This website is blocked due to filtering rules.

Imagine logging onto a website while at school and being greeted by a blank screen and the above warning, which you’ve never seen before. A little bit strange, right? Now imagine your school has previously protested Internet filters and that you had no warning of this new filtering rule. Even more strange.

This is the situation that myself and countless other students experienced today at school. “Did you hear about the filters?” was a question asked more frequently than “Why wasn’t today a snow day?”, which is notable considering that we had a significant (if less severe than predicted) winter storm last night.

Granted, the blocked website that caused an uproar was Netflix. Should students be accessing Netflix while in class? Probably not. But this doesn’t justify a filter. Consider lunchtime, spare periods, and students who get to school early or stay late. There’s nothing wrong with catching up on your favourite TV show during those times (or watching a show that relates to course content) – unless you have a filter in place which sends you the implicit message that there is something wrong with this.

Then there’s the reality that teachers often use Netflix to show documentaries or movies in class. I often find that my understanding of a topic is greater after I’ve seen it applied in a real or fictional story (not to mention that I’ve also experienced test questions based directly on a movie or documentary which was viewed in class).

Streaming Netflix does use quite a bit of Bandwidth (the capacity of a system which provides Internet access). This is the fairest argument for filtering it can prevent higher costs needed to pay for more Bandwidth. Still, implementing the decision without any notice is not, in my opinion, the right way to go about such a thing.

For part of today, Instagram was also unavailable to many students in addition to Netflix. Whether students should be able to use social media or not while at school is an entirely different question (and one which I plan to further explore on this blog). My school embraces 21st century learning. We’re a paperless school; we use technology quite a bit. Students are already using their laptops and phones not as distractions but as learning tools, and what many people fail to realize is that social media is also a learning tool, just maybe one that’s not part of many curriculums.

Internet filtering sends the message that students aren’t responsible enough to use their learning tools to, well, learn; or to choose what websites they access. It also sends the message that students need to be controlled by adults who monitor what we can and cannot do. Today at lunch I clicked on the social media folder on my phone and went to open Instagram. I then recalled that it wasn’t working, supposedly due to the filters and, thumb hovering over my screen, I realized that I was no longer in control of my actions. A filter was dictating them for me. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do in that moment – and this is, though small, an example nonetheless of how Internet filters can restrict students’ rights and freedoms.

I’m a firm believer in the power of teachers and educators to do their jobs (and go above and beyond what is required of them). I am confident that we can rely on educators to teach students how to be good digital citizens – without restricting the ability of students to make decisions, take ownership over those decisions, and deal with the (potentially negative) consequences of those decisions. If we can’t trust teachers to do this, then the problem is not Internet filters, or watching Netflix in class; it’s what students are being taught. And that’s a whole other story… one that won’t change if Internet filters remain in place.