FEBRUARY 8, 2006
A "To the Point"/SpeakFree EXCLUSIVE
'Net safety not a concern, teacher visits porn site

       The Internet is an information gateway about everything anywhere in the world. While many people use it as a research tool, there are many other reasons to surf the ’Net. You would think schools have Internet access as a way to educate children. This is not the case in at least one school.
       I got a phone call from a fourth grade teacher, whom we’ll call Mrs. Grey. She wanted her students to visit newspaper websites and get stories to participate in a current events discussion. While preparing for the class Mrs. Grey said she attempted to use a search engine to gather information about newspaper websites. The Google website, arguable the most popular website used today, was blocked.
       Mrs. Grey said she was dismayed by her findings. She said she was not able to visit newspaper’s websites because the Internet filter program at the school didn’t allow those pages to be brought up. She tried with several other publications and was not even able to visit the website of the largest newspaper in the province.
       After contacting me, I told Mrs. Grey to use a computer elsewhere in the school and search for something we thought would be forbidden. We wanted to see what sort of freedom the school gave students and staff. Only for comparison reasons, she typed in “young little girl” to see what websites would come up.
       The second match in the list of results was for a website featuring “hot young girls” performing certain sexual acts.  Thinking she would be unable to visit this website, Mrs. Grey successfully brought up a page of scantily clad young women in various sexual positions.
       Wondering why there is this sort of blockage – the exact opposite of what parents would expect from a school – I contacted the school’s superintendent.
       The superintendent seemed more concerned that a teacher used the computer for the latter search rather than the actual problem of blocking non-threatening websites like newspapers. He said that the filtering system is designed to block websites that contain certain words when searched. He suggested that because the individual words typed in didn’t appear to be threatening the server allowed the page to be viewed.
       Would a story about child porn and Internet safety cause a newspaper to be banned from viewing? “It may very well be,” he said. Ironically information that would be helpful for students on the Internet wouldn’t be accessible to them.
       I questioned him about the role of a teacher in the classroom. Teachers must supervise students at all times in class and on the playground, so why aren’t they trusted in monitoring student’s Internet usage?
       “It would be impossible for a teacher to watch what every student is doing (on the Internet) at the same time,” he said.
       When asked about computer software that would immediately alert a teacher about website violations as they happen, he said the school division had no plans on introducing that.
       Until then, I guess the kids can learn online all about anatomy but not what’s happening in the world around us. Damn, I wish I were still in school.
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