RHS Tradition of Tyranny: Chromebook Restrictions

It’s 11:47 P.M.

A student in AP Biology urgently clicks onto the Google Classroom page, scrolling hastily down its awful new layout to find the homework that’s due in exactly 12 minutes. There’s an attachment posted on the homework assignment. It’s an article called, “Ionic Bonds and Tertiary Structures of Proteins.” The student clicks on the link, and the unnervingly slow Chromebook eventually produces a blank, grey screen with a picture of a padlock. The student refreshes the page again and again but to no avail. Fear engulfs the student as the minutes tick onwards. The padlock persists. The page is blocked… for “pornography”?

This is a true story and just one of many. The RHS administration has taken the policing of Chromebook usage to an extreme: Huffington Post articles on sex discrimination are restricted, Quora threads are categorized as “adult content,” and entire Google pages are blocked. That insufferable padlock has even claimed the youtube channel “turksvids,” which is categorized as “may be inappropriate” for the obscene crime of teaching students how to take the antiderivative of ∫sec³xdx. It also seems that all you need to do to get an accessible website restricted is go on world-geography-games.com one too many times in the same week. Clearly, these aren’t just restrictions anymore. They scream of censorship!

This all goes back to a federal law passed by Congress in 2000, the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which mandates libraries and schools to filter Internet access and block material that is “obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors” on computers used by students under seventeen years of age. But is Quora really “obscene”? Is that biology student’s homework article, “Ionic Bonds and Tertiary Structures of Proteins,” really “pornography”? The growing problem is that our school has greatly expanded the definitions of terms that qualify inappropriate usage and is using them to indiscriminately restrict Internet access.

And okay, you may say, it’s not that big a deal. I don’t really use Quora anyway. But this kind of restriction becomes a problem really fast. By denying its students proper access to Internet resources, the administration is limiting the scope of information that a student can learn. Moreover, it decides which sources students can use, a decision that should be made by individual students. If we’re not trusted to be responsible consumers of news who can make informed decisions, how will we ever learn to navigate the Internet beyond high school?

With these restrictions, this will only continue to be a town that coddles its children and leaves them blindsided in the real world. It’s clear that if RHS wants to produce intelligent and knowledgeable internet consumers, it should abandon these excessive limitations.

And on one last note, this year, restricting access has also gone beyond simply blocking websites. Students can no longer use their personal accounts on their Chromebooks. This completely undermines the entire purpose of giving laptops to students in the first place, which is to provide all students with equal access to the Internet. All students need access to their personal accounts for obvious reasons (non-RHS-related work, college applications, FAFSA), and when the school deprives this access, it inconveniences many students who don’t have other computers. I myself can’t even access the RHS High Times Google account to write this article! This gives an advantage to those who have personal computers and a disadvantage those who rely solely on Chromebooks for school work, thus ultimately deepening—not bridging—the digital divide. If this school truly prioritizes equal access to the Internet’s resources for all students, action must be taken.

Swathi Kella
editor in chief

Graphic: Amelia Chen

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