Filtering: The Critical Difference Between “All” and “Most”

AASL, Banned Books Week, School Libraries

Audrey ChurchWritten by AASL President, Audrey Church Audrey Church on Twitter

One of the nine common beliefs set forth in the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner is as follows: “Equitable access is a key component to education. All children deserve equitable access to books and reading, to information, and to information technology in an environment that is safe and conducive to learning.” Yet due to overly restrictive and excessive filtering in our schools, we fall short of realizing this belief.

As we celebrate Banned Books Week and the freedom to read, we focus on Banned Websites Awareness Day and the “overly restrictive blocking of legitimate, educational websites and academically useful social networking tools in schools and school libraries.” We’ve all experienced it:  the blocked website that the student needs to complete a research paper on a controversial issue; the perfectly relevant and appropriate online video that one of our teachers has located at home and planned to use in classroom instruction only to find that it’s blocked by the school’s filtering software. We’ve experienced the frustration of not being able to effectively teach our students to use social media tools appropriately and ethically because they are blocked in the school.

Let’s face it: we have several issues here.  First, all students deserve access to academically appropriate information and tools. Secondly, most of our students have devices in their hands which allow them to access all the sites and tools that we have blocked and filtered. Who is teaching these students appropriate and ethical use? It’s challenging to teach information literacy and digital citizenship skills when we cannot access the needed sites and tools. Third, there is a critical difference between “all” and “most.” Some students do not have devices in their hands nor do they have internet access at home; for these students, access to information and practice in utilizing 21st-century networking tools (which they need to be successful in college, career, and community) takes place within the school building. When access is filtered and overly restricted, these students lose the most.

Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later makes the following points:

  • “Schools block a wide range of constitutionally protected content using overly broad filtering categories that go well beyond those defined by CIPA” (p. 21).
  • “Over-blocking content as a means of managing the classroom, limiting exposure to complex and challenging websites, or curtailing the use of interactive platforms has numerous unintended consequences for students…effectively limiting the acquisition of digital literacy, which increasingly is recognized as a fundamental requirement for all citizens to participate fully in a globally competitive and democratic 21st-century society” (p. 22-23).
  • “Over-filtering has not only educational but also social consequences for students as it often results in a lack of moral or ethical instruction to guide online behavior” (p. 26).
  • “However, the impact of filtering on learning is not felt equally among students…[we have] two classes of students: an advantaged class with unfiltered internet access at home and a disadvantaged class with only filtered access at school” (p. 27).

I repeat: “All children deserve equitable access to books and reading, to information, and to information technology in an environment that is safe and conducive to learning.” To provide them with less is not acceptable.


Audrey Church currently serves as president of the American Association of School Librarians.  In her day job, she is a professor of school librarianship at Longwood University (VA).  Prior to coming to Longwood, she was a building level librarian in public schools for twenty years.  She frequently says that the only job better than being a school librarian is teaching people how to be school librarians.  Throughout her career, she has emphasized the positive impact that school librarians have on student learning.  Her research and writing have focused on principals’ perceptions of the instructional role of the school librarian, and her latest book is Tapping into the Skills of the 21st-Century School Librarian: A Concise Handbook for Administrators (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).  AASL Knowledge QuestShe believes passionately in children’s right to read and to access information and in the librarian’s role in championing this right. You can find her on Twitter @churchap3 and #SchoolLibrariansTransformStudentLearning.

Filtering: The Critical Difference Between “All” and “Most” is cross-posted on AASL’s Knowledge Quest.

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