Answering the Libertarian Librarian

March 26, 2015
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By Lea Z. Singh |

The liberal elites of Western society seem to be retiring freedom of religion and freedom of conscience into the dustbins of history. Here in Canada, we just recently witnessed Ontario doctors being told that they must refer even for treatments like abortion which violate their most deeply held values, and law graduates who object to same-sex marriage have been refused professional accreditation in three provinces, including Canada's largest.

So here is a surprise. North American associations of librarians have bucked the "progressive" trend of reducing freedoms. Instead, legions of librarian leaders across the continent have staunchly embraced a free-for-all libertarianism. Result: many public libraries, even school libraries, now allow Internet access to everything under the sun, including pornography and often child pornography.

It's nice that librarians are perhaps the last standing bureaucrats who will protect my freedom to think outside the liberal agenda. But it would be great if my freedom didn't come at the cost of permitting obscenity in formerly safe zones for children and families. 

Where have librarians gone astray?

What is the reasoning behind the wildly permissive attitude of so many librarians across North America? In searching for the answer, I came across a 2014 debate over school Internet filters in the town of Halton, Ontario. In April 2014, the staff at Dr Frank J. Hayden Secondary School in Halton published a letter explaining why they oppose filtering the Internet in their high school.

Their letter presents a collection of many of the arguments against filtering Internet access. So let's look at how it starts out:
The reasons for installing the filter that have been detailed all have to do with fear. Fear our young people will accidentally stumble upon unacceptable material (which is very unlikely), but more to the point, that they will knowingly use our Wi-Fi to access pornography. All of the reasons to vote against such measures are about both educating and trusting our young people. Please consider how you view the youth in Halton before you draw this very clear judgment of them.

We ask our students to sign an “acceptable use” policy with regards to our technology. Students pledge NOT to abuse the technology in the building. What are we saying to them if we ask them to sign this and then create a filter that makes that mutual agreement null and void?

As learning partners with our students it is part of our mandate to teach them how to be proper digital citizens. We talk daily with our students about how to properly use and respect technology. If we filter their access, these conversations become condescending and patronizing.
...As teachers of 21st century learning we are all actively involved in teaching students how to be proper digital citizens. Part of this includes teaching them how to surf responsibly at school and home. As one of our students pointed out, if adults don’t trust students, why should students trust adults?
Trusting our young people can be good, but in cases like this, it  is hopelessly naive. We usually know that. Notice how we treat other dangerous and addictive behaviours that could harm our kids: we ban them with the force of law.

After all, why is it illegal for children and teens to buy cigarettes or alcohol? Aren't we being "condescending and patronizing" towards our kids if they can't buy beer at the liquor store until they are 19? By the reasoning of Halton's teachers, it seems to follow that legal age limits also show a lack of trust in our young people.

Would Halton's teachers dare to continue their argument to its logical extension, and argue that we don't need laws to keep our children away from cigarettes, alcohol and even drugs, because education and trust suffice?

Ridiculous, of course. We have laws because we know that sometimes, children and teens can't be trusted to do the right thing. We need real barriers to protect children against their own immature judgement and miscalculated risk taking.

Kids have a good reason for making the wrong choices: their brains are still developing. Even teenagers are still growing their prefrontal cortex. This is the area that is responsible for rational reasoning, controlling impulses and making good judgments.

Among neuroscientists, "there is fairly widespread agreement that adolescents take more risks at least partly because they have an immature frontal cortex, because this is the area of the brain that takes a second look at something and reasons about a particular behavior."

This is not just an opinion, it is biology. Expecting children and teenagers to act like adults will not actually make them act like adults.

Knowing that information, why are we now putting the online equivalent of hard street drugs straight into the hands of our young people, and saying "I trust you not to take these"? Even many adults would fail that test!

And yes, pornography really is like crack cocaine. Many studies have shown the brain changes that occur from viewing pornography.  In 2014, a Cambridge University study found that porn addicts had the "same brain activity as seen in drug addicts and alcoholics". (To learn more about pornography as an addiction, see also this post at One Man's Hope for a Better World).

So where kids and pornography are concerned, here is my own rule: "hope for the best, but filter the rest".

Halton made several more arguments in their article, and I will be answering these in future posts.
...To be continued



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