“As useful as it undeniably is, the web is also riddled with inappropriate and undesirable content” (Robinson, Brown, & Green, 2010). To manage access to this content, Congress passed the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2000 that “specifically requires schools and libraries to block or filter Internet access to pictures and material that are ‘obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors’ on computers that are used by students under 17 years of age” (Anderson, 2016). Most schools followed suit by providing filtered access to the Internet to meet this requirement.
However, the biggest weakness of this legislation is the term obscene and what might be harmful to a minor is entirely subjective. For example, the 1964 Caldecott award-winning children’s story Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendack “was banned because adults found it problematic that Max was punished by being sent to bed without dinner, and … bristled at the book’s supernatural themes” (“17 of America’s most surprising banned books”, 2017). Similarly, popular Dr. Seuss books including The Lorax was “banned in California in 1989 because it portrayed loggers as environmentally unfriendly” (Bonazzo, 2017) and even today the new movie Goodbye Christopher Robin featuring Winnie the Pooh has been blocked in China, although “no reason given” (Meixler, 2018). Greater clarity with clear examples and limitations should be included in a revised legislation to limit individual discretion for what students under the age of 17 should be able to access.
An additional aspect of this legislation frequently misunderstood is that “websites don’t have to be blocked for teachers” (Gonzalez, 2011), or for that matter anyone above the age of 16. While I am not advocating to remove the filter entirely, adults and educators should have restrictions limited to only the most obscene content in what they can access over the school district’s internet.
Finally, another aspect of this legislation frequently ignored is that it only applies to schools that receive federal funding. Schools that do not receive federal funds are not required to follow this requirement and can opt for an extremely progressive filtering policy by not having one at all. While I believe younger grade students should have access to a curated internet since they may lack the skills and knowledge to determine site validity and inappropriate content, most student in the upper grades already have access to an unfiltered internet at home or on their phones. Rather than filtering upper grade students, school district should enact responsible use policies that instruct students what is and is not permissible as well as the consequences, using infractions as teachable moments. Just like the child who engorges himself on candy or food when restricted at home, this will better prepare them with the digital citizenship skills later in life rather than withholding access entirely.
17 of America’s most surprising banned books. (2017, September 22). Retrieved August 6, 2018.
Anderson, M. D. (2016, April 26). The Problem With Filtering Kids’ Internet Access at School. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
Bonazzo, J. (2017, September 29). Melania Trump’s Fight Over Dr. Seuss Shows Why We Need Banned Books Week. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
Gonzalez, L. (2011, September 20). Dispelling Myths About Blocked Websites in Schools. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
Meixler, E. (2018, August 6). China Blocks New Winnie-the-Pooh Film ‘Christopher Robin’. Retrieved August 6, 2018.
Robinson, L., Brown, A., & Green, T. D. (2010). Chapter 2: Inappropriate Content. In Robinson, L., Brown, A., & Green, T. D. Security vs. access: Balancing safety and productivity in the digital school. Washington, D.C.: Wiley-ISTE.