As a value, people of goodwill interpret intellectual freedom differently in terms of policy applications. These policy applications are often contested, debated and sometimes settled only in the courts, where defenders of the U.S. Constitution interpret and extend the First Amendment to situations and technologies wholly unknown to the founders who wrote the original documents.
The school library or media center “serves as a point of voluntary access to information and ideas and as a learning laboratory for students as they acquire critical thinking and problem solving skills needed in a pluralistic society” (Office for Intellectual Freedom [OIF], 2002, p. 105). School media centers provide support for the curriculum and also allow students to explore a wide range of topics of interest to them. Gardner (2001b) says that the school media center “is the one academic unit in each school district that serves every student regardless of their course selection or academic ability” (p. 23).
In recent years, one of the primary reasons that students use the school’s media center is to access the Internet. The Internet has become a standard source of information and entertainment for today’s youth. A recent study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project (Levin and Arafeh, 2002) found that 78% of America’s children between the ages of 12 and 17 use the Internet and nearly every online teenager (94%) has used the Internet for school research.
In order to qualify for substantial federal e-rate discounts and other federal funds under the provisions of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), many schools use filtering technology on library computers. Studies indicate the numbers of schools using filtering technology range from 53% (Curry and Haycock, 2001) to over 90% (National School Boards Foundation, 2002). Filters block access to Internet content that has been pre-determined to be objectionable or inappropriate. The vast majority of content is intended to be blocked because it is sexually explicit, though chat rooms, e-mail and software downloads are also commonly blocked.