The debate over banning certain books, and even films, from being taught in schools is nothing new to the world of education. Recently, however, a new debate has been thrown into the mix—should schools, namely those at the high school level and below, have the power to ban (block) certain websites from being used within their walls? This year the American Association of School Librarians organized their first ever Banned Websites Awareness Day, an offshoot of the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, to confront just that issue.
As more and more schools across the country embrace online technologies, both students and parent/teacher leaders, such as those at Silver Creek High School in Longmont, CO, have begun to weigh the pros and cons of limited Internet access at school. Recently, students at Silver Creek High held a graffiti debate (wherein they wrote their thoughts on sheets of paper and then hung the paper on a wall in their library) on the issue and came up with some great arguments both for and against website blocking that provide us with some food for thought.
It’s no surprise that many students, and teachers too, are against blocking access to certain websites. One of the biggest gripes that students and school librarians have against website blocks are the difficulty they often pose to conducting research, especially on controversial issues such as weapons or drugs. Many argue that social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, do in fact have the potential to provide learning opportunities. Educators often share valuable resources and learning tools through personal blogs or in YouTube videos, and some form groups within Facebook to help their students easily share information.
Despite the many benefits afforded by using the Internet as a research and study tool, it does pose a number of threats that need to be closely considered and students and teachers alike recognize this fact. Blocking sites with unfavorable content insulates students from information that could be deemed unsuitable and some argue that students already spend enough time online while at home and should spend time at the library while school is in session.
No matter which way the debate goes, this issue could provide a valuable dialogue between students, teachers, parents and caregivers. It offers a platform to teach students how to use the Internet safely and smartly and hopefully encourages a dialogue about censorship and freedom of speech, which is something that all parties can benefit from.