banned books week: more than just books these days

So today is Banned Websites Awareness Day.  Just as a little refresher, most schools and school libraries in the United States use filters to block access to certain content on the internet.  The problem is that these filters can be incredibly restrictive and prevent teachers and students from accessing quality educational websites, as well as social networking sites that promote communication and collaboration.  As a result, one day of Banned Books Week is dedicated to raising awareness of banned internet content.

At this point, you may be asking why, exactly, this is a problem.  Don’t we have a responsibility to protect kids from all the unsavory content available on the dark and twisty interwebs?  And what about bullying?  If we don’t block Facebook, all the mean kids will gang up on the nerds, and we can’t have that.

These are valid points.  This is undoubtedly a complex issue, and it is absolutely necessary to create and comply with policies regarding acceptable, appropriate, and responsible use of the internet in schools.  The internet can be a scary place, and there are certainly websites out there that really aren’t appropriate for schools.

But many schools’ acceptable use policies are outdated, overly cautious, or inconsistent.  Some policies haven’t been rewritten in nearly a decade, and the internet has changed so much since then.  Some schools restrict access to Blogger, but not WordPress.  And some filters are so restrictive that legitimate educational resources are blocked!

One of the main filter targets continues to be social media.  Social networking sites can be used for bullying; however, they can also be used to ask questions, communicate assignments, or continue the class discussion.  They can get students engaged in a classroom activity.  And Pinterest, YouTube, and different blogs can be amazing resources for teachers and librarians; I know that I stole found some great ideas while I perused the blogs of other teachers.

On top of these things, when we restrict access to so much of the internet, we’re really doing students a disservice.  In this age of increased technology and digital information, they need strong information literacy skills.  If we simply filter out all that is bad, we aren’t teaching them the skills necessary to evaluate sources for accuracy and reliability.  Once they move beyond the land of filters, how will they be able to tell the good sources from the bad, if we haven’t taught them?

Filtering isn’t something that should be taken lightly or repealed unequivocally.  It is a complex issue, and there are certainly some positive aspects to consider.  However, we also shouldn’t sit back and allow increasingly restrictive filters to prevent teachers, librarians, and students from accessing valuable content and using social media to make education more engaging and relevant.  A discussion on the topic is necessary, and what better time to have that discussion than Banned Books Week?

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