Filtering: The Critical Difference between “All” and “Most”

One of the nine common beliefs set forth in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner is as follows: “Equitable access is a key component to education. All children deserve equitable access to books and reading, to information, and to information technology in an environment that is safe and conducive to learning.” Yet due to overly restrictive and excessive filtering in our schools, we fall short of realizing this belief.

As we celebrate Banned Books Week and the freedom to read, we focus on Banned Websites Awareness Day and the “overly restrictive blocking of legitimate, educational websites and academically useful social networking tools in schools and school libraries.” We’ve all experienced it:  the blocked website that the student needs to complete a research paper on a controversial issue; the perfectly relevant and appropriate online video that one of our teachers has located at home and planned to use in classroom instruction only to find that it’s blocked by the school’s filtering software. We’ve experienced the frustration of not being able to effectively teach our students to use social media tools appropriately and ethically because they are blocked in the school.

Let’s face it: we have several issues here. First, all students deserve access to academically appropriate information and tools. Secondly, most of our students have devices in their hands which allow them to access all the sites and tools that we have blocked and filtered. Who is teaching these students appropriate and ethical use? It’s challenging to teach information literacy and digital citizenship skills when we cannot access the needed sites and tools. Third, there is a critical difference in “all” and “most.” Some students do not have devices in their hands nor do they have internet access at home; for these students, access to information and practice in utilizing 21st-century networking tools (which they need to be successful in college, career, and community) takes place within the school building. When access is filtered and overly restricted, these students lose the most.

Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later makes the following points:

  • “Schools block a wide range of constitutionally protected content using overly broad filtering categories that go well beyond those defined by CIPA” (p. 21).
  • “Over-blocking content as a means of managing the classroom, limiting exposure to complex and challenging websites, or curtailing the use of interactive platforms has numerous unintended consequences for students…effectively limiting the acquisition of digital literacy, which increasingly is recognized as a fundamental requirement for all citizens to participate fully in a globally competitive and democratic 21st-century society” (p. 22-23).
  • “Over-filtering has not only educational but also social consequences for students as it often results in a lack of moral or ethical instruction to guide online behavior” (p. 26).
  • “However, the impact of filtering on learning is not felt equally among students…[we have] two classes of students: an advantaged class with unfiltered internet access at home and a disadvantaged class with only filtered access at school” (p. 27).

I repeat: “All children deserve equitable access to books and reading, to information, and to information technology in an environment that is safe and conducive to learning.” To provide them with less is not acceptable.



Author: Audrey Church, Leadership Development Committee Chair and 2017-2018 AASL Past President

Categories: Blog Topics, Community, Intellectual Freedom, Presidential Musings

Tags: , , ,

2 replies

  1. Audrey,

    Thank you for highlighting the status of excessive filtering in many schools. The Fencing Out Knowledge report you referenced contains much information (and ammunition) for school librarians to use to speak with administrators about the impact of filtering on student research, access to many sides of important issues, and ultimately student academic success. The report also contains steps that AASL and ALA can take at the national level to move the filtering conversation forward toward a solution. I ask the AASL Board to “dust off” the report and take the first step to implementing the report’s recommendations.


  2. I’ve given this issue some thought over a number of years. Several things keep popping up in my discussions with library students — #1 this is an issue they don’t feel passionate about and one they are basically happy to leave in the hands of the technology department and #2 when bringing up the point that there should be a reconsideration policy in place in order to at least talk about how to get a site unfairly unblocked, they discussion generally goes back to #1. I’m not sure what it will take to move this conversation forward.

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