The thing to remember about the public schools of today is that
students are treated worse than criminals. Everyone is presumed guilty
until proven innocent.
A common justification for [surveillance] cameras is that they make students safer,
and make them feel more secure. I can tell you from first hand
experience that that argument is bullshit. Columbine had cameras, but
they didn't make the 15 people who died there any safer. Cameras don't
make you feel more secure; they make you feel twitchy and paranoid.
Some people say that the only people who don't like school cameras are
the people that have something to hide. But having the cameras is a
constant reminder that the school does not trust you and that the
school is worried your fellow classmates might go on some sort of
In northern Virginia, the measures are even more Draconian. They
have heavily-armed and -armored police officers roaming the halls.
Students undergo a mandatory security orientation during their first
week of middle school. In it, a police officer goes through the
implements they carry at all times. The police women who performed the
demo I attended showed us how she was always wore a bulletproof vest,
and carried handcuffs, cable-tie style restraints, a large knife, a can
of mace, and a retractable steel baton. "It's nonlethal, kids," she
said. "But you don't want me to have to shatter your kneecaps with it."
She also wore a pistol with exactly thirteen rounds: one in the
chamber, 12 in the clip. She could have taken out a terrorist or two;
which I guess that is what they were expecting some of us to be. At the
tender age of 12, this made quite an impression of me, and I still
remember the event clearly. But these methods were useless in keeping
me or any of my classmates safe. They didn't stop the kid who flashed a
gun at me, or the bully who took a swipe at me with a switchblade.
Some people say youngsters are more disrespectful than ever before. But
if you were in an environment where you were constantly being treated
as a criminal, would you still be respectful? In high school, one of my
favorite English teachers never had trouble with her students. The
students in her class were the most well behaved in the school–even if
they were horrible in other teachers' classes. We were well-mannered,
addressed her as "Ma'am," and stood when she entered the room. Other
teachers were astonished that she could manage her students so well,
especially since many of them were troublemakers. She accomplished this
not though harsh discipline, but by treating us with respect and being
genuinely hurt if we did not return it.
Petty acts of rebellion–and innocent little covert activities–kept
our spirits up. The school's computer network may have been censored,
but the sneakernet is alive and well. Just like in times past, high
school students don't have much money to buy music, movies or games,
but all are avidly traded at every American high school. It used to be
tapes; now it's thumbdrives and flash disks. My friends and I once
started an underground leaflet campaign that was a lot of fun. I even
read about a girl who ran a library of banned books out of her locker.
These trivial things are more important than they seem because they make
students feel like they have some measure of control over their lives.
Schools today are not training students to be good citizens: they are
training students to be obedient.