I’m *not* breaking Godwin’s Law, but…

…something happened today that is making think about it.

My tenth graders just finished reading Elie Wiesel’s Night, and they’re now working on culminating projects.   One of the groups is doing a “Who was Hitler, really” kind of thing, researching his life and trying to figure out how someone like him happened.

We were all in the lab today, and one of the girls in the group–obviously reading some informative site–asked me, “Ms O, what’s ‘mein kampf”?”

As I always remind my students, it’s not my job to provide answers but to help guide them to arriving at their own answers–which is much harder, usually, than the former.  For both of us.  So, I said, “I think you should research that.  Go see what you can find, and we’ll talk in a few minutes.”

About twenty seconds later–I hadn’t even rounded to the other side of the lab, yet–the same girl, after doing a search, said, “Ms O?  The filter blocked it.  Says it’s ‘hate speech’.”

Well, of *course* it’s hate speech…Hitler freaking wrote it! For the love of all that’s educational!

Frak!

Two years ago, I had a senior girl unable to do most of her research for a paper at school because she was researching breast cancer research.  God forbid a student accidentally stumble on a picture or description of a human body part, even in the interests of healthy research.  This same student had family members personally touched by this terrible disease, and really wanted to write this paper and learn more about it herself…so, she did so from home.

Because the filter wouldn’t let her type in “breast” and get any results.

A year or so before that, I had a student writing about the ravages of meth–something that definitely touches many here in the rural backwater.  Meth is quite a prominent, and deadly, drug in these parts.

What happened?  He couldn’t look up figures from NIDA–the National Institute on Drug Abuse–because–yep, you guessed it–it was blocked.  He couldn’t look at any site that included “drug”, just as my other student couldn’t look at any site including the word “breast.”  (No looking up chicken recipes!)

It’s enough to make any educator, anyone who cares about quality education, anyone who’s not tied into a veritable knot about “safety of children!!!!!!!” with a dozen exclamation points.

Our children will, most certainly, NOT be safe if we don’t teach them responsible internet use, don’t allow them to use the word “breast” or look up drug use statistics, or learn about a crazy, paranoid, dangerously-charismatic wingnut mass murderer.  We’ll send them off without any tools, without the ability to *educate themselves*.

All in the misguided ruse of “protecting” them.

So, today, when my student said she wasn’t allowed to look up Hitler’s book in a public school in supposedly the world’s “most free” country, even with a teacher’s blessing, I very nearly had a conniption.  (My students know how I feel about filters, and I had twenty-five pairs of eyes on me immediately–I’m proud to say that I did keep my cool, although I explained why I was angered by the filter.)

I said, “Well, the term means ‘my struggle,’ but I wanted you to find that out on your own, and it’s the title of a book Hitler wrote.”

And, so, I’m not going to break Godwin’s Law. I’m not going to compare a totalitarian, Big Brother-esque mandatory internet filter to…

…um, nope.  I think you can connect the dots just fine.

Edit:  1/16/09, to add italics to book title