What's wrong with this picture?

Having spent all of my professional IT career in higher education, I am still trying to get my hands around some of the problems faced by my K-12 colleagues when it comes to federal regulations.  For instance, in reading Chris Dawson's article, Proxy Problems, I was struck by the following statement:However, the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that students are not exposed to objectionable content lies with teachers and administrators.

Having spent all of my professional IT career in higher education, I am still trying to get my hands around some of the problems faced by my K-12 colleagues when it comes to federal regulations.  For instance, in reading Chris Dawson's article, Proxy Problems, I was struck by the following statement:

However, the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that students are not exposed to objectionable content lies with teachers and administrators.  It lies with administrators who must write comprehensive, clear computer use policies that outline appropriate and acceptable uses of computer and network resources.  These policies must also clearly outline consequences for violation of the policies and should probably address proxies specifically. 

Anyone who has ever read one of my posts, knows how I feel about well-defined policies regarding 'user rights and responsibilities', including consequences for violation of those policies.

Of course, we want to protect our children from on-line predators -- and, in some sense, from themselves, because inexperience leads one to make bad choices.  Yet, without experience, one never learns how to make good choices. 

I quibble with Chris' choice of the phrase 'ultimate responsibility' because I don't believe it is the schools' responsibility to protect students from their own misdeeds. 

Best efforts to block access, and prevent accidental exposure, to 'inappropriate' material is one thing but expecting the schools to prevent students from willfully violating school policy is quite another.  No amount of technical effort will prevent this kind of abuse of institutional resources.  Only appropriate sanctions for such activity will discourage it.

I also wonder how in the world one decides how to define 'objectionable material' to anyone's satisfaction.  Aside from the obvious (and we know it when we see it), many parents would find some things objectionable that many others would not.  And, what is 'appropriate' for teenagers is not necessarily 'appropriate' (or of interest to) elementary-aged students. 

Federal legislation, such as the "Childhood Internet Protection Act" just makes things worse because, in addition to naming obscenity, and child pornography, both of which are illegal anyway (but for very different reasons), it includes a vague category called "harmful to minors". 

What exactly does that mean to the schools?  Well, it means that no matter how much effort the schools put into trying to meet the requirements of CIPA, they cannot be met to the satisfaction of everybody -- but especially to the authors of the legislation -- who themselves have very little real understanding of the magnitude of the problem or the underlying solution -- which is beyond the control of our schools. 

And what is the parents' role in all of this.  I am struck by Chris' statement:

The most savvy of students have even figured out how to set up their own home computer as a proxy server so that they can log into their computers from school and surf at will.

If the student is using their parent's computers at home to access this information, then it could be argued that if the parents don't object to their children accessing these sites, then the school should not interfere, no matter what Congress thinks of these sites! 

In truth, the problem Chris faces is less about the technical difficulties in finding every hole which some student can leverage to do something 'against the rules' than is it a problem of teenagers 'pushing the envelope' in the absence of clear and consistent policies with consequences commensurate with the infraction. 

It is also worth noting that by forcing school districts to block 'inappropriate' materials (especially in high schools) instead of educating students about the dangers of using these resources (carelessly, or at all) and the consequences of using them in violation of the school's 'user rights and responsibilities' policies,  this legislation leaves many a 17-year-old unprepared for the 'rights and responsibilities' of 'adulthood' when they suddenly turn 18 and find themselves on a college campus with few restrictions but substantial responsibilities -- and consequences if they willfully abuse institutional resources. 

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