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The neglected side of intellectual freedom | by Doug Johnson September 26, 2012

Posted by Michelle Luhtala in Banned Websites Awareness Day.

Cross-posted from Doug Johnson’s Blue Skunk Blog in honor of Banned Websites Awareness Day on October 3, 2012

Intellectual freedom is the right to freedom of thought and of expression of thought. As defined by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a human right. Article 19 states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The modern concept of intellectual freedom developed out of an opposition to book censorship.  Wikipedia

Intellectual freedom includes having the right to create and disseminate information and opinions as well as having the right to access the intellectual products of others. Given the difficulty and exclusivity of publishing in print (primarily books, newspapers, and magazines) prior to online publishing, the expression side of the intellectual freedom coin has been largely ignored by school librarians and teachers.

But given the increased importance of social networking, the availability of Web 2.0 tools, the realization that knowledge creation is a valuable skill, and the growing recognition of creativity as a primary means of securing a place in the contempory workforce. all educators should be advocating for students’ rights to be read, heard, and viewed.

The library profession is only slowly acknowledging that our battle over student rights to access to digital information sources is as, or more, important that our battle over student rights to access print resources. (AASL has a Banned Websites Awareness Day vs. ALA’s Banned Books Week.) But already the battle ground is shifiting once again.

Many of the websites schools are blocking are those that allow students to share information. Much of the fear associated with today’s Internet is less about what students will find on it and more about what students will post to it. To some degree these concerns are justified – contact with dangerous strangers, cyberbullying, and online repution damage are all negative consequences of the ignorant or malicious use of Web 2.0 and social netwoking tools. Digitial citizenship training needs to address these safety issues, of course.

But there is also a real “danger” in probibiting students from accessing the tools needed to build and share digital portfolios of original work, of participating in collaborative online learning experiences, communicating with global experts and fellow students, and using Web2.0 tools to do primary data collection as a part of research projects. The modern learner needs to share his or her ideas, receive feedback about them,participate in discussions surrounding school topics, and use online tools for collaboration. Too many students find schools blocking or limiting the tools that make publication and communication possible.

Librarians, are we ready to fight for students’ rights not just to access, but to produce? Get ready = this will be the real intellectual freedom battle for our kids this decade.


1. Katrina Lehman - October 3, 2012

As a Library Media Specialist at an international school in China, I often deal with issues of intellectual freedom. Fortunately, the teachers at our school encourage students to participate in Web 2.0 environments, especially blog platforms. Having taught in public schools in the U.S., I find that students at international schools often have more freedom to navigate the online world than students in the U.S. since they are not bound by federal regulations (e.g. CIPA) that require filtering software. Granted, the Chinese government uses filtering software to block pornography and certain political content for the entire nation, but as a rule, the students who are minors in a U.S classroom are often subject to more restrictions that students in other, less-than-democratic countries.

While working in a public charter school in the U.S., I commented on filtering software in my post “Schools Block Web 2.O Technologies”:

At this U.S. public charter school, access to google images was prohibited, making it impossible for students to find visual content for personal enrichment or research.

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