Stop blocking teachers

I recently stumbled upon a story at the Science Friday website. It was an interesting article about a new plane design that hopes to produce aircrafts that are super-silent and even more fuel-efficient. As a physics teacher, I thought this audio program was worth sharing with my students. I was about to download the audio program when, much to my dismay, I was blocked by our schools’ filtering software.

This is not the first time my school has blocked something that was obviously educational. It is almost a weekly occurrence for me. Some days I’m persistent; I fill out the necessary form to request that the site is unblocked but persistence takes time. As we all know, time is a precious commodity in any teacher’s day. Some days I just give up.

Where do all these restrictions come from? Much of it is related to the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which was passed in 1998. While the intent of COPA was to protect students, it has taken the control from teachers and placed into the hands of your IT department. In my opinion, this matter is only getting worse. On July 27, 2006 the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. With the fears stirred up by horror stories about sites like MySpace.com, this bill may require school’s to prohibit access to websites that allow online profiles, social networking, chatting and other online collaboration.

At first this may sound fine – I don’t need to chat online at work! But consider the implications. Any site that allows chatting could be blocked. This means all discussion boards, forums, and comment sections can be prohibited. Any site that allows users to create an online profile could be blocked. That would include sites like the College Board’s AP Central or even NSTA’s SciLinks. Any site that allows users to create an online journal could be blocked. This will ban any blog such as ScienceBlogs. It was the need for collaboration among scientific researchers that spawned the invention of the Internet but now science teachers and students may be locked out of this opportunity to collaborate.
We hear reports about the digital divide in this nation that explains how inner city schools are at a disadvantage because they lack the funds to purchase adequate classroom technology. I believe that this is a problem, but I also think we are overlooking a more subtle issue. The fact is that we allow ourselves to be treated like children. The students’ Internet access is our Internet access. If a teacher’s access to emerging resources is continuously restricted, it is easy see how schools will always remain at the back of the line in regards to technology.

DOPA does allow exceptions to its restrictions if the content is for adult users or educational purposes. However, it doesn’t include language that requires schools to provide systems that differentiate an adult’s access from a student’s access. I understand that we need to protect our students and in some cases overprotect them but teachers are a different story. We have the degrees, licenses and experience that show we know what is appropriate for our classrooms. We should not have to grovel to our IT departments for permission to use a certain teaching method.

DOPA will eventually go before the Senate for approval. Please contact your Senators to express your concerns with DOPA. In the meantime, go bug your IT department about technology in your classroom—we’ve all earned the right to.

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