We all know that feeling of getting on our phones during STEP and not being able to do anything. You can’t go on Instagram or Snapchat or any other social media unless you use LTE, which can be expensive. Unfortunately, there isn’t much the school can do to change the blocked sites because of two bills passed by Congress: CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) and the Neighborhood Act.
CIPA was enacted in 2000 and it blocks large sections of the Internet in primary and secondary schools. The Neighborhood Act, which was enacted in 2001, deals with small sections of the Internet, like specific websites. Sophomore Gwen Tsai said, “They blocked a lot of helpful sites for teachers and it forces teachers to spend more time to find websites they can use in lessons that aren’t blocked. Also when you’re in class and get get any research done because all of the websites are done, it’s really annoying.”
Many websites are blocked that could be used for educational purposes. For example, students cannot access the online newspaper, theblaze.com, a website filled with articles on current events all over the world. Debate.org, a website used for online debates about current events, is blocked as well. It is very common for websites that express a political opinion such as who should win the presidential campaign or gun laws to be blocked, such as saf.org (Second Amendment Foundation) and nrlc.org (National Right to Life).
The whole goal of CIPA is to block “obscene” content from the Internet in schools. The question is: what does it mean for something to be obscene? Well, the dictionary definition of obscene is “offensive to morality or decency; indecent; depraved,” but there was no expressed definition written in CIPA. However, in 1973 the Supreme Court did express a definition for obscenity: the main gist of it is that to be considered non-obscene, content can’t be sexual and can’t be considered offensive to anyone.
The problem with blocking sites is that while a good portion of content on the Internet is irrelevant or inappropriate, by installing wide, general blocks, school systems are preventing their students from accessing sites that can be incredibly eye-opening informative. Social media sites, most of which are blocked by DCPS, are a prime example of this. More and more people are using websites like Twitter or Tumblr to share opinions and knowledge about current and past events. These websites are easy to access, updated immediately, and are used by hundreds of thousands of people.
Another great part about social media is that it creates many more personal links between people. Rather than learning information about a hurricane from a news reporter, you can learn about that hurricane from someone who actually experienced it. You are directly connected to people all over the world– which is much more than a textbook made in 2004 can do. While CIPA and the Neighborhood Act do a good job of preventing students from accessing inappropriate websites, it takes away many learning opportunities.
Unfortunately, schools aren’t able to take advantage of all the fantastic opportunities that social media and other blocked sites have to offer. We can thank CIPA and the Neighborhood Act for that.