October 18, 2018

OPINION: Should schools be able to block certain websites?

In the age of the Internet, school administrators across the country have been faced with a common question: should schools be able to block websites, and if so, which sites and apps?

Wellesley is just one of the many school systems to encounter this problem. At the moment, the high school has limited restrictions on two of their Wi-Fi networks: HS-Academic and HS-Personal Devices. A password is required to access both of these networks. A third Wi-Fi network, HS-Guest, has had less restrictions, and there is no password needed. The high school states in their Computer Acceptable Use Policy that “using social networking, instant messaging and chat rooms for non-school related reasons” is not permitted. A similar rule goes for playing computer games and streaming videos for non-school related reasons.

It makes perfect sense for the school to restrict the “Academic” network. That Wi-Fi network, often referred to as “the fastest one” by students, should be used for academic purposes only. Its intention is for students to use it for school-related purposes. The school should be able to put whatever restrictions they would like on this network, as long as the restrictions clearly are unrelated to anything educational whatsoever. Blocking pornographic and illegal websites is essential.

The second somewhat-censored Wi-Fi network, HS-Personal Devices, however, currently has restrictions similar to those placed on HS-Academic. This does not make as much sense as it does for the “Academic” network. Though of course learning should be the priority in school, students often spend time doing non-school related activities while inside the building. It happens. During lunch, study hall, as well as after school, students do not always spend their time on school-related activities. That being said, shouldn’t students be allowed to access the sites that they please on their personal device (personal laptop computer, smartphone, or tablet), as students do not always spend school time doing school-related things? I think yes, excluding, of course, anything pornographic or illegal.

Consider the social view. Students spend lots of time conversing about non-school related things while inside the building. Some websites and social apps like Instagram and Snapchat – both blocked on HS-Personal Devices – offer students alternative ways of socializing. 81 percent of online teens use some kind of social media. Clearly, the Internet and online applications are a major part of teen socializing. Blocked sites like Instagram and Snapchat are simply another medium to socialize and converse with other students – sure, they might not be school related, but think about how often you socialize with your friends on a daily basis – most likely quite often. The school administration in fact encourages healthy peer communication and involvement, so why should they block certain sites and applications that can facilitate this?

There is always going to be inconsistency in website blocking. Maybe your favorite gaming website is blocked on HS-Personal Devices, but it’s only a matter of time before a clone-website is created and you can use that. The truth is that there are many approaches to get around online censors; there is no surefire way to completely make sure students are not using certain websites. On top of that, the third Wi-Fi network, HS-Guest, is often unblocked, and students can access certain websites through this.

Censoring certain websites does not increase academic performance and focus, and on top of that, it limits the amount of social freedom that students may have. It is a student freedom to have access to an unrestricted web, and it should be a student’s responsibility to judge whether they can handle the privilege of a free web or not. Students are going to face an unrestricted web in the future, beyond the walls of school – this means energy should go into teaching students to use technology responsibly, rather than limiting their access.

(Jameson O’Neil ’18, Staff Writer)

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