philosophy and Approach

It is important for districts and others reading this document to understand the philosophy of the author, for this philosophy has shaped the approach utilized throughout this Planning Guide. By presenting this philosophy and approach up-front, it is the author's intention to allow educators reading this document to able to evaluate the appropriateness of specific guidance provided in the document as it relates to their particular situation and community. Certainly, there can be honest disagreement about some of these issues. It is the author's goal to provide insight that will facilitate thoughtful analysis.

The author would also encourage educators to watch for an upcoming report to be released by the National Academy Press. This report will be issued by the National Research Council Committee to Study Tools and Strategies for Protecting Kids from Pornography and their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Environments. This Committee has had the opportunity to fully investigate technologies and other strategies. The report will likely provide excellent guidance to educators and districts. The report is scheduled for release in early 2002. Information will be on the National Academy Press web site at: http://www.nap.edu.

We, as society, are too often willing to believe that a "technological fix" will solve the problem. When we believe in the sufficiency of the "technological fix," we fail to engage in the more important actions that are necessary to effectively address the underlying concerns. Far too many decision-makers, educators, and parents believe in a myth -- that the installation and use of a "technology protection measure" will protect children against access to potentially harmful material on the Internet. The unfortunate result of the belief in this myth is false security, which leads to complacency, which results in the failure to adequately protect our children and prepare them to use the Internet in a safe and responsible manner.

This is not to say that there is no role for technology tools in the establishment of an environment that supports the safe and responsible use of the Internet by young people. Technology can be used to establish safe places for younger students, and to reinforce accountability on the part of older students. The concern is that a strategy that places primary reliance on "technology fixes" will fail to address the far more important issues of education and supervision.

No technology protection measure is or ever will be 100% effective in protecting young people from exposure to material that is potentially harmful. There is simply too much material on the Internet, with more material posted every second, for any technological system to be truly effective. Virtually every young person will, at one time or another, have unsupervised access to the Internet through an unfiltered, unblocked, and unmonitored system. Any time a technology is created that seeks to block access to material, another technology will emerge to get around such blocking actions. Technically proficient young people can easily obtain information on effective strategies to get around these systems.

When schools install the most common type of technology protection measures, those that blocky by ULR lists or block by content analysis, the result is that school officials turn over control for the determination of whether or not materials are appropriate for students to a third party company -- when there is no mechanism to hold this company accountable for the technical adequacy of its system, the effectiveness and appropriateness if its blocking decisions, the competency of the staff making the blocking decisions, or the potential biases that may emerge in the blocking decision-making process. School officials should not mistakenly believe that because they have the ability to select or not select certain blocking categories based on a brief description of the category that they retain any "real" control.

It has been clearly established that the most common technology protection measures prevent access by students or teachers to perfectly appropriate, educationally relevant material. When teachers or students know or believe there is information pertinent to the subject they are teaching or researching and they are prevented from accessing that information the result if significant frustration and anger, which is generally directed at school administration. In such an environment, the school climate and appropriate respect for school authority suffers greatly.

School administrators must recognize and acknowledge that teachers have far more education, experience, and expertise in assessing the appropriateness of material for students. Educators should never be placed in the position of subservience to a fallible "technology fix."

However, regardless of perceptions regarding effectiveness or ineffectiveness of such measures, two points are clear:

  • Under CIPA, most districts in the country will be forced to install such technologies. Therefore, attention must be directed at issues pertaining to the appropriate selection, configuration, and implementation of such measures.

  • The more important provisions of CIPA relate to the development of an Internet safety plan, for it is through the development of such a plan that the district will address the more important responsibility of preparing young people to use the Internet in ways that are both safe and responsible, regardless of the presence or absence of technology protection measures.

Schools are the primary place for young people to learn about using the Internet. Therefore schools have an obligation to help students learn use the Internet in ways that are safe and responsible. We must empower young people to independently handle a wide range of interactions and activities on the Internet that could be harmful to their safety and well being. In addition to the inadvertent access of potentially harmful material, these safety concerns include being the target or recipient of sexual predation, hate group recruitment, invasion of personal privacy, Internet fraud and scams, harassment, stalking, and harmful speech.

We also must address other issues related to the responsible use of the Internet by young people. In addition to the intentional access of potentially harmful material, these issues include copyright infringement, plagiarism, computer security violations (hacking, spreading viruses), violation of privacy, Internet fraud and scams, harassment, stalking, and dissemination of harmful speech or other violent or abusive material. We must prepare young people to understand their responsibilities as Cybercitizens.

It is also necessary to address issues related to the quality of use of the Internet. The Internet can become addicting, taking the place of more valuable activities and interactions, and its use can reduce, rather than enrich, the quality of life. But the Internet can also be used in ways that are enriching by providing access to quality information and communication exchanges with people from around the world. Schools must help young people learn to use the Internet in ways that are personally enriching and help to prepare them for success in the future.

As educators, our primary focus must be to help young people learn to use the Internet in a safe, responsible, and effective manner. In other words, we need to help young people develop effective filtering and blocking systems that will reside in the hardware that sits upon their shoulders.