We see you here; we see you there

March 18, 2010 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Do you remember your high school years? Was it full of Zac Efron dudes singing and dancing their way through musicals? Or pretty young things spending more time on their appearance than their learning?  My time in high school was pretty pedestrian now that I think about it. I always had my nose in textbooks, showed up to all classes and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I had a crush on a few dudes; every weekend I cleaned the pool for my ancient history teacher; and I plotted and schemed how to avoid physical education classes. But that’s about as radical as it gets. Boring, yeah, I know.

But seems if you’re a kid in school these days, it’s not necessarily a pleasant thing to experience. Why? Because we’ve reached the point where every school kid is looked on as a possible threat. Before I launch myself into the topic, yes, there have been some terrible incidents in schools where kids and teachers have been attacked or shot. But not every kid is planning to off his or her fellow students or teachers. Some are there – gasp! – to learn and gain the marks needed to enter university or college.

Take a moment to remember your high school years – then read this letter from James Stephenson as he relates a school stuffed full of CCTV cameras and invasive searches. Stephenson graduated from Virginia’s public schooling system two years ago, so it’s all fresh in his memory. He talks of staff searching student cars and lockers; how heavily-armed and armored police officers roam the halls; and he invites us to consider that CCTV cams don’t make you feel more secure – they make you feel “twitchy and paranoid”. My heart went out to Stephenson when I read this letter. I cannot imagine being a kid in high school surrounded by security and teaching staff who consider I might be a potential threat and therefore have to monitor, surveil, frisk, search and spy on me. And of course you would have read about student laptop webcams used to spy on kids at school and in their own homes.

Now, I’ve just been reading about the circus going on at a school in Chelmsley Wood, UK (rest assured dear American reader: you are not the only country forced to put up with the theatre of security). Kids at Grace Academy in Chelmsley Wood discovered security cameras had been installed without parent permission in……the toilets. Yeegads! Apparently, this school has 26 CCTV cameras.  I presume the CCTV cams in the loos are only pointing at the washing basins but I would not be surprised to learn otherwise.

The question in my mind is: what will be the results for a generation of kids who have been constantly monitored from kindergarten onwards? You just have to read Stephenson’s heartfelt letter to know that all kids are not saying “who cares, I’ve got nothing to hide”.  The really interesting bit in my mind of Stephenson’s narrative was when he talked about an English teacher who never had any trouble with the kids in her class. She simply treated her class with respect and expected the same from them.

Most violence that kills children is outside the school environment. For example, between 1990 and 2001, two million children were killed in wars where small arms were used. In 2007/2008, 43 children (or 62% of killings in England and Wales) were killed by their parents. And in the United States, in 2005 there were 555 cases of infanticide with 60% of children dying at the hands of their parents.

I am not saying that child-on-child crime isn’t a serious issue in schools. It’s a tragedy that any child is killed or attacked whilst at school. But authorities should be probing the cause of school massacres not installing hundreds of CCTV cams in the false hope of stopping incidents. I suspect that schools and school authorities are in the grip of what Stanley Cohen refers to as a “moral panic”. I’ll do some more thinking on this and perhaps do another post.

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Entry filed under: CCTV, Civil liberties, Privacy, Schools and schoolchildren, surveillance, Surveillance society.

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