Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quick Fixes Do Not Work: Case in Point=Filtering

Quick fixes are very inviting. Wouldn't it be great if you could solve complex problems with simple and speedy one-stop measures? Here are some that have failed for me:
  • That diet where you consume large quantities of noxious cabbage soup.
  • The book that promised toilet training in three days.
  • Blocking the hole my dog made in the cyclone fence with a golf putter and a couple of broom sticks.
  • I am not a golfer, but Dad is watching the Ryder Cup. Just plugged on a TV commercial was something called "15 Minute Golf"...somehow I wonder about that too.
On a larger scale I can think of other quick fixes:
  • Preemptive war
  • FEMA trailers
  • Enron economics
  • Fixing schools with standardized tests
  • Making kids readers with AR
But the allure of the quick fix is very hard to resist. That brings me to a prime example:
I wish I could say that identifying filters as quick fixes was my idea, but it is not. Last week Nancy Willard posted about a recent presentation she had made. When Nancy talks, I listen. The main them was that Internet filtering is a quick fix and that, like other quickies, it simply does not work. Here are some comments she shared with me and gave me permission to cite:

I think you will like my definition of technology "quick fix" because I
found a way to distinguish quick fixes from technology protections. By
nature, a quick fix is trying to stop intentional behavior of the user,
whereas technology protections guard against attacks from the outside and
accidental behavior. There is no technology that can effectively keep
teens in electronically fenced play yards. And the sooner we realize this,
the better.

A specific technology can function as both - depending on the age of the
user and use of the technology. Filtering software can function as a
pretty effective technology protection for younger children but is a
woefully inadequate quick fix when used with a teen. Digital
identification will be a valuable addition to allow adults more security
when engaging in electronic commerce, but is a woefully deficient approach
to address concerns of teens on social networking sites.

Her words made me remember a panel discussion presented at last spring's TLA (Texas Library Association) Conference. Nancy was on that panel, and so was Spring Branch ISD Media Coordinator, Dr. Barry Bishop. He is putting into practice what both he and Nancy preach, commonsense filtering. This is a paraphrase, but in essence he said, "We decided not to make filtering all about keeping out a large number of Internet sites that might or might not be problematical. Instead, we are allowing in as much as we possibly can, and then just blocking those sites which really are 'bad.'" Hmmmm you might say, that sounds like a lot of work. Well, it likely is more work, especially at the outset. That is because it is NOT the quick fix approach.

And think about the positives! Teachers in that district have participated in the "21 Things" training for Web 2.0 and are moving ahead with exciting new projects that engage kids and make them less likely to try so hard to circumvent the filters. This means that teachers need to be trained, something that I suspect is least likely to be happening in the schools with the tightest filters. How do I know this? I learn this from my MLS students. Those who accept filters as "the only way to keep kids safe" are those who have the least familiarity with new and exciting Internet resources and activities.

I am aware that many teachers, librarians, administrators, and others that work with kids are doing great things with Web 2.0 resources. I see their listserv postings, I follow them on Twitter, I read their blogs and wikis, and I attend their presentations at conferences. But I keep wondering about the many schools and districts where nothing has changed since the filters were set years ago. Again, I know there are many out there, because so many of my students describe their situations that way. These are the folks I worry about, both adults and children. I am presently on a campaign to offer information in print that can be used to help people who are seeking resources to help bolster their efforts to loosen filters. And without a doubt two of the leaders to whom I turn are Nancy Willard and Barry Bishop.

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