|Dealing with Filters
and Firewalls: Protection or Obstruction?
Ever wonder why you can't get to some places
online while at school? If you or your students have had problems
reaching a site, you are not alone. You may have come up against
a firewall or filter, software that is designed to block access
to certain web sites by using key words. For example, if the word
"breast" is blocked, then a student cannot reach any site with information
about breast cancer.
Occasionally I come across articles about firewalls or filters
in computer servers. In this example, the Chinese have filtered
out the search engine "Google," presumably because this might lead
to access to sites deemed unacceptable by to the Chinese government.
SHANGHAI, Sept. 3 -China has blocked access to the popular Internet
search engine Google as the government tightens media controls
before a shift in leadership expected in November. There was no
official announcement of the blockage, but Internet users said
they could not reach Google through Chinese Internet servers for
the last two days.. The government often seeks to restrict access
to sites that carry material critical of the government, particularly
around sensitive dates on the political calendar.
It appears from this article that the words censorship and firewall
can mean the same thing. However, firewalls were first used in schools
as protection from pornography, as in the example above. Unfortunately
the protection is quite inadequate. Often, pornography can still
be accessed on the Internet because site names can be innocuous
Inadequate as firewalls are, they are still used in schools. Parents
think their children are protected when they are not. This is why
in a recent court case, libraries were given the right not to use
firewalls since the perception of protection from pornography was
In my public high school in New York City, the firewall stops students
from using any material that deals with sports or the word sex and
words for body parts that are related sex. So legitimate research
on Jackie Robinson, a sports icon, would be blocked. One of my journalism
students was learning about genital mutilation of girls in several
countries so she could write a feature article for the class. She
could gather almost no information during the class period and had
to go to friend's houses and the public library to access the needed
If your school district has filters, see if sites or links you
recommend are blocked before sending your students to do research
or on-line assignments. If they are blocked, you can remove the
site or instruct students that they can only use the link at home.
Most school districts have procedures to unblock sites. You would
have to find out by asking the appropriate personal how to unblock
In New York City public schools, the solution is to type a letter
on school stationary listing the site or sites you want unblocked.
Ask your principal to sign the letter, giving his permission to
have the site unblocked. The letter then has to be faxed to:
718 935 5780.
Usually within 24 hours the site is unblocked.
In my opinion, filters are more trouble than they are worth.