No Teacher Allowed to Read
The practice of unfairly blocking teachers (and students) from reading politically oriented materials came to this author's attention when a teacher from a school district in California e-mailed complaining about her district's filtering of an FNO Press journal and Web site criticizing NCLB (http://nochildleft.com).
The district and its filtering company allowed teachers to access and read the highly partisan marketing efforts and advocacy on behalf of NCLB issued by the outgoing Secretary of Education but blocked the reading of materials critical of NCLB. Even though the Department had been caught paying a journalist to promote its agendas and even though the Department has a very large PR budget advocating NCLB to parents, teachers and others through Web sites and press releases, the district and the filtering company, SonicWALL left the Department's blatant advocacy unfettered while blocking criticism of "No Child Left."
This unbalanced filtering is damaging. It is wrong when school districts and their corporate allies take sides on political issues. If the filtering company allows political advocacy from government Web sites selling the agendas on education, Social Security, war, Arctic drilling and budget deficits while filtering opponents of these policies, they are violating sacred American traditions of fair play and freedom. They are taking sides. They are subtly engaging in mind control. They are indirectly endorsing certain policies while silencing opposing points of view.
When the superintendent of this district was contacted and asked to stop filtering the material, he never replied. Instead, he delegated the problem to a middle school principal who first denied that it was happening. The screen shot below proves that it was happening on the very day the principal denied it. When asked to stop filtering information critical of NCLB, the district administrators lapsed into silence. As this issue goes to print, they have not paid the editor the courtesy of a response other than the original (false) denial and a one line message from the principal (see below).
What makes this episode in censorship especially pernicious is the refusal of each party to take responsibility for the censorship.
When contacted and asked to stop filtering "No Child Left," the top PR person for SonicWALL issued the following statement:
The screen shot says very clearly, "Reason for restriction . . .
Forbidden Category: Political/Advocacy Groups."
How does this filtering qualify as censorship?
The filtering is unfair and unbalanced. The filtering company and its client school district have blocked teachers from reading articles critical of the federal educational law called (inaccurately) "No Child Left Behind" by blocking access to a Web site critical of the law, http://nochildleft.com while allowing access to sites promoting the policy (advocacy) such as proponents in the Department of Ed.
If a reader does a Google search for "No Child Left Behind," the list is dominated by proponents. The filtered site http://nochildleft.com comes in third. It is strongly and openly opposed to NCLB, critical of its impact on schools and proud of its opposition to an ill-considered faulty policy. Teachers in some districts are not allowed to read the criticism until they are home. When they are at work, they must read the party line.
Teachers need to read more than one side, but if they work in districts that have chosen the political advocacy filter from SonicWALL, they may only reach Web sites that are enthusiastic supporters of NCLB.
The filtering company and its client school district allow teachers to read every one of the first 30 sites except for the one site that is clearly opposed to NCLB and an article from Mother Jones, "No Child Left Unrecruited." All the "allowed" sites except for the NEA either endorse NCLB or are neutral.
This kind of filtering is censorship. It is a subtle but dangerous attempt at mind control.
Should teachers and students be able to visit Web sites that argue for social and political policies of various kinds from several points of view?
It would seem to be an unalienable right. Citizenship involves weighing opposing viewpoints. It is American to brook dissent.
Should a school district block teachers and students from reading certain political and social points of view while allowing access only to opposing points of view?
It would seem to be a gross violation of fundamental rights. If blocking political advocacy sites, at least the district should be fair and even-handed.
This photograph shows Constitution Hall where the Bill of Rights was forged and agreed upon long ago.
The photograph was shot on February 25, 2005 from the room where the Liberty Bell is kept safe.
The curtains were drawn against a bright sun, creating a filter of sorts preventing us from seeing the Hall clearly, obscuring the place where Americans first agreed upon fundamental rights in the Declaration and then in the Constitution.
Infiltrating the Public Schools
While the filtering companies claim that they are even-handed in their filtering, most of them refuse to reveal either their lists of blocked sites or the criteria they use for filtering. This makes it difficult to evaluate the truth of their claim. It also makes it difficult for a school district to make an informed decision if they select one of the political filters.
What are they buying? It is impossible to tell. Yet the company claims each district is making an informed choice of which sites to filter.
How can that be if they are not provided with a list of the sites blocked?
When looking at sites considering government policies, if government sites promoting and advocating those policies are left unfettered while opposing sites are usually filtered under a political advocacy claim, a company is effectively endorsing one set of policies while rejecting another. The definition of advocacy is then tilted to favor the government and party in power over those who have contrasting points of view.
What can you do?
1. Make sure such filters are not operating in your school district.
2. Ask your administration and Board of Education to take a stand against such political filtering.
3. Contact SonicWall and let them know how you feel about their filtering. E-mail their PR person, Mary McEvoy at mmcevoy@SonicWALL.com.
4. Remain vigilant as new technologies arrive and offer services that may undermine fundamental liberties.