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Internet Filter in Schools: Good Idea or Puritanical?

April 06, 1998

Regarding the use of Internet filters on public school classroom computers [March 30], P.J. Huffstutter's article goes straight to the heart of where a modern student's educational problems truly arise: school administrators stuck in the academic Stone Age, panicking to preserve their antiquated views on education.

Santa Ana Supt. Al Mijares ("Kids should not be using computers for fun") would sooner send students back to the days of ink pots and dunce caps than embrace the idea that students learn best when they enjoy what they're studying.

No one is denying that some material is inappropriate for public school students. But would Mijares prevent access to all magazines merely because some magazines contain sexual or entertaining content? Reader's Digest would no doubt be a top offender.

How can restricted access to the Internet serve any educational purpose? Better not to have access at all rather than the near-fascist authoritarian bureaucracy described in the article. How can a teacher prepare a lesson plan based on World Wide Web access when it may be weeks or months before "approval" will be given?

And why must being "focused on a task" and "fun" be mutually exclusive? What better way to get students to focus than to make a lesson plan fun, using examples that interest a student? How better to engender an appreciation for statistics than with the examples provided (free of charge by the way) by baseball or Wall Street? This would give students a real-life example of how statistics are useful. How better to understand the progression of global and national events than by accessing the CNN or (heaven forbid!) the Los Angeles Times' excellent Web sites?

The scientists and researchers who designed and created the Internet did so for the sole purpose of unrestricted information-sharing--firewalls, filters and proxies were never part of their plan. The Internet itself is specifically designed to thwart attempts, deliberate or accidental, to interrupt this free exchange. Half-baked software filters, rather than adult supervision, will always be easily overcome by a closed-minded administrator's worst nightmare: a bright student, focused and engaged by the puzzle of defeating the filter system but otherwise bored by a hobbled and hamstrung curriculum.

Al Mijares' over-restrictive and puritanical position is in direct conflict with the ultimate goal of the educational system: to teach students how to teach themselves.

THOM CATE

Santa Barbara

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It's disturbing that in this "land of the free" so many are willing to chuck their freedoms in favor of censorship.

Apparently the censorship argument for Internet materials goes: What's wrong with denying people access to life-saving information on breast cancer if we can protect young minds from everything that includes the word "breast" (including such things as recipes that include "chicken breast").

And if we have to screen out all information on marriage and families (and family values) to get rid of everything that mentions "couples," well, that's just the price we have to pay to protect ourselves from "harmful" Internet material!

In the pro-censorship rhetoric, the phrase "harmful to minors" keeps popping up. But where is the proof that nonviolent, sexually explicit material is actually harmful? Everybody just assumes it is.

Although many studies have been done in numerous countries over the years, no substantive proof really exists--that is, unless you count politically motivated studies designed to appease voters, materials that include violence as a component, or jailhouse "porn made me do it" excuses.

At the same time, considerable evidence is now piling up indicating a relationship between violence in the media and violence in society--the same kind of violence that we pay box-office prices to see in ever-escalating doses.

Is there something wrong here?

RON WHITTAKER

Simi Valley

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Internet filter critic Jon Katz advocates the oldest and most absurd argument for unrestricted Internet access: Kids will find a way anyhow, so let's remove all the barriers. This logic then dictates that the legal smoking and drinking ages be repealed, and to extend the same access kids have to libraries to adult bookstores.

People like Katz are dishonest. They intentionally trivialize and whitewash the attraction of pornography as nothing to be feared compared to the astronomic injustice of limited Internet access.

Moral barriers exist so that one might be reasonably restrained from what honest and intelligent people know to be dangerous. Internet filters, once perfected, will remove an obvious temptation and lessen the chances that minors will be prematurely exposed to outlandish graphic images that even a vast number of adult minds cannot resist.

TRENT REYES

Long Beach

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