Most parents are familiar with the fact that schools filter the content kids can and cannot view on the Internet while at school. What they may not know is why those filters are in place. While these programs are useful for protecting the young minds of students, they serve an alternative purpose as well. The government actually requires that schools have Internet filters if they want to receive E-rate funding.

So, what is E-rate funding exactly? E-rate funding allows for schools and libraries to receive discounts on Internet services through the government. However, this discount is only available if school and libraries agree to the stipulations of the Child Internet Protection Act; one of these terms requires that Internet filters be put in place to protect against content that could be damaging to minors, obscene, or child pornography.

On top of installing filters to protect against the inappropriate content and searches, schools also have some additional educational obligations. In order to have access to the E-rate discount, schools must educate their students on Internet safety in chatrooms and other forms of electronic communication, as well as the dangers of cyberbullying.

This form of Internet protection brings up questions, however. For example, is this sort of protection really just a form of censorship? Well, the answer to that seems to be both yes and no. While the government is definitely prohibiting access to information by giving schools an incentive to block child access to certain sites, they also allow for teachers and administrators to bypass the blocking system for verified research. So, if a child can prove that their research is educational, they can have access to sites that would otherwise be restricted. In this way the government prevents access when the information seems potentially harmful but allows it when it appears constructive.

This kind of controlled access really does appear to have your child’s best interest at heart. The government appears to want to prevent harm rather than prevent knowledge.

Dabney Bragg