Blocking sites = Burning books


September 6, 2009 by readlisaread

Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s the numbers of years I’ve been in public ed, maybe it’s just that I’ve become inured enough to the “system” that I now question policy I disagree with. Whatever the reason, here is my longest-running *beef*.

One of the things I feel passionately about teaching to kids is Ethics. I work in a Middle School. 12, 13 and 14 year olds are more than capable of understanding, and practicing,  ethical behaviour, beyond the basics of “right and wrong”.  Aside from the fact that blocking YouTube and FaceBook and Yahoo causes me some inconvenience (embedded YouTube clips in my Moodle pages won’t play, kids can’t use Yahoo search or Answer pages….etc….)  I have a bigger grievance with this practice. I talk to my students about topics like Identity Theft, protecting digital privacy, and CyberBullying.  It would make so much sense to pull up a site (like FaceBook) and go over things like the TOU and EULA.  For example, I had a number of grade 7’s last year who had FaceBook accounts. Even ones who were younger than 13 (FaceBook’s minimum age).  A valuable discussion to have….not possible with the site blocked.

I also talked to my students about what it means to have a work ethic, and how to use good judgment in viewing Internet content, what and when certain things are appropriate….no real examples can be given.

The beautiful irony is, of course, my students all know how to use proxies (or Ninjas) to bypass the network blocks. They try to get me to use them too, because they know how frustrated I get, but that is the only lesson in ethicacy I have left: “I won’t purposely bypass the filters, because we are not supposed to be accessing those sites, that’s why they’re blocked”.  Ending with a sarcastic: “I’m sure we can find some real rad videos on Teacher Tube, though, guys!!!!!”

At Educational, Dr. Alex Couros recently wrote a blog on this topic, where he has approached the dilemma from quite the opposite direction.  Maybe I need to adjust my attitude on this one….

Update:  here is an excellent read on this topic:


  1. Alec Couros says:

    Thanks for this post. I understand that it is a difficult issue, and that many teachers handle this important problem differently. Thanks for your honesty about the way you handle it and your attention to ethics.

    I will leave you with these points to consider. These all pertain to ethical considerations.

    1) What do you think about the ethical dilemma of blocking student access to information and resources, particularly resources that are useful to student growth and achievement?

    2) Why do schools block teacher access to these sites? Is teaching not a profession? Does this not mean teachers should be treated as professionals, as experts who can filter and choose and make the correct resource decisions for their students?

    3) Is it not the role of schools to help foster responsible citizenship? How does the blocking access to resources undermine possibilities for the growth of critical thinking skills in students?

    4) Finally, is it possible that deviance and subversiveness could actually be seen as positives if they act in ways that will eventually bring greater attention to this subject, and provide freedom to information where it was once limited.

    What do you think?

  2. I’m with you. If a site is blocked, I do not use a work around in front of the children to unblock it. However, I will immediately send off a letter to the IT person with a cc to administrators telling them about the lesson I tried to teach and was unable to due to sites being blocked. I have gotten many sites unblocked this way.

  3. readlisaread says:

    Point-by-point, here is what I think:

    1) the ethical dilemma of blocking students’ (learning)….This is why I equate this practice to “book burning”. The argument from my admin would be: “there are plenty of other good websites (/novels/movies) out there, the kids do not need YouTube to get a good education.” What I think? How do you teach them to think critically if you don’t give them the opportunity to do so.

    2) Blocking teachers…I stood up at staff meeting last year and very, very clearly explained to my staff who made the decision to block what sites (our admin) and how (at the behest of the IT dept.) and why (“YouTube uses too much bandwidth” and “We don’t want parents asking us why kids are allowed on FaceBook during school”). I also explained to them (and admin) how kids bypassed the blocks. I referred to it as “Locking the liquor cabinet” mentality, and the blocks did nothing to “protect the children” and only impeded the teachers..

    3) the role of the school….. in our case, it seems that accountability is far, far more important a concept than fostering good citizens.

    4) Deviance and subversion…. I had always considered the fact that one of the things I was good at was corrupting from within. I’ve clearly been subverted from that path and need to get back on it immediately.

    What do I think? I think this issue has been bugging the hell out of me for a year (since I took the job) and I’m finally realizing all the reasons why. It’s not just a decision. It’s my obligation, both as an educator and as a digital citizen. Thank you, Alex, for some clarity of thought and purpose.

  4. Tom says:

    I have never had any problem ignoring or circumventing rules/orders/people I found stupid, insulting or abusive. I don’t have any problem teaching students to do the same. It’s my choice. I’ll deal with the consequences but I’ll be prepared to defend my actions as well.

  5. Tom says:

    Just to clarify- my position may not be the smartest if you’d like to keep your job, nor am I advocating that others do it.

    Ethically, and for our society, I do think it’s important to teach students to question rules and to decide whether they should follow them.

  6. readlisaread says:

    I’m finding the shift to what I all “Guerrilla Teaching” difficult, but necessary (and frankly, exciting). It’s taken me awhile to get here– there is a whole back story that involves such serious abuse I walked off my job for a year and seriously considered leaving the profession. I don’t approach any of these concerns lightly, but it is so helpful having the opportunity to reflect out loud– and get feedback.

  7. Tom says:

    I’ve left k12 twice now (both voluntary). If I leave again, I don’t think I’ll bother coming back.

    Sad people are being driven to this.

  8. Jay says:

    I agree that for the most part: filtering hinders my job.

    I was recently asked to sit on a committee that would determine the blocking policy of our school division. They put a sheet of currently blocked categories before us, and asked us to decide which ones we should unblock.

    The first one on the list was “Child Pornography.”
    We were then asked if we wanted to remove the block from the Child Pornography category. Given that question, it would have been very difficult to say, “Ok, unblock the child pornography.” So I can see as an administrator how that could be something to grapple with.

    Our suggestion was to unblock YouTube, and Facebook, Twitter etc, and then to allow us quick access to sites that are blocked that we need. So if I am a teacher planning a lesson, and I get to school the next day and the site is blocked; I get it unblocked immediately.

    Basically, we said that our professionalism should be trusted, and that we shouldn’t be blocked because some teacher might do something wrong.

    So I try to see both sides. From a liability standpoint, I can see why they want filters. But given that, they should be flexible and trust our professionalism to have things unblocked.

  9. Jay says:

    I should point out that in subsequent discussions, we wondered how “Child Pornography” could even exist without being pulled! Most of the other categories were like “Hacking”, “Gamblin” (if I spell it out, my post gets rejected!), and “Pornography.” While I am unsure of the actual software, I assume there is some giant database somewhere to classify sites, and yes, there has been many times that the classification was flawed (blocking biology sites for “sex” for example).

    We argued that even a “Hacking” site could be used by a Computer Science teacher to promote ethical programming.

    The Catholic division in town does not filter at all, and relies on teacher supervision to make sure “inappropriate” sites are not visited.

  10. readlisaread says:

    Thank you for your remarks, Jay, and I “hear” your frustrations (obviously). What is funny about your Hacking remark is that my Grade 9’s do a unit on hacking– I give them the story of “Mafia Boy” and other of the Top 10 greatest hacks (according to Wired), and they do a little presentation on it. And yes, ethics is the point. I’m learning, however, that often it’s best to just forge ahead. Asking forgiveness is easier than asking permission, and all that…..

  11. […] readlisaread wrote an interesting post today onBlocking sites = Burning books | It is all about ITHere’s a quick excerpt […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What are you searching for?

Wait…what did you say again?

Skip to toolbar