(submitted in response to Pamela Mendels’ March 10, 1999 New York Times article "Schools Split On Using Internet Filters")


March 10, 1999


Dear Editor,


Using Internet filtering software is a bad idea.  Senate Bill 97 requiring the use of filtering software by all schools and libraries to receive the e-rate is an even worse idea.  As Pamela Mendels’ March 10, 1999 article “Schools Split On Using Internet Filters” points out, the use of these programs can be “troublesome and troubling.”


Obviously no one advocates children viewing pornography, but three things must be remembered to keep this issue in perspective.  First, the WWW requires specific coordinates (URLs) much like the telephone (phone numbers).  You must actively enter an address or choose to click on a link.  Pornography does not just “pop up” on a computer screen any more than you can just pick up a phone and hear heavy breathing or sexually explicit language.  You normally have to be looking for it.  The attitudes and behaviors that lead some students to look for this type of material, not the medium as a whole, are the problems that need to be addressed.


Second, if the Internet and the WWW are to be used as educational tools, sound educational judgment should be exercised in their use.  We normally don’t just send students to the library with the vague request, “Go get some books!”  As teachers, we limit the scope of the students’ search to a particular topic and offer recommended titles.   Teachers and librarians need the time and training to preview sites, develop pedagogically sound lessons and activities, and create their own class-based web pages to direct students to appropriate materials.  Just as we instruct students how to use card catalogues and periodical indices, we must instruct them how to search for and evaluate materials on the Web.


Third, this is not merely the responsibility of teachers and librarians, but a shared responsibility with parents.  Just as we try to teach children how to answer a phone, how or when to talk to strangers, when to open the door, when and what to watch on TV, parents and teachers need to collaborate in teaching what is and is not appropriate online.


Milton Alan Turner