Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Worse than DOPA - the Whitelist

Yes, this is worse than DOPA being enacted into law, because it is already here, strangling the Internet pipe into our classrooms down to an infinitesimally thin strand of exclusive, hand picked sites. This major shift in approach to Internet filtering in our schools is effectively shutting down access to web 2.0 in our classrooms.


From Wikipedia:
A whitelist is a list of accepted items or persons in a set. This list is inclusionary, confirming that the item being analyzed is acceptable. It is the opposite of a blacklist which confirms that items are not acceptable.

For the last ten years or so of providing web access in schools in the US, school districts have relied on a blacklist, a list of identified inappropriate sites to which computers within a district were denied access. Districts commonly contracted with software vendors who constantly updated that list with inappropriate sites. Staff members in that district were asked to report inappropriate sites that they or their kids happened upon so that they could be added to the database.

An example of how a whitelist changes everything:
Say a district whitelists (very common practice). All blogs that end in are then blocked from within the district, effectively blocking the .06% of inappropriate blogs from blogger (I made up this stat - just bear with me). This effectively shuts off access to 99.94% of the appropriate blogs on blogger. If anyone wants access to a blog on blogger they must request an "unblock", along with rationale for the unblock. One unblocked site still leaves 99.94% (the appropriate ones) blocked.

The onus is now on the teacher. There is no wide open door anymore. If you want to see what's out there, you have to go looking on your own time, from home, jump through hoops, and cross your fingers. Teachable moments? Forget it.

There are hundreds of companies out there with blacklists that school districts could plug into their filtering software. Why is blacklisting not used anymore? It costs more. It's more work. It's not perfect. Why are districts whitelisting? It's cheap. It's relatively easy. It's safe. No kids will ever see anything inappropriate.

Heck, kids won't see anything. This approach is so obviously unethical and plain out wrong, that I cannot believe nobody is saying anything about it. Maybe nobody realizes it is happening. I've been using the web as a part of my daily classroom instruction - with third graders - for the past twelve years, and I can say this is by far the most repressive and restrictive access to knowledge that I have ever seen. I guess what sticks in my craw the most is that those in charge of school Internet filters are giving teachers absolutely zero credit - or responsibility - for being able to watch, teach, and look out for the safety of their children on the Internet.

Worrying about DOPA at this point is ignoring the elephant in the living room.


Anonymous said...

One reason I suspect no one is saying anything about it is because only a very small percentage of teachers blog or use web 2.0 applications educationally in a significant way so they are a very small group and many of this small group are not going to take the chance of being a dissenting voice, parents of students that have substantial access outside school feel their students have plenty of access and/or aren't upset enough about it to say anything, parents of students that don't have access outside school don't tend to understand any of the implications and having a voice is not something they have experience with. So I'm afraid this is barely a blip on the radar screen.

Anonymous said...


I have been working as a sub and trying to observe computer use when I am in schools. I am NOT critical of schools that have very little use, but I want to know where teachers are really coming from when I do professional development. I am struggling with how to encourage teachers to use technology in a REAL way.

I think that whitelisting is horrible, but even blacklisting was enough to keep most teachers from even trying to use the web.

I am also writing about similar things on my blog


Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher said...

I agree! Actually, white listing gets teachers off the hot-list because they have an excuse to do nothing!

I am writing a book right now for this very reason about this very subject!

Great question tonight on the Skype call, I want to hear a podcast about what you're doing. Have you done one yet?

Mark Ahlness said...

Thanks for the feedback, folks. I do not like to post such downer stuff, and I absolutely can't hang out with people who complain all the time - but when the actions of non-educators cripple my ability to teach and prepare my kids properly for the future, well, my tone turns a little sour. I can only hope that more will begin to talk about whitelisting. The impact on Internet access in schools is devastating, and it seems very few are aware of the change having happened.

My latest struggle involves trying to get access from my school to the school wiki - which I believe will actually replace the school website within a year or two. is whitelisted.