As I mentioned in my introductory post, I will be a senior at a public high school in NYC this fall. (As much as I’d like to forget all about school during these fleeting summer months, it still seems to be on my mind.) As far as public schools go, mine is pretty well furnished. We have a dedicated Parents’ Association that puts on impressive fundraisers, and most of our students come from families privileged enough to donate — though because of massive budget cuts (even worse than last year’s), all of the nifty electives our teachers planned for are simply not happening next year.
So we’re relatively well off, and that means we have quite a few computers: one in each classroom, mostly for teacher use; a few in our small school library; and around forty in a lab that’s available for us students to use during our free periods and afterschool.
The problem is that when you’re using a computer at school, finding what you’re looking for on the internet can be quite a task. You see, the New York City Department of Education uses Websense, a service that “provide[s] hundreds of organizations around the world with the latest security warnings on malicious Internet events including spyware, phishing, spam, crimeware and compromised Web sites.” In our case, the so-called “malicious” and “compromised” sites are identified by categories; if the program picks up on one of its trigger categories, the entire website will be blocked.
So what does the DOE consider “malicious” enough to block?
The category “personal networking” is blocked. This is ostensibly to stop students from logging on to Facebook, though I’m of the opinion that a little downtime on Facebook would make kids more relaxed and productive overall — but this also means that I can’t read Shapely Prose and some other blogs while at school.
The category “pro-choice” is blocked. This means that not only am I unable to use NARAL Pro-Choice New York’s Book of Choices to find a clinic where I can pick up free emergency contraception, I’m also unable to do research on abortion laws for an assigned project.
The categories “sexuality” and “homosexuality” are blocked. This means that not only am I unable to look up counseling resources from the Anti-Violence Project to use in a Gay-Straight Alliance club meeting, I’m also unable to find HIV/AIDS infection statistics in preparation for my school’s AIDS Action Day.
These are just a few categories that have given me trouble recently. I’m sure there’s a wealth of even-more-taboo keywords that are also blocked. Obviously there’s quite a lot of unbiased information that the DOE doesn’t want students worrying our silly little heads about.
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