School administrator boasts to PBS about his laptop spying

Scott sez,

A few weeks ago, Frontline premiered a documentary called "Digital Nation". In one segment, the vice-principle of Intermediate School 339, Bronx, NY, Dan Ackerman, demonstrates how he "remotely monitors" the students' laptops for "inappropriate use". (his demonstration begins at 4:36)

He says "They don't even realize we are watching," "I always like to mess with them and take a picture," and "9 times out of 10, THEY DUCK OUT OF THE WAY."

He says the students "use it like it's a mirror" and he watches. He says 6th and 7th graders have their cameras activated. It looks like the same software used by the Pennsylvania school that is being investigated for covertly spying on students through their webcams.

The shocking thing about this is that the privacy concerns were not even mentioned in the Frontline documentary!

This is pretty amazing footage -- especially (as Scott notes) the absence of any questions about student privacy from the interviewer. I keep trying to imagine what my education would have been like if all my conversations, reading, doodling, writing, etc, had been monitored, in real time, by my teachers. I had great teachers, and I trusted them and confided in them and they taught me well. But if they had had this degree of oversight into my every personal detail, I think it would have killed any intellectual curiosity, any trust, any real learning. What kind of educator thinks that this is a good practice? Certainly no teacher's union I know would put up with principals and administrators putting this kind of surveillance into their lives.

I don't know for sure, but I have a suspicion that being a kid today would absolutely suck.

How Google Saved A School (Thanks, Scott!)


  1. This is a different situation. The school in this video is using Apple Remote Desktop, clearly during school hours and on the school’s network. (ARD doesn’t work too well remotely.) There is a big, BIG difference between looking for inappropriate activity during school hours on campus and what happened in PA. This school is using standard Apple software that’s available to any IT shop that wants it.

    Is someone going to argue that IM is a legitimate use of class time? I fail to see how this is in any way stunting anyone’s intellectual development. If you’re goofing off in class, whether by playing with your hair with the webcam, IMing your friends or doodling in your notebook, you’re not exactly engaged in real learning.

    Back when I was in school, the teachers were in the lab (with our Apple ][‘s), looking over everyone’s shoulders, making sure that we weren’t goofing off. In high school, we had the same situation. Our favorite prank was using the remote mouse and keyboard to take control of other students’ machines and “haunt” them. That, and the “The radiation shield in your computer has failed. Please stand back 5 feet.” dialogue always got a laugh. My friends and I managed to avoid getting in trouble for hacking all the machines, mainly because we helped in the labs and never did anything malicious. But the fact was, that everyone was always under surveillance in the computer labs, even though we called it supervision back then.

    The school has not only the right, but also the responsibility to ensure that students are learning in the classroom. If that means that the administration uses ARD in addition to looking over students’ shoulders, so be it. Its only when students step out of school that those rights and responsibilities end.

  2. “Is someone going to argue that IM is a legitimate use of class time? I fail to see how this is in any way stunting anyone’s intellectual development.”

    That would be because you haven’t read the widest-ranging, most respected and credible research published to date on how children use technology to learn:

    25 PhD theses, $5,000,000 worth of Macarthur dollars, and a report that is backed by solid, long-term research concludes that:

    1. IM is a legitimate classroom activity

    2. This kind of surveillance stunts learning

    You might as well ask, “Is someone going to argue that talking to other students is part of your education? I fail to see how having a teacher listen in on all your conversations would stunt your intellectual development.”

  3. That may be true Cory, but the issue then becomes what is the best way to educate kids, not what is the best way to protect their privacy. Making sure kids aren’t on IM at school in class time is not a privacy issue, and that’s why it was never brought up as one.

    You have to think to yourself, what if instead of a computer program there was an actual teacher standing behind the kid? In this case it would be completely appropriate for a teacher to stand behind a kid and check what they’re looking at on a laptop in the middle of a class. In the original case that caused all the controversy it would be completely inappropriate to come to a child’s house and spy in his/her bedroom.

    1. It is in now way appropriate for a teacher to silently eavesdrop on his students.

      What’s with he genreal lack of privacy these days?

      To this day, I get annoyed by co-workers who look at my screen just like that, I always ask them or anyone else before I look at theirs, I do not open my wife’s mail, even though it’s perfectly clear that it’s for both of us, as I do not open her bags or the furniture in her room.

      Not because she would scold me (which she probably wouldn’t), but because I was raised that way. And that includes that my privacy was respected as soon as I could reasonably be assumed to manage my stuff, which of course included corrections –
      *after* I messed up.

      I fail to see how I could have learned this if I had to assume that almost every step or action I took could be monitored silently or openly in real time or inspected later on.

      Do were really want the generation to take over to understand that everything they do can and will be remote controlled?

      1. Last time I was in school nothing I did was private. Teachers confiscated notes and read them. They walked the halls with open ears to watch for swearing, bullying and the like. They cruised up and down the aisles of the classroom while I worked on my worksheets to see if I needed help, and made sure I was paying attention. Every second of what I did in the classroom was monitored by my teacher to ensure I was learning. This is not an invasion of privacy. These kids can talk to each other at lunch, send private emails from their own computers, text on their iPhones, talk after school, etc. But in a school, teachers are there to monitor them, and these are computers provided by the SCHOOL. Therefore, not private.

        1. Well, must sure suck to go to school in an nearly-totalitarian Eastern bloc country.

          Because it sure as hell sounds like one.

    2. Regardless of the question of the legitimacy of IM use in school (personally, I think IM can be an excellent tool for collaboration), there are much more efficient ways of controlling IM than manually monitoring each student individually. It seems to me that this administrator must spend his entire day monitoring students and “messing with them”. That doesn’t seem like a very good way to spend tax-payers dollars.

      If they’re really concerned about IM, why don’t they just block the appropriate ports?

  4. I continue to disagree. As a teacher, I believe that it would be wholly inappropriate for me to sneak up on my students without notice and watch every word they write, every document they examine, every conversation they conduct (which is much more analogous to this school’s spying program than your example).

    Good teachers know that students require a degree of privacy and independence to foster their intellectual development — and that privacy and education are, as a result, insuperable topics — because with privacy comes the power to take intellectual risks without fearing correction or punishment or disapprobation.

    If your classroom had been a Benthamian panopticon, where at any moment a teacher might have been watching what you wrote and read and listening to what you said to your peers, without your knowledge, I submit that you would not have learned well because the intrusive feeling of an authority figure always breathing over your neck is crippling to the sense of freedom and play that accompanies real learning (as you describe in your own classroom experiences).

    1. You’re confusing institutions of learning with the child storage facilities that have replaced them across the US.

    2. Well, I’m not sure where you teach now or have taught in the past, but in my school (a particularly well-heeled public middle school in Silicon Valley) the kids KNOW pretty much what the limits are. They are not stupid. And as a society we can’t have it both ways when it comes to our public education system and privacy concerns. It’s easy to make blanket judgments and wild and wooly statements without access to the actual facts, but when you are personally and legally responsible for what is going on in the classroom and you are a public school teacher in our litigious society, there are real perils at hand. I would refer you to the Boing’s own gadget blog from two years ago recounting the harrowing story of Julie Amero, the Connecticut teacher who endured a 4-year long legal nightmare and had her career, reputation, and life pretty much ruined for a while because an unmonitored, unsecured, spyware infested computer that she had no control over started showing porn pop-ups in the 7th-grade classroom when she was substitute teaching. She was arrested, charged and was convicted in her first trial, and faced 40 years in prison on Federal felony charges. The charges were later vacated but she had to forfeit her teaching credential. Would network monitoring software have prevented this?

      I have these kids in my classroom 4 hours per week. They have boatloads of time outside of school to do the sorts of social activities talked about in the study you quote. I think those are important activities, but the lessons and material being taught in the classroom are equally important, and there is far less time available to the teacher to get that stuff across to the kids. The less time you have to spend doing the classic pigeon herding, the better….

      This is a tremendously complex issue, and does not lend itself to simple summary judgments. I have to say, though, that the blog posts I have seen on BoingBoing, as well as numerous responses, seem to reduce this to a simplistic “Oh aren’t these evil people just being horrible.” There is also some very intelligent dialogue taking place here, which I greatly appreciate.

      I teach in a middle school computer lab. I use ARD. Our district system has a software firewall that blocks access to blacklisted URLs. At least at the middle school level, ARD makes managing 32 kids in a busy lab a much more manageable job. I don’t use it all the time by any stretch but there are times when it is indispensable. If you think that you can get 32 adolescents to stay focused and on task with their work in an environment with uncontrolled internet access, and no ability to monitor what they are doing, then you are certainly a uniquely talented teacher…..and you know what they say about walking a mile in another man’s shoes…..

      1. I can understand your point of view, and blocking sites is one thing. But I disagree with your statement/assumption that ALL of the kids “have boatloads of time outside of school to do the sorts of social activities talked about in the study you quote”, in that there is homework after school, and perhaps other duties at home that you know nothing about. Plus the fact that they cannot just put everything going on in their personal life on hold – for instance, do you refrain from anything and everything but absolute work/teaching all day, and no socializing with other teachers or checking email or making personal phone calls the ENTIRE day that you are at work, every single day? School is not about academics exclusively, and I think it’s wrong for you to expect this from all of the kids across the board, whether you are an all about work and only about work person or you actually do a few non-work related things during your day while at the school. Kids need to learn, but kids still need to be allowed to be kids and grow up at their own pace. And, in the end, not every kid is going to grow up to be a teacher or work in a lab or other jobs that require degrees and complete educations, some people just aren’t built that way and you’ll never be able to hold their interest in things that they and possibly their parents can’t grasp or just have no interest in.
        Of course, this is all just my point of view, but the world is diverse for a reason, and I think it’s wrong the way that so many of our schools now are trying to put all of the kids through a meat-grinder (a la The Wall) to be homogenous conformists. I personally prefer a little personality and variety, as long as it isn’t infringing on someone else’s rights.

        1. I think we’re actually pretty much on the same page. Your point seems to be that they have lives too. Which is true. But they don’t have jobs, taxes, children of their own, a mortgage, yada yada yada. They are busy learning who they are. Which is sort of what their job IS at this point. And most of the time they are mildly insane. You learn this quickly when you work with middle schoolers. I like to say that their brains are pretty much exploding all the time, and expecting constant sustained focus from them is unrealistic. I give them breaks and time off, vary the pace and let them play games as a reward for good work, etc. For extra credit they are given wide latitude to construct their own multimedia projects and can surf the web to find their (appropriate) content. The “4 hours” comment is aimed more at showing how little time teachers have for actual instruction as compared to everything else the kids have got going on. And trust me, I have kids who spend FAR more time doing the social thing/gaming/texting, etc., than on their class oriented work. It’s part of how they learn, yes, and they both have and use plenty of time for it…. Otherwise your reply gets more to the need for deeper educational reforms, which I agree we need desperately. A good start in that direction would be to raise teacher pay. The pitiful average salaries for teachers in our society is a good indicator of how much emphasis we actually place on high quality, good teaching.

          1. Agreed, and I’m glad we do – I unfortunately find that many people change ideals and perceptions once they go from a normal situation to one of authority, that things they would probably never allow on themselves, they convince themselves that it’s absolutely necessary for everyone else.
            Also, I agree with the reforms and pay levels for teachers, but with a caveat (in some places where that isn’t the already the norm). I think that education has really gone down and isn’t getting any better, especially with the more rules they apply that make it even more difficult, the over-planning, and especially focus on preparing for school funding-based tests instead of teaching critical thinking. There are teachers in my past that were so incredible I will never forget them for the rest of my life, but there were many who were barely babysitters, and cranky ones at that. I think that the teachers that reach kids should be paid with respect to what they are investing in, our future, and that ones that just babysit or don’t care about the kids’ interest in their subject and teach it like Ben Stein shouldn’t keep such an important job. And I’ve seen kids today and how they act, I have 2 and know it isn’t always easy and I’m sure all of the personalities run the spectrum. I went to a Veteran’s Day tribute at my daughter’s school, and was appalled at the teachers hawking and pointing at the kids in the bleachers for any little movement or talk, yet when the powerpoint presentation came on, those same teachers started cutting up with each other unapologetically. I thought it was the most hypocritical thing I had seen in a long, long time, to expect more from ~14 year olds than they themselves are capable of.
            I hope you continue to keep your outlook the same, we need more teachers in for the right reasons, and I think unfortunately, between the pay and the difficulties, we lose out on some good teachers. Then what we get are authoritarians regurgitating lessons that ring hollow with the students. My kids have too many of those already, they feel more like stenographers sometimes than students, don’t understand the notes they’re taking and are told to read the textbook to understand. I don’t see what these people receive a salary for…and I’d rather their pay go to the good teachers. I wish you and all of us luck in both teacher pay (and accountability) and education reform.

    3. At 5’8 and 160 lbs, it’s pretty hard for me to “sneak up” on any students in my classroom. On the other hand, it’s considered negligent for me to turn them loose on the machines with absolutely no consideration for what they are doing. Though cyberbullying, porn sites and predatorial contacts are the classic feearmongering extremes, there are lots of off-topic activities that are not momentary, but rather are avoidance techniques that keep students from coming to grip with the assignments. it certainly doesn’t hurt to be checking to see how students are progressing, seeing whether or not they are running into difficulties or are wonderfully leaping into a creative zone that could be encouraged and applauded.

      1. If your goals are prurient or sadistic, you need to sneak up on people so you can catch them doing something that will gratify your perversion.

        If your goal is to stop children from doing things that interfere with their educational experience, you don’t want to sneak up on them, you want them to hear you coming so they get back to learning ASAP.

        I have the ability to monitor and record everything my children do on the Internet. I am not motivated by a desire to punish them or spy on them, so instead of wasting hours of my time secretly reviewing each individual child’s computer use, I use the more effective, less costly solution of having their computer screens in the main room of the house and walking past them frequently while doing other things. The kids do what they are supposed to be doing because they know I’m paying attention to them. If I see something on the screen that concerns me, I can stop and enter a discussion with the child – it’s called a “teaching moment”.

    4. Have you ever taught in a school? Supervising students in online settings helps to keep them safe.

      1. Have you ever taught in a school? Supervising students in online settings helps to keep them safe.

        Safe from what, exactly? Taxpayer-funded, school-sanctioned, heavy-breathing men secretly watching children through web cams?

        Or, did you mean safe from independent thought?

  5. I think it depends on whether the kids *know* that there’s surveillance/supervision going on. Looks like they do, from the video. And, as dssstrkl pointed out, they only do it on campus during school hours.
    I think it’s inappropriate of the supervisor interviewed to ‘mess with them’ and just to sit there and watch kids use ‘photo booth as a mirror’. He should just give out warnings when he’s supposed to, nothing else. It’s a basic point of respect.

    So, then, this is not a discussion about violation of privacy, but rather about the benefits IM’ing and other ‘extracurricular’ activity for a child’s educational development. That’s a whole lot less sensational than spying school supervisors and something different entirely.

    Like Cory, I don’t think this sort of vigilance is warranted. Like the guy in the video points out: ‘the kids think it’s OK to update their MySpace page as long as their school work gets done.’ Well, I tend to agree with the kids, and I have to say that many teachers I know also do.

  6. I have, 3 feet to my left, a box full of all of the notes that my classmates and I passed back and forth, during class, from 8th grade through senior year. Including a couple of “Miss Wells’ Cathchphrases” bingo sheets, it is a big box. We also spent considerable time folding the notes into football and shuriken shapes, switching pen inks, drawing daisy borders, etc. etc. And yet I somehow still learned enough History, English, Biology and Physics to ace the AP tests and get into a world class college. But you know what always, always sucked? Getting caught passing an embarrassing note and having it read in front of the class. It never happened to me, but I saw some bright young people absolutely devastated by the experience.

    I want to say in these teachers’ defense that they’re doing almost everything right. I think that the webcam spying may come from a misplaced sense of camaraderie as much as an overdeveloped sense of concern and control. I hope they reconsider their policies.

    1. Ok, so this kind of distraction – passing notes – worked for you. But for a lot of kids it doesn’t. This is ALL thy want to do.

      And on another note, this school has made it QUITE clear hey are watching kids using their computers during school hours. Just as though a teacher were walking behind them in class. I think this is fine.

  7. This is always a difficult subject, and what I think is really needed is to teach these kids not to trust their computers. When laptops like this are handed out to the students, there ought to be a “gotcha” orientation not so much to oppress the kids, but to make them aware that this will be an issue for the rest of their lives, to be on the lookout for companies that will do this to them as employees, and so on. In a way, this particular administrator is teaching the kids just that with his little warning shots.

    So that’s really the problem here: schools need to allow IM and not truly survey, but they also need to keep kids from getting a false sense of security that will haunt them later on. I try to teach my daughter about this, how she needs to be more prudent with the data on her laptop without actually snooping, so I know how tough it is to strike a balance.

    I personally don’t agree with giving every kid his own laptop, and think the better choice is making workgroups of 2-3 kids per computer. I recall that being the conclusion of some research project (I think it was Apple’s Classrooms of the Future). Eventually, computers will divide into two classes anyway: consumption-oriented devices like the iPad and most laptops, and creative devices like the classic desktop for making documents and editing media. The former is better as the textbook replacement, and the latter better when used in collaboration in the classroom.

  8. “That would be because you haven’t read the widest-ranging, most respected and credible research published to date on how children use technology to learn:
    25 PhD theses, $5,000,000 worth of Macarthur dollars, and a report that is backed by solid, long-term research concludes that:
    1. IM is a legitimate classroom activity
    2. This kind of surveillance stunts learning”

    Granted, I just read the 2-pager and skimmed the white paper, but could you please point me to the section that says that IMing during class instead of paying attention to the lesson is legitimate? I have no problem with using tech in the class, but the students in the video were clearly a) not paying attention and b) not doing any work. The work you linked to seemed to promote social media and tech learning as a generally good and useful activity, not as a replacement for or a way to ignore the classroom.

    And please point out the section that explains how this is worse than teacher supervision.

    “You might as well ask, ‘Is someone going to argue that talking to other students is part of your education? I fail to see how having a teacher listen in on all your conversations would stunt your intellectual development.'”

    It depends on when and how they’re talking. Or was I wrong as a TA to kick out that one asshole who was talking on his cellphone in class or those two girls who were gossiping loudly in the back of the room? Group work is an important and vital experience, yakking to your friends, not so much. This is not an either-or issue were your options are open-source utopia versus The Cathedral.

  9. thatbob is completely right and perfectly captures how many teachers are struggling with this ‘new’ technology. Remember when comic books were ‘bad for you’?

  10. Though I can see where one might take issue with the omnipotent nature of this sort of surveillance, it doesn’t strike me as something terribly negative.

    My high school library had a similar set-up for their few computers. When we were caught using the Internet for anything other than research, we would be warned and eventually kicked off. It was a fair way to keep the stations open for higher-grade students that actually had work to do, and it kept the over-worked librarian from having to constantly stand over our shoulders playing disciplinarian. She simply had to occasionally check the feed from the remote desktop monitor every few minutes.

    This strikes me as more-or-less the 21st century equivalent of pacing throughout the classroom.

  11. As an IT administrator who is familiar with Apple Remote Desktop and other such technologies I must comment that any tech who has time to spy on your activities has probably also has time to make sure that all the computers are working and that everybody’s data is backed up.

    Even if you look at it as some kind of trade off this would probably be a functional win for students in our underfunded public education system.

    Yes Cory, not all of us are lucky enough to be gifted with a decent educational system and free health care like you Canadians…

    That all being said, actually spying on people is creepy. If they don’t want people to IM or whatever else they should just disable it. We have the technologies for that as well. Duh.

    All your base IS belong to us…

  12. Except that spying on kids through their computers — without their knowledge and without warning — isn’t anything like walking up and down the aisles in a classroom.

    As to which sections of the Digital Youth Project relate to casual, online socializing as vital to education: those would be the entire first two sections, entitled “Hanging out” and “Messing around.”

    1. Yeah, but none of that advocated hanging out or messing around *in class.* Both sections talked about activities after school. I have to wonder what kind of teacher you are if you allow your students to ignore you. Why even have class if everyone’s going to be updating Facebook or MySpace? Time and place, Cory.

  13. this is completely different, if you watch carefully, you see the kids getting the laptop’s out of some sort of locked cabinet at the beginning of class, which would imply that they are going back into that locked cabinet again at the end of class, monitoring what the kids are doing on the schools equipment, during school hours, especially since the kids obviously know about it is a completely different matter to what is currently going on.

  14. This is nothing new. I worked at a state funded high school in California about 10 years ago and the IT people could remotely view the screens of any computer on the system and save any screen view they wished. This was before computer video cameras were as common but I’m sure the newer versions of the software would provide the same capacity. I believe they used Citrix Systems software. It also enabled users to log in from home or a remote computer and launch and use apps – even print on network printers.

  15. “I continue to disagree. As a teacher, I believe that it would be wholly inappropriate for me to sneak up on my students without notice and watch every word they write, every document they examine, every conversation they conduct (which is much more analogous to this school’s spying program than your example).”

    Clearly the students know about the surveillance and have at least some idea of the rules, which they are knowingly breaking. I think its actually good-natured of the administration to take it in stride and not punish the students for goofing off. ARD can detect network activity and see which protocols are in use, making it pretty obvious when people are using IM. Keep in mind that IM isn’t actually being blocked, which is trivial given the software the school is using.

    “Good teachers know that students require a degree of privacy and independence to foster their intellectual development — and that privacy and education are, as a result, insuperable topics — because with privacy comes the power to take intellectual risks without fearing correction or punishment or disapprobation.”

    Indeed, but the classroom isn’t a private space. Those laptops are school property, and the school has the right to monitor their use (while on school property), just like how the school has the right to open your locker, but not your bag. The school’s network is just as much the school’s property as the laptops themselves, and there are rules governing its use. Clearly, none of this is secret or hidden. Just as those of us who like to take photos in public keep pointing out, privacy in a public space just doesn’t exist.

    “If your classroom had been a Benthamian panopticon, where at any moment a teacher might have been watching what you wrote and read and listening to what you said to your peers, without your knowledge, I submit that you would not have learned well because the intrusive feeling of an authority figure always breathing over your neck is crippling to the sense of freedom and play that accompanies real learning (as you describe in your own classroom experiences).”

    I spent 12 years in Catholic schools, including 4 at a Jesuit high school (St. Ignatius in SF), where my punishment for hacking school computers (which is a crime) was teaching basic computer classes and monitoring the lab. The only reason why I didn’t get expelled (like some others did) was because I was pranking, and not stealing or damaging anything, and the school made a distinction. But don’t think for a second that they let us talk in class, pass notes, or do anything other than pay attention to class. While you might find that to be authoritarian, I feel that I learned discipline, self-reliance and confidence. I also learned that rules and orders have limits, how to bend them and how to argue my way out of trouble.

    I’ve been a teacher as well. I’ve taught remedial math to high school seniors. I’ve taught summer school science to art students (School of the Arts in SF) who have had no exposure to science. I’ve TA’ed university classes and trained techs and interns how to act in a BSL2 lab that’s full of chemicals, dangerous equipment, lethal diseases and other Things That Will Kill You. You had better believe that in each of those cases, I demanded respect as a teacher and was intolerant of disruptors to the point of threatening to kick the high school kids out of the room, actually kicking disruptive college students out and failing the fuckups and firing people from the lab. There is a major difference between collaborative groupwork and the tools that empower that, and talking in class. There is a big difference between spying on children and monitoring the campus network and reminding students that they should be working in class, not goofing off.

    I would also like to point out as a student who used a laptop through 5 of 7 years of college, that the mere presence of a laptop doesn’t make one a better student. I understand the temptation to disengage and do something else in a boring class. I pulled out Xcode, Lightwave, BBEdit or whatever during a lame class, especially if it was some course that the university required that I could care less about. I got away with it sometimes, but not others. Squeezing through a history of art class with a C- is pretty embarrassing, and that was before the campus was blanketed with WiFi!

    I don’t disagree with you that students need their space, their privacy and the freedom to learn on their own. I don’t disagree that computers and technology in the classroom are powerful tools that help students learn. Hell, I think that computer courses should include basic hardware configuration and an intro to computer science. I just feel that there is a proper time and place for everything, and the classroom is a time for classwork, and if that needs to be enforced, so be it. Again, this is not an either/or issue of spying vs freedom.

    1. “I fail to see how this is in any way stunting anyone’s intellectual development … you’re not exactly engaged in real learning. ”

      “While you might find that to be authoritarian, I feel that I learned discipline, self-reliance and confidence.”

      What you have learned is authoritarianism, as shown by your admitted inability to see or appreciate other important systems and values, especially those that inculcate wider degrees of liberty.

      And authoritarianism is very hard to unlearn, by definition.

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        1. “School is a place of learning and it has rules and structure, otherwise the kids don’t learn anything.”

          That is a mighty big assertion you are making.. umm, do we even really need to examine how far from reality this statement in it´s entirety is?

          “Rules and structure are there for a reason. If you don’t like it, then home school your kids. As for your prissy little name calling? Shove it up your ass.”

          I think everyone here understands that things such as rules and structure exist for a reason in the schools. You miss the point in that the debate is more about whether they are there to make for a better learning environment or more for other reasons. As for homeschooling, just the fact that you are referring to it as an educational movement refutes the previous statement you made about rules and structure being a prerequisite for learning.

          As for your last 2 sentences, they belie your ability to think clearly on this subject as it seems to be a bit touchy for you. Hopefully there aren´t any unpaid interns using the restroom without a pass when you get back to working in your lab. Oh wait, you aren´t working right now are you?!? Uh-oh.

  16. What if the students change their clothes or undress in front of a running computer (not knowing they’re watched). Isn’t that technically child porn?

    1. Why would students be getting undressed in a classroom? Watch the video again. The whole thing is on campus in active classrooms. That’s the whole point of my disagreement with Cory.

      1. I think this is where I agree with you the most. We do not see a reprimand. This reminds me of my own pre-laptop time in high school, when I could be startled by a teacher clearing his throat behind me when I was daydreaming or doodling.

        Actually, Cory, I think you ought to recognise how this actually is educational for the students – it teaches them how computers can lull you into a false sense of privacy before they actually do goof off. It’s almost like a Philip K. Dick story, where a totalitarian government purposefully teaches its citizens to distrust the government. The kids will hopefully wise up and use other avenues to communicate behind our backs.

    2. It would be, if these laptops always had their cameras on, but they don’t. The kids who had the cameras on had turned on Photo Booth in order to look at themselves. The principal didn’t turn on the camera, the kids did. And why on earth would they be undressing in class anyway?

  17. “This is not an either-or issue…” Wait. When you’ve got adults spying on emotionally vulnerable teens and laughing at them as they scatter like inmates before a warden,it kind of is. Telling someone to shut up while you’re talking in class,fine. Extending that control to wherever the student takes their laptop? NOT. FINE.

    “This strikes me as more-or-less the 21st century equivalent of pacing throughout the classroom.”

    Except the teacher wasn’t silent,invisible and able to see everything you were doing. Moreover,the computers in the docu. were given to the students for their exclusive use,removing the need for someone to kick them off and let someone else have a go.

  18. I don’t buy the argument that this is excusable because laptops are school property. Books you check out of the library are school property: that doesn’t make it right, or pedagogically correct, for teachers to sit over your shoulder as you read, taking note of which passages you attend to and which ones you ignore. Your notebook may be issued by your school, but that doesn’t make it right, or pedagogically correct for teachers to read every word you write, as you write them, including the words you regret and erase, or tear out of the notebook.

    Classrooms aren’t private spaces, but what you read, what you write, and what you say in a classroom can most certainly be private (and if a classroom precludes this possibility, it’s a terminally bad classroom).

    I’m not talking about students being given the freedom to flaunt all rules and structure. I’m talking about an enforcement regime for rules and structure that is worse that the misbehavior it is supposed to be preventing. The reason we don’t want students to disrupt classes or ignore lessons isn’t because these are evil in some abstract sense — this isn’t like murder or theft. We want students to do right in their classrooms because to do wrong will undermine their learning and the learning of their peers.

    I believe that continuous, invisible, ubiquitous surveillance of your scholarly pursuits is vastly more disruptive than a kid who is disruptive or disrupted by IM or Facebook (as distinct from a kid who uses Facebook or IM as part of her learning).

    Everybody agrees that *some* preventative measures are a step too far — at the outside edge, we wouldn’t sanction gagging kids and chaining them to their desks.

    Somewhere between that and allowing kids to do anything and everything that comes into their minds is the right balance of guidance and freedom.

    I believe that arguments about who owns the laptop or what time it is when they’re surveilled are irrelevant to the discussion of whether surveillance is unduly disruptive to learning. For me, the question is: does the constant threat of being covertly and bottomlessly surveilled as you read, write, and converse do more harm than good?

    And for me, the answer would assuredly be yes. I predict that I would have gotten vastly less out of my schooling if this had been the norm then.

    1. “Books you check out of the library are school property: that doesn’t make it right, or pedagogically correct, for teachers to sit over your shoulder as you read, taking note of which passages you attend to and which ones you ignore. Your notebook may be issued by your school, but that doesn’t make it right, or pedagogically correct for teachers to read every word you write, as you write them, including the words you regret and erase, or tear out of the notebook.”

      That doesn’t seem to be within the scope of what the school is doing. They don’t have keyloggers installed, nor are they going over every word written, looking for thoughtcrime. They’re noticing when the kids are screwing around in class and telling them to get back to work, just like a teacher in meatspace does when they catch kids messing around. IM is the equivalent of passing notes in class, and in my schools, they made us stand up in front of the class to read the notes. This school is good natured enough not to do that.

      “Classrooms aren’t private spaces, but what you read, what you write, and what you say in a classroom can most certainly be private (and if a classroom precludes this possibility, it’s a terminally bad classroom).”

      Sure, things you write most certainly can be private. Your notebook is private. A laptop off the network is private. IMing unencrypted messages using managed, school-owned laptops over the managed school network, especially when the students know that such management exists, is most certainly not. Come on, Cory. You know the difference between secure and insecure communication. Again IM in class is the equivalent of passing notes. Its not private, not secure and not conducive to learning. IM is useful for many things, but learning from lecture is not one of them.

      “I’m not talking about students being given the freedom to flaunt all rules and structure.”

      Glad to hear that. You just like them to flaunt some rules, then?

      “I’m talking about an enforcement regime for rules and structure that is worse that the misbehavior it is supposed to be preventing.”

      Please explain how its worse, other than “I don’t like it and it makes me feel icky.”

      “The reason we don’t want students to disrupt classes or ignore … because to do wrong will undermine their learning and the learning of their peers.”

      Exactly. Which is why I only threatened to kick the disruptive SOTA kids out of my classroom. I’m not interested in order for its own sake, but given the limited amount of time I had, it was necessary in order to teach what I wanted to teach.

      “I believe that continuous, invisible, ubiquitous surveillance of your scholarly pursuits is vastly more disruptive than a kid who is disruptive or disrupted by IM or Facebook (as distinct from a kid who uses Facebook or IM as part of her learning).”

      I agree. Its antithetical to the very idea of scholastic achievement, intellectual development or scientific discovery to operate under such conditions. However, I don’t believe that this is what the school is doing. In addition, given both my experience teaching high school kids, and having been a high school student myself, I contend that the chance that anyone is using IM, Facebook or MySpace for learning, especially without the teacher’s knowledge, is slim to none.

      “Everybody agrees that *some* preventative measures are a step too far — at the outside edge, we wouldn’t sanction gagging kids and chaining them to their desks.
      Somewhere between that and allowing kids to do anything and everything that comes into their minds is the right balance of guidance and freedom.”

      Not unless you’re cynical enough to really believe that schools are prisons for children. How’s this: Everyone’s on the honor system not to abuse the laptops or network access. The school will periodically check network logs and if someone is found to be breaking the rules without good reason, they get detention and lose their laptop and network access. The freedom is greater, but so are the consequences.

      “I believe that arguments about who owns the laptop or what time it is when they’re surveilled are irrelevant to the discussion of whether surveillance is unduly disruptive to learning. For me, the question is: does the constant threat of being covertly and bottomlessly surveilled as you read, write, and converse do more harm than good?
      And for me, the answer would assuredly be yes. I predict that I would have gotten vastly less out of my schooling if this had been the norm then.”

      Of course it would. We’ve seen too many examples of the effects of such wide-spread surveillance to ever believe otherwise. But YET AGAIN, this is not what the school is doing. The reason why I keep pointing out that the schools own the laptops is because that’s an important point. Computer security people will tell you that using any machine that you don’t control is a really bad idea. You have no control over what kind of crap is installed on, or what’s running in the background. Or do you like to do your online banking using a public terminal at the library? If nothing else, this is a good lesson in security for the students.

  19. On that subject, I’ll make some more predictions:

    * If anything I did in my life today was subject to that level of control, I would not do it

    * No teacher or administrator would be able to do her job under that level of surveillance and control

    * You couldn’t do your job properly under that level of control

    1. But Cory, lots of adults do work under similar circumstances. The ability to remote monitor a computer like this was developed for the workplace not the class room. Even in workplaces where there isn’t the capacity to monitor every word you type, records of what web pages you traveled to from your desk are quite common.

      I don’t have a problem with this so long as a) the students are informed that they will be monitored when they get the laptop and b) it’s only used while they are in class.

      1. @heartfruit While the wish to control employee in a 1984is manner seems to be universal, different countries handle this different.

        Much of what is apparently allowed in the states in this regards would often either turn up in a civil court over here in Germany (drug test screenings, for example) or even warrant a criminal investigation. (Screening employee’s phone calls.) Wiretappeing and/or recording someone’s non-public speech w/out consent can get you up to 5 years. More, if you a state official.

      2. “But Cory, lots of adults do work under similar circumstances. The ability to remote monitor a computer like this was developed for the workplace not the class room.”

        And you don’t see that as terminally, terribly, and terrifyingly f*ckd up? Not merely that such surveillance is done — but that folks are willing to put up with any sort of 1984 behavior, as if selling your labor is equivalent to renting your body?

        It may be perfectly legal — but the fact that there isn’t any pushback to total surveillance… well, it’s sincerely pathetic.

    2. Don’t worry, Cory. Once Temperance is the highest law of the land, everyone will see the moral rightness of it.

      That way, the unicorns must return.

    3. * If anything I did in my life today was subject to that level of control, I would not do it

      Under your fantastic nightmare scenario? No, I imagine most people would have a problem with that. In the US, you generally only see conditions like that in prison or a sweatshop. Under the actual conditions in the school? Clearly, you’ve never worked on a corporate computer, because they’re all like that, and most exert *more* control.

      * No teacher or administrator would be able to do her job under that level of surveillance and control

      Again, under your nightmare scenario, no they wouldn’t. But they seem to be doing pretty well at that school.

      * You couldn’t do your job properly under that level of control

      No, I couldn’t. My job actually requires that I do most of my work with minimal supervision, and that I allow the people under me to do their jobs with minimal supervision, otherwise things just wouldn’t get done. However, I earned an advanced degree in biology and have years of experience working in the lab and in the field. I’ve paid my dues and proven myself, and expect not to be treated the same way as a high schooler because of it.

      And again, I have fired people who spent their time messing around, not paying attention or just standing around talking. Those kids who were spending their class time fixing their hair, updating Facebook or IMing wouldn’t last a day in my lab, even as unpaid interns.

          1. dssstrkl,

            Read the Moderation Policy. Screaming obscenities at other commenters isn’t allowed. Being a gasbag is strongly discouraged. Contact me if you’re interested in having your account reinstated.

  20. How is using an IM in class any different than talking out loud in class (be it by whisper or even normal level speech)? I do not see how IM can provide any additional benefit to a student. If anything, the IM acts as a barrier to creating social skills, by removing the need to look at a person when speaking with them.

  21. I agree its rather troubling but honestly, not having Facebook or Instant Messaging in-class would be far simpler and far better.

    These are social things…

  22. The fact of the matter is, I can’t work with anyone looking over my shoulder. When a teacher would walk up and down the ailes and stop at my desk to watch me work, I’d stop. Often I got into a little trouble because I’d point blank tell them I can’t work with them watching me and watching everything I write. I never budged on this. I’d get into arguments, but again, I never budged.

    The same thing continued on when I worked as a Photoshop artist. Often the art director would try and sit behind me to watch me work and I’d shoo them away. Tell me what you want, I’ll go off and do it and come back and give it to you…but you’re not going to sit behind me and watch me work.

    If they had this laptop program when I was in school, I wouldn’t have participated.

  23. The issue that serpent was addressing pertains to the original kerfuffle(?) over the laptops that are allowed to be taken home by children for use at home and school. My son has one(equipped with a webcam) and we opted out of bringing it home not for privacy reasons but because he is a 7th grader and I just felt we already have two home computers. So it stays at school. I believe that monitoring the use while it is in a child’s home is unacceptable at best. This is scary and unwarranted. They should not be allowed to bring them home if the administration is so worried about trusting them. I think that this is one of those ‘benign’ things that will eventually end up being used for other unintended dubious purposes by government…think social security number.

  24. Can you imagine what is going through these girl´s heads knowing that some fat, sweaty white dude is snapping their picture from his office? If that isn´t a distraction from classroom ´education´ then I don´t know what is.

    1. How long before we hear about a case of a school administrator caught with a stash of (stained) webcam pics of girls “using the webcam as a mirror to do their makeup”?

      The Asst Principle in the video says “They don’t know they’re being watched” and “I like to mess with them”. Is that ‘discipline’?


      1. Funny, Shellie, I didn’t. I was just too smitten by dryacu’s casual pejorative: “fat, sweaty (turn your eyes now!) [gasp]white[/gasp]dude” to agree with the rest of his post (which was sensible aside from the above).

        Nice to see here at The Oasis of Tolerance of the Internets
        that there is still some room for haturd and stereotype.
        That is, when it’s directed toward the correct evil Type-
        now being maligned daily in these public schools we are so
        busy protected- and not towards the protected Type or Typestein.

        Long Live Epic Beard Man!

    2. Do you understand how webcams work? He can only take a picture if the webcam is ON. He is taking pictures of students abusing a privilege by using the webcam for no good reason, not taking pictures for fun. If you have that little faith in teachers (maybe rightfully so) then that is a whole other convsersation!

  25. Cory – you write that:

    “Certainly no teacher’s union I know would put up with principals and administrators putting this kind of surveillance into their lives.”

    I wish this were so. Please dig deeper into the PA situation and see for yourself.

  26. “being a kid today would absolutely suck”. Um, couldn’t they break down and do what we did, write a note on paper? I am a monitored adult with too much responsibility, so i would still prefer to be a monitored kid with none. Close the laptop and go climb a tree kiddo.

  27. “Good morning students. Today not only will the Vice Principal be watching you when you least expect it, he will show that crap to Frontline, and therefore the entire world. That is all.”

  28. How does this square up with the presence of armed police officers, on permanent duty, assigned to specific schools?
    I think secret surveillance is a sign that one is in prison.
    Perhaps a secret prison: that is, that it is in function & design a prison – although the partcipants know it not.
    The best kind of prison, from the jailers’ point of view – for none try to escape.

    What good are these computer networks again?

    Useful devices it seems for those seeking

    Always best if people do not know they are being had.

  29. What would suck most about being a kid in today’s world would be cell phone cams and IM, in my opinion. I can’t imagine the kind of hell that kids lower in the pecking order go through at school now, where you’re probably getting your most embarrassing moments of being teased/bullied passed around on YouTube after you get home from school. Kids are way worse than any administrator, that’s for sure!

  30. Yes Heartfruit: the children should not be n=any more free than their parents.

    A long-term salami strategy: video cameras on school property were once controversial too, IIRC.
    Training kids to accept remote surveillance by parties unknown….justified, because their parents are subjected to such too? And the kids in due time shall be expected to take their allotted place (by whom allotted?)in the panopticon: is this why inter-generational social mobility has vanished in the USA over the past thirty years?

  31. Cory,
    I totally agree with you.
    Just because these are kids in school doesn’t mean it’s OK to abuse their personal rights and freedom and right to privacy.
    In my work environment in the UK we log everything that goes on the system but most importantly nobody looks at the logs until there is a proper reason to – a suspicion, for example, by a manager that one of their staff is surfing porn. Then, access to the logs has to be agreed at director level before the logs are investigated. This is all logged and managed.
    The important fact here is that there is due process, control and audit of the monitoring. It’s done for the right reasons and only when it has to be. It is difficult to abuse and the rules are clear for everyone.

    If we allow our kids to be monitored in this way then it is but one small step to the government monitoring you in your living room, logging what you watch on TV, spying on you via the webcam, monitoring your power usage via SmartMeters and tracking you in your vehicle via GPS and ANPR systems.

    So even in a public place like a school this is totally, totally wrong for all sorts of reasons.

    1. “Just because these are kids in school doesn’t mean it’s OK to abuse their personal rights and freedom and right to privacy.”

      Given that it’s compulsory for these kids to be in school, I’d say that ship has already sailed.

  32. Back in the eary-1960s, when I was in elementary school in Florida, we all knew the principal had the ability to listen in on any class via the P.A. system.

    These kids aren’t stupid: when the camera goes on, the kids duck. And the man who’s monitoring the kids is apparently sending messages like, “Suzy, get back to work.” These kids know they’re being watched and it’s a big game for everyone involved. Perhaps the ‘privacy’ issue was never raised because there IS no issue?

    This is a far cry from the Pennsylvania situation, where the kids (and others) were being watched without their knowledge–in their own homes!

  33. School teaches kids a lot more than just math and english. It’s also part of the socialization process.

    What these kids are learning is that it’s ok for authority figures to spy on them.

    One thing I love about the Frontline clip is that it shows how well meaning the school staff are. But the principle still can’t help himself. He just has to take advantage of the situation. Have his little joke.

    It’s such a small thing, but it’s a clear abuse of power. And when you take power away from kids, especially kids who already might feel dis-empowered by their parent’s ecconomic status, their skin color, etc, you do real harm.

    The whole thing is creepy.

    And no, my employer shouldn’t be monitoring what I do and type durring office hours.

    Work is about producing. Not clock punching. That’s a lesson that these kids seem to know, and their teachers want them to foget.

  34. The point of intrusions like this are to change what a young person is willing to accept. Those of us who grew up with a modicum of privacy are horrified at the idea of being spied on, but these children are being trained, if not to embrace the idea of 24/7 monitoring, then to tolerate it.

    At such a young age, they will have less resistance to such other “safety mechanisms” as wire-tapping, postal inspection (snail and electronic), and in the future, the little box watching them from the corner of their living room.

    The part people forget when it comes to “Big Brother” is that the first step in implementing it is getting the public to accept it, and like so much, it starts in the schools.

  35. I think it’s outrageous, but more than that it’s disheartening to see how many people think it’s perfectly fine. It’s a reflection of the degree of freedom that we’ve all given up through this idea, reinforced by law, that there is no such thing as privacy, especially in the workplace. We’ve all become inured to the idea of being monitored constantly, and we shrug it off, and allow it to be justified with the idea that if it’s in the “rules” or if it’s permissible it must be right, or by saying things like “if you’re not doing anything wrong, there’s nothing to worry about.” We have become such sheep that we no longer as what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad, but only what is allowed and what is illegal.

    People have an innate right to privacy; a right not to have their personal effects and activities monitored, recorded, or shared. We’ve seen that right chipped away – sometimes in ways that make sense from a logistical standpoint, sometimes because they have a perceived positive effect on society. Other times we throw those protections completely out because we decide that protecting those rights for a group, such as those under the age of 18, just isn’t worthwhile. And because the group affected in that case also happens to be one that has no political power, it can happen without a thought or care and can continue to expand unchecked.

    It is fundamentally wrong to violate someone’s privacy this way. It is also counterproductive, teaching kids to only be working when they are being monitored, teaching them to fear authority and teaching them to resign themselves to a lifetime of being monitored and controlled by the State. It limits their creativity, it limits their exploration of information and it limits their interaction. It damages them as independent, creative people.

    The only bright side is that, for some, being monitored will urge them to rebel, hack and counterattack. And that perhaps is the perfect training for the next generation. After all, people hadn’t been trained by similar repression in a different era, we wouldn’t have such a great country or Constitution today.

  36. Simple fix: When you give them the laptops, just tell the kids that you can monitor what they’re doing. Tell the parents too. Make it clear that the ABILITY to monitor is there and that you MAY exercise it.

    And make it a punishable offense to do non-work in class. If it’s lunch, recess, or even study-hall, they can do *whatever*.

    As someone who uses ARD in the workplace, it’s EXTREMELY helpful in ways other than spying. But when we notice a crapload of traffic to/from a specific computer, we do use the observe feature and make sure that people are abusing the network by doing something that’s not work related.

  37. The occasional random sampling of screen activity during school time, on school property is OK, provided the kids know this is going on.

    It’s not much different from a teacher who is walking up and down the aisle, or an assistant principal who randomly sneaks into classrooms and watches the kids from the back.

    Laptop monitoring is a little more effective maybe, but that’s just an implementation detail. The principle is exactly the same – kids goof off and teachers try and keep them from goofing off so they can be educated.

    The argument that these precious snowflakes need the freedom to goof off during lessons holds zero water with me. I work in high tech and it’s astonishing how ill-prepared American-educated kids are for this world.

    It’s not all the schools’ fault of course, but let’s keep our eye on the ball here. School is for learning. Even hard and boring stuff like math.

  38. As a former middle school teacher and IT director, I admit that I have mixed feelings over this one. I am a big proponent of student independence and privacy- it’s a matter of respect and understanding. At the same time, there have to be controls- they have to feel safe before they can begin to explore a learning environment in a free and productive manner. Middle school and high school students are so unsure of themselves in general, having solid and consistent boundaries are more helpful to them than most anything else. I believe communication is the key here. As long as the students and their parents/guardians are aware of the possibility their activities being monitored, and the consequences of inappropriate use of school property, I don’t see the real problem. And yes, those laptops are property of the school system; if the girls are distracted “knowing that some fat, sweaty white dude is snapping their picture from his office” then stop using Photobooth. If they don’t want their teacher’s reading private IMs, then don’t sent them. I spent hours upon hours in school passing notes and distracting friends, but I always knew what would happen if I got busted- that was part of why I did it, probably. Any adult would have laughed if I’d begun to talk about “invasion of privacy” and being “watched” by my teachers. My parents got upset with the teachers who _didn’t_ watch me. Several folks here have also made comments about their own teachers, and how they would have been “stunted” if they ever thought those teachers were watching their every move. If this is the case, you had some excellent teachers and you should be very thankful. Not because they left you alone, but because they keep an eye you and were able to do it in such a manner that it didn’t interfere. But trust me, they were watching very closely. Does knowing this change the value of your education, or your opinion of those teachers?

    1. I feel that you might be missing the fact that the 6th and 7th graders have computers that are ALWAYS running the photobooth software. They have no option but to possibly be filmed or photographed by the administrator at any time. So these kids depend on this tool to be successful at that school but it comes at the price of not having even the most modest amount of privacy. There literally could be a man staring at your face at any given moment. That would just be unbearable.

      1. This is a misunderstanding. When he answered the reporter’s question he said, “all the 6th and 7th graders have them,” meaning have cameras. Not that the cameras are always on. It’s the kids themselves who turned on PhotoBooth, not the principal.

        \Why on earth would all the laptops have photo booth on at all times? THat makes no sense.

        1. I don´t know what to tell you. If the school is using them to monitor students, then yeah it would make sense to have photobooth on at all times. The reporter asks, “so wait, do all the kids have cameras on?” and the admin responds, “6th and 7th grades have cameras.. ” and then it cuts. In the context of the question I don´t really see what else that could mean other than yes, they have the cameras on continuously.

  39. Children are to be seen and not heard! They must learn to give reverence to the motherland and The Great Leader! If they waste their time in school, they are stealing time from The Great Leader!

    This way of watching them is perfect for teaching them the skills to make our perfect nation even greater and more homogenous in nature! We should implement this program everywhere to watch for enemies of the state, even in Core group citizens, so as to root out the bad ones and send them to the camps to work off their bad ways for The Great Leader!

    Oh…wait….you mean this isn’t a story about North Korea?

  40. “I always like to mess with them and take a picture,”

    Because being messed with is conductive to getting an education…

  41. Look,

    I love boing boing with all my heart, but it doesn’t surprise me that not only comment-ers, but the original poster of this section does not attempt to view this situation circumstantially.

    First of all, I’m a very liberal High School Senior…so if anyone has the right to be truly and fundamentally offended here, it’s me.

    Anyway, this is a tool used to check on kids who may or may not be slacking off, and to get an real, unfiltered look at what kids actually do inside the classroom. I would like to mention that this is not comparable to the actions of a subject of a previous blog entry. A woman was suspected of spying via laptop, THEN administering disciplinary actions. THIS situation is completely different, as the man in question is not using the aforementioned spying methods to punish.

    AND LET’S FACE IT! When he said he likes to mess with students, he was just being honest, which granted is not a smart move during a pbs interview, but nonetheless he said what he meant.He simply used those methods to catch the attention of kids who are immersed in their computers and NOT in their classes.

    And honestly, do we want privacy in a demographic ridden with drug and gang influences. This surveillance method is being used for nothing more than to monitor the school he is paid to run. During that section of the documentary, Dan Ackerman is mention to have helped bring this school up from the pits. He is making sure that the order with which he runs his institution does not slip back into the mire it once was.

    OH…AND BTW!!

    There is ABSOLUTELY no such thing as “intellectual curiosity” (see original post) in high schools, let alone middle schools.

    Cory, I love your work, but let’s not get all idealist up in here. Grade school is something everyone either slacks through or works through, NOT thinks through. It teaches the MOST BASIC skills needed to flourish in today’s society. It contains nothing near any “intellectual curiosity.” It is simply a means for you to make several cookies out of your brain tissue via the various cookie cutters they provide you with.


    Maximillian’s post gives a good suggestion, but why shouldn’t the administration enforce rules. Students in public schools, legally, do NOT have many rights. They certainly do not have the right to privacy.

    And take it from an 18 year old slacker (me me me)…there are few things more irritating then trying to pay attention in class while some a-hole is playing bloons in the chair in front of you.



    Cory, thanks for touching on this subject, it has sparked some great discussion and truly separates the purists/idealists from the realists.


    1. “do we want privacy in a demographic ridden with drug and gang influences.”

      I think this statement might actually discredit anything else you have to say. Ever.

      “When he said he likes to mess with students, he was just being honest, which granted is not a smart move during a pbs interview, but nonetheless he said what he meant.”

      I think your premise that we shouldn’t worry about creating a learning environment in schools because they currently aren’t good learning environments is silly. These are formative years, you learn habits and ways of looking at the world that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. It’s important that children are put somewhere where they feel secure enough to ask questions, to do their own thing, and to explore. What this school does is sort of the opposite of that.

      1. haha hey I’m not trying to be hostile or anything. Sorry if my response was disorganized, I wrote it in five minutes as a was yelled at to shovel snow.

        Anyway, If you’re going to claim that I contradicted myself with a heroically emphatic “EVER!” interjected at the end of your statement (yes it wasn’t all caps and you did not use an exclamation point, I realize that), then you should at least ATTEMPT to back it up with some logic, because although you know what you mean, some other people might not.


        I never argued that we shouldn’t create a learning environment…

        ACTUALLY…I, as a high school student who uses laptops and smart boards on a daily basis, understand that the learning process would actually benefit from this kind of surveillance because it encourages, and in some cases forces, students to stay attentive in class.

        And, correct me if I’m wrong, but I presume that if you graduated high school five or more years ago, you have ABSOLUTELY no first hand experience as a student of today’s generation.


    2. “No intellectual curiosity” in middle school or high school? Speak for yourself.

      I started being intellectually curious around the age of 2, about the same time as I started reading for myself. Intellectual curiosity starts at different times for different kids.

      Yours has kicked in already, I bet, and you don’t even realize it.

      1. My point was that grade school doesn’t pique the intellectual curiosity of kids of any age as much as their friends, parents and surroundings do.

        School has never encouraged me to explore my interests.

        Granted, a few select teachers have been motivators to my musical ambitions.

        My point is that if I based my opinions off of my school experiences, I would not want to read, touch a calculator, or throw a ball, because the one thing that is constantly reinforced, though not consciously, is that there will always be someone judging you, be it a teacher, proctor, peer, coach, or secretary.

        IN OTHER WORDS…the only thing I associate with formal education is living up to someone else’s standards, and not my own.

        My intellectual curiosity is fueled by stumbling upon used book stores, hiking through national parks, and attending concerts, from New York Philharmonic, to hardcore punk shows.

        GRADE SCHOOL does not give intellectual CURIOSITY…in fact it was never meant to. It bequeaths intellectual TOOLS needed to wholly explore one’s interests and manifest their ambitions into something greater and more tangible.

        The two work side by side, neither is more important. However in the classrooms, let’s sacrifice some ethics and make sure the kids (e.g. me) aren’t playing dragon slayer and giving up the tools they need to actually get the most out of what interests them.

  42. Wow. People’s reaction to this is depressing. This acceptance of random surveillance by who knows who in more and more places is incredible. Guess if I want to have any privacy, I’d better put on my tin-foil hat and move to that cabin in the woods.

    As for being a kid today, I totally agree with you Cory. Kids aren’t given the opportunities to learn and make mistakes without the man coming down hard on them. Zero-tolerance and all that.

    Back in high school, we used to do all kinds of insane stuff like making home-made smoke bombs and black powder firecrackers that we would set off in the park across from the school. When the school administration caught us, they made us listen to a talk by the fire department about safety and kept a closer eye on the park. No expulsions, no suspensions. Just a “Yes, fire is fun. No you shouldn’t be playing with it. Yes, you can be hurt/maimed/killed.” kind of lecture. This was in 1995. Nowadays we’d probably be sent to jail.

  43. I’m not sure the motivation for surveillance has really gotten it’s due in this. Keeping kids ‘on task’ is somewhere in there but that’s actually a fairly low priority. Watching students preen is moderately creepy and wildly inappropriate and for that action the administrator should be roundly criticized. That abuse of power, however, does not negate the need for responsible monitoring of student computer use.

    Teachers and administrators I know are far more concerned that students are not accessing inappropriate (read: porn) websites and harassment (bullying and sexual harassment). The former has no place in schools and the latter is too easily accomplished with social networking tools which, yes, have a lot of educational value when well directed. If I can underscore this point with a poor metaphor, locker rooms have a place in the educational system but, as I’m pretty sure anyone who was on the receiving end of bullying can attest, a bit more surveillance – which would have certainly come as a surprise to the bullies – would have been damn welcome.

    At the root of the need for surveillance is the money for student computers which comes from taxes: taxpayers are loath to have their money spent on kids browsing the naughty stuff or enabling bullies, so districts are required to put certain preventative measures in place lest funding for all computers be withdrawn. The option that a school computer can be monitored at any time should be the part of computer use agreements every student signs, as Maximillian suggests – a procedure which is in place in some places. This is really just fair warning for what is really a no-brainer.

    Classroom management has always required surveillance on the part of teachers. There is, as Cory has pointed out, a level of surveillance appropriate to the media involved. Not every notebook is read, not every book evaluated for it’s pedagogical relevance. Computers, however, require closer observation because of their strengths. Running multiple applications and alt-tabbing to switch between them has a myriad of perfectly legitimate educational applications. Unfortunately, it also completely negates the effectiveness of monitoring classroom behavior by circulating through a room and watching over a students’ shoulders.

    In other contexts I’m quite against surveillance but in an education setting I think there are reasonable justifications for its existence. Oh – and for what it’s worth, because the Cory’s one-line closer was really what moved me to write, this really isn’t something which would make life suck for kids. Like some old fogies once said, the kids are alright.

  44. Forager,

    It contains nothing near any “intellectual curiosity.” It is simply a means for you to make several cookies out of your brain tissue via the various cookie cutters they provide you with.

    Sounds like high-school hasn’t changed much since back when I did my time. That doesn’t mean we have to accept it the way it is.

    Yeah, I’ve got huge respect for teachers. A very few bad apples asside, they do more good in their jobs than almost anyone in this world.

    My beef is with a system that doesn’t aim higher, and that boxes kids in. Teaches them that conformity (which can be a value) is more important than creativity (which is also a value).

    The reality with these things is often a ballencing act.

    The great thing about hardware and software is that it can be set up however we want.

    For example, you could set it up that the laptop screen monitoring only works inside a classroom, or only durring class periods. And you can set it up so that the user (student) knows when surveilence “might” be happening.

  45. I am flummoxed by the division on this issue. As an integration specialist I am a strong advocate for 1-to-1 technology environments for education. The frontline story did show a number of excellent applications of the technology. The reaction that “some fat, sweaty white dude is snapping their picture from his office?”, I think, is an over-reaction. He clearly was excited about showing the technology capability rather than discussing the pitfalls of the 1-to-1 environment, particularly the “technology as distraction factor”. I don’t know of any public school AUP that does not state the technology is for “educational purposes” and that there is “no expectation of privacy” – for teachers or students. I have to believe this school does too. That segment would have been better spent directly addressing the “acceptable use” policies and procedures. Yes, kids will find ways to be distracted whether it is digital or handwritten doodling and teachers always have the task of monitoring them and keeping them on on-task. As a teacher, I would not allow the kids to have the laptop open if they were not actively involved in a project or note taking. Studies are showing that we all are not as effective as we think we are when we are multitasking.

  46. Just because we can do something does not make it right. As a computer scientist I can do a many things to “watch you”, but I don’t. I have scruples and I understand what is ethical and what is unethical. These teachers are unethical and should be canned!

    We need teachers that are mentors for the children they teach not keepers. It is not a “us against them” battle. Mentor your students.

  47. if this concerns you, search for “Texas to use UAV to patrol citizens”
    yep thats right, UAVS that can see through walls, night vision, etc, right into your house, in America.

  48. I’d just like that this particular footage was brought to light and connected to the laptop-spying-issue by first. I feel like they should receive a credit here.

  49. Speaking as an adult who grew up with ADD and had pretty bad grades, I can say that if I had had a laptop in school, this kind of surveillance would have HELPED me. Without someone looking over my shoulder, I would have just played games and IMed all day. I NEEDED to be supervised because of my severe attention issue.

    Not saying this is totally okay. It is a bit iffy. But in this case it’s clear that the students are aware of the surveillance, so this is not spying. And if it only happens while they’re in school, when they should be using their laptops for schoolwork, then as a parent I’d be okay with it.

  50. In this case, he’s not remotely activating the webcam. He’s only looking at what’s on the students’ monitors. When he sees the students thru the webcams it’s because THEY have activated photo software which they “use like a mirror” to fix their hair and such. But he’s not activating the webcam.

    As such, I think his actions are legitimate. The school provided the laptops solely for schoolwork; the students know that the admin monitors what’s on the screens from time to time (an important factor); there is no remote-activation of webcams to look at students; and the laptops never go home.

    Because of those 4 factors, I believe the admin is justified in what they are doing. This is TOTALLY different than that other situation, where the students were being spied on AT HOME: WITHOUT their knowledge; and with webcams remotely activated without their knowledge or consent. Totally different.

  51. Personally, I think that the teacher actually showed the sort of attitude that we should encourage. If you watch the video, he’s using remote desktop to check in on students who have been assigned a task in class (I’ll get back to that later) and discovering that it’s a girl who’s checking her hair and makeup in Photo Booth instead of working. So he clicks the camera button and Photo Booth (on HER computer, not his) takes a picture (which is very noticeable, there’s a countdown and your screen flashes bright white). It shows a sense of humour that is severely lacking in teachers, mostly because people overreact. Should he have wrote her name down in a secret book as a trouble-maker or taken marks off? Called her out in front of the class? It was a harmless joke that got her attention and set her back to work.

    The teacher wasn’t sneaking around taking pictures of students. The picture didn’t get saved on his computer.

    As for remote desktop: it’s not significantly different from teachers walking around the classroom during assigned work and checking that you’re doing your work and not struggling. One might argue that it is better, since the teacher can see HOW the kid works. These aren’t laptops that are being sent home with the kids and monitored in their bedrooms.

  52. I manage IT and teach in a 1:1 laptop school, ARD is a simply necessary tool for productively collaborating with ~30 students on computer-based work. In-classroom use of ARD is a far cry from spying as in the Lower Merion case, and it’s kind of extreme to even compare them.

  53. There are appropriate uses for Apple Remote Desktop in a classroom environment. When I’m trying to teach Photoshop to a room full of middle school students I need to know that they’re actually following along without looking over their shoulders after every step to make sure they’re following directions instead of surfing the net.

    The key is respect. Teachers need to respect students enough not to monitor them on their own time and to give them warning when they are going to be monitored. Students need to respect the teachers enough to actually do what they’re supposed to be doing in class instead of stuff they don’t want other people to see.

  54. As a young information worker, one of the biggest threats to my livelihood is how easy it is to waste time on a computer. I think it is absolutely the teachers’ responsibility to prepare 21st century citizens by moderating computer use in the classroom and helping students develop productive computer habits.

  55. If this isn’t already illegal, it needs to be called what it is- this is criminal. It’s a blatant violation of the Constitution.

    1. Violation of the Constitution? I don’t think the Supreme Court would agree.

      Schools operate under a principle called in loco parentis. This means that legally, they take on some of the responsibilities of a parent, including the responsibility to monitor what the kids are doing.

      The most famous in loco parentis Supreme Court decision, Tinker vs. Des Moines, stated that “conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason – whether it stems from time, place, or type of behavior – materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.” Another case upheld the right to search school lockers and personal space while on school property.

      I don’t see this as being any different than a teacher walking around the classroom, glancing over what students are doing to make sure they aren’t reading a comic book tucked inside their textbook. But somehow, only because it involves computers, it’s magically a symptom of a totalitarian panopticon state.

      1. In ’86 Clarence Thomas actually ruled against the expanded interpretations of in loco parentis when it was used as an explanation for an administration censoring a student newspaper. He argued that the student work showed no legal malice nor did it cause injury.

        In loco parentis works as an argument if we’re talking about situations where students are being protected from bodily harm. This is what makes locker searchings justified, looking for weapons and drugs which could cause harm while on campus.

        To justify spying on kids using webcams under the defense of loco parentis the schools would need to present a compelling argument of malice of intent on the part of the student. Just what laws do we think these kids are going to break with a laptop?

        I would not willingly consent to this type of monitoring in my workplace nor do I give that consent to anyone where my children are involved. Electronic images are too easily stored and shared especially without knowing the intent of the recorder. Schools are going to be hard pressed to prove that spying webcams supersede the rights of the parents especially in situations where attendance and laptops are mandatory. We are talking about minors, people who are entitled to receive special protections under the law because they are not yet of an age fit to legally advocate for themselves.

        I will happily send my kids to school with the tin foil hats and duct tape for the web cams and for Christmas I will knit them matching sweaters that say “the duplication of this image is a violation of my digital rights”.

      2. I agree with everything you said except the comic book part as some of the best textbooks I had in highschool were in comics format.

  56. I was in grade 7 in 1997 and when I was in computers class (we had one of the first computer labs in school) the teacher had the ability monitor us then. No webcams, but the ability to look at our screen, and control our applications.

    I know 1997 isn’t that long ago, but this had no ill effects on me other than stopping me from playing games when the teacher was at his desk. As long as this is on campus, and the computers are owned by the school I see no problem with this. If the kids dodge out of the way of 9/10 camera shots, then they DO know they are being watched. They know it is a distinct possibility at any time and are taking a risk of the teacher knowing what they are doing. The STUDENTS are the ones turning on the webcams, not the teachers to purposely look at them. The teacher cannot see the face of the user with out the webcam being on, they are only seeing what the student is using the laptop they were GIVEN for.

  57. Have we explicitly stated the real long term effect of all this surveillance? I think the real trend is that a generation growing up where laptops spy on you, cameras watch you on the street, and all your private information is available online will simply acclimate to it and accept it as normal. Maybe I’m stating the obvious, or this has been covered before, but PBS not even bringing up privacy and the girl dodging the snapshot is quite striking; this may the the way of things.

    TheForager’s (• #40) (a high school student) comments reflect this.
    “do we want privacy in a demographic ridden with drug and gang influences.”
    first they came for the [demographic]…
    nice. do you mean black people?

    tl;dr I think this subtle sort of surveillance will have long lasting effects on this generation’s definition of privacy.

    1. “TheForager’s (• #40) (a high school student) comments reflect this.
      ‘do we want privacy in a demographic ridden with drug and gang influences.’
      first they came for the [demographic]…
      nice. do you mean black people?”

      Odd, I thought Forager was referring to the health care bill conference committee and Wall Street.

      1. :) forager is just a random name i came up with it sounds cool i guess….


        It is a public middle school in the Bronx…

        these are the kids that are the most susceptible to bad influences due to their age, location, and economic status.

        1. I was making the point that surveillance would be better if it went in both directions. That would be democracy. It’s the one-way stuff that is authoritarian.

          And yes, raising children to adulthood is a long process that needs to employ a lot of the one-way stuff… but it needs to be able to accept and ready them for the both-way stuff.

          As for the Bronx, I used to visit a girlfriend up there on a regular basis, and would risk my pink ass between rival streetcorners just to get to her place. At the time, Farrakhan wanted to set up some authoritarian-style patrolled neighborhoods up there, as a remedy. How did that work out?

  58. Very good, balanced video. Shows both sides of this system. Doesn’t mask the con’s of such technology implemented in public school system.

  59. I’m with Cory on this one. I’m a university student and I like to rock my laptop in class. It’s much easier to take notes, look at slides, all that good stuff. That said, when the lecture got boring I’d pop open solitaire or check my facebook updates. The idea that this kind of side-activity negatively affected my learning is laughable. If anything it helped keep me awake during boring lectures.

    If the kids aren’t paying attention the teacher will notice and if it’s a chronic issue they can start calling on them in class to answer a question. This kind of ridiculous backseat driving on the laptops would have driven me absolutely bonkers.

    That said, you don’t want them surfing porn or whatever in class either. Seems to me that some sort of compromise like a list of the programs that the student is running and the names of the files they’re accessing (or websites that they are viewing) might be sufficient. Looking at their desktop remotely is invasive.

    And let them IM (or whatever) as long as they get their work done. Most of the students are probably clever enough to handle both tasks – god knows I always do.

    (Admit it, this is not the only tab / program you’ve got open.)

  60. At our middle school the 7th and 8th grade students got iBooks (now they have MacBooks) and the IT person used Apple Remote Desktop to spy on students. As far as I know, he didn’t take pictures. I did once get a pop-up message when I was on the Apple website looking for game downloads, telling me to get back to work. And yeah, did I get back to work! But everyone was told that there’s a “Big Brother” who can look at what you do on these computers, so it wasn’t unexpected. We were warned that clearing our history wouldn’t do anything, they could still track us (Flash cookies?)

    And one time, a student got caught using MySpace (I don’t know how she managed that, since it’s usually blocked) and boy was the teacher pissed off.

  61. If the kids aren’t paying attention to what you’re teaching, maybe there’s a larger problem. Chances are that you’re teaching to the slowest student in the class room. The kid who read War and Peace on her lunch break isn’t going to want to sit there while you slowly parse Tip & Mittens for the rest of the class. So let her quietly amuse herself until you catch up with her.

  62. I read through all of the comments and not one person has mentioned that all of the teachers and administrators in that Frontline clip are white and all of the students are black.

    It is common practice is all fifty states for the most intrusive, the most abusive, the most punitive programs to be implemented primarily at or with “demographics” that tend to feature a higher percentage of melanin. That’s not baiting. That’s fact.

    It is worth noting that the students in these situations are not stupid and they are not naive. They know full well that many administrators approach their tasks with a warder’s mentality. And increasingly, the administrators hired to oversee those particular demographics come from an enforcement rather than academic pedigree. They are hired because they are “tough on crime.” How many parents in an affluent white district would welcome a layer of administration whose primary qualifications are the ability to battle gangs and suppress violence?

    Needed? Chicken and egg. And largely overblown or manufactured in the minds of the paranoid and racist. “Gang” activity is like “hacker” activity. Much, or in my view most, of what people see is ignorant interpretation of innocent activities as crime. Six white kids at the mall is a group. Six black kids is a gang. Low-slung jeans on a white kid is a poor fashion choice. On a black kid, it’s gang attire.

    The students know that there is often fear and suspicion directed against them, and this, to put it politely, does not foster an atmosphere of academic achievement. If these “demographics” are given suitable resources, respect, and understanding they inevitably flourish. Treat them like prey and they will respond as prey.

    Finally, what are the odds that the school district and Frontline acquired signed waivers to show those students on camera? To show them being “caught” in Photo Booth? I’m betting that this is just one more right they relinquish the moment they enter a school building. Imagine some blond twelve year-old girl being shown in similar circumstances at an upscale suburban school. She’d have her face blurred out.

    1. Actually, any reference to the melanin content of any of the parties involved within the video will cause you to be labeled as a bigot of some sort. Try to rephrase your comment using the accepted lexicon ie demographic or income level as that would make us all a bit more comfortable. Thanks

  63. I’m not a lawyer, but monitoring students like this, even in the school during the day, sounds like it would be a felony in many U.S. states under their wiretapping laws. As I understand it, many states make it a felony to record someone’s conversations without getting their consent first, and I’m not sure minors are even allowed to give that consent.

  64. As the parent of a teenager, I have to admit that I’m pretty divided about this. I trust my son to do the right thing. But I trust him because I have monitored his activities in order to guide him on the right path.

    When he came to live with me my son had no study habits. He graduated from us standing over him in the living room making him do every step of his assignments to being allowed to do them by himself in his room. It was never a straight path and there are both progress and setbacks to this day. But when he got to the age of doing most of his work alone on a computer, you can bet I was watching his screen from another room to make sure he was doing the right thing. Because I did then, I don’t have to now. He does his work and doesn’t screw around because he knows he can’t get away with it. Now he does what the needs to do in half the time and then we have fun together.

    The problem was never that he wasn’t smart enough to do the work. The problem is that he was smart enough to get out of doing the work. Until he had to deal with me.

    These kids are the same way. They have either bullshited their way out of doing what they were supposed to or sat, bored at a desk while another kid did the same. They want limits because they want to know someone cares enough to set them and hold them to them. Unfortunately, not every kid gets that at home. These kids are thriving. Not just because of the technology but because they have teachers and administrators who cares about their success.

  65. I’m totally with you on this, Cory, and some really, really good points in there.
    Wow, I’m totally amazed that there are actually people that think that this is all okay, whether they are or would be subjected to it themselves. These are children, and I know I wouldn’t go out on a limb to vouch for the people that would have access to this, and NO WAY I would consent to my kids having this done.
    School is not only for learning the core things like science, math reading, etc., but for becoming a more full person, which is why the arts are also taught in school, as well as the socializing (homecoming and its court, prom, etc.) aspect. Anyone that never goofed off in school, I feel sorry for you, but I feel that anyone that would agree to subject their kid to this kind of atmosphere is not truly looking out for their kids’ best interest. Like I said, the worst part is that they are kids and cannot protect themselves from this, it’s bad enough that workplaces and the government spy on us, and our expectation of privacy is so quickly forfeited by those who want a little (non-existant) protection teddy bear in return for their privacy. Couple this article with the BB CCTV article, about the cameras being incredibly ineffective against crime except in cherry picked cases. Just because they’re scared and/or so boring they think they do nothing wrong and don’t care that they’re surveilled secretly, doesn’t mean they can speak for everyone and throw everyone else’s privacy away in trade for the appearance of protection from their own fears, whether real or hyped by the media.
    I just find all of this unbelievable, both the people everywhere that think that they can just do this kind of stuff, and the people that are in support of it. This is what the movies portraying Soviet Russia show, just like 1984, the paranoia of always being under surveillance, which is what the PATRIOT ACT is trying to bring the U.S. to be, by trying to use legaleze to circumvent the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

    These are scary times, especially to be a kid. But I’d rather die free than live under surveillance. People have fought wars for those freedoms, and there are people that would just hand them over…for everybody.

  66. That Frontline video should be viewed about a half dozen times at least…

    1) View it with the sound off and look ONLY at the signs and posters hung in the background. The posters encourage perseverance, respect, rules of conduct, and responsibility. Why are those posters not of the periodic table of elements? German or Japanese vocabulary? Why do the teachers and administrators feel compelled to focus so much of the curriculum on moral blandishments around hard work and responsibility? Is this necessary, useful, or just Orwellian hectoring?

    2) Note the subject matter being studied. The book being read is To Kill a Mockingbird. And briefly the title Birth of a Nation (at 5:26) pops up on the screen. Both of these works are ABOUT blacks, but from the perspective of whites interpreting blacks in the context of white culture. If you get books about blacks at all in public schools, it might be Faulkner or at best Achebe, which is a book about Africans, which in the mind of white administers is the same thing as black Americans. In either case, most of the stories focus on the misfortune of black Americans and rarely if ever on achievements unless they relate to escaping oppression.

    3) One screen shows a student writing an essay that begins “The things I would do to be able to get a three on the ELA…” ELA is the English Language Arts test. Success or failure on that test will determine the success or failure of Jason Levy and his laptop program. One criticism against programs like Levy’s is that they focus primarily on training the students to excel at certain tests rather than overall learning. Proficiency in Google Docs and high scores on the ELA is nice, but that doesn’t come remotely close to education.

    Here are some recent ELA test scores for NY:

    Interesting to note, that on this PPT breakdown ( of scores based on race and ethnicity, whites outscore blacks 2-to-1 at the top tier (level 4) in math, starting in grade 3. By grade 8, that is 4-to-1, whites over blacks. Grades 3-8 show a steady falling behind for blacks. Why? A genetic predisposition towards laziness, fractured home life, or increasingly hostile enforcement culture that tends to regard them less as students and more as potential inmates? To get a good math teacher at the advanced level, you have to pay them. Is the money for salary being diverted to metal detectors and security guards with walkie talkies roaming the halls for gangbangers?

    3) View the video noting only the scenes in which students are shown. The initial scenes show a student throwing a bottle. Another walks through a door flashing what could be construed as gang signs (and if you follow the audio, that is the clear implication). Another shows children fidgeting, clowning from the opposite side of a fenced window. We are to understand that this school is in complete chaos, and if the images do not convince, a hip hop track is added to underscore the message. But would this scene be any different in a school with a higher concentration of white kids? White kids don’t throw plastic bottles? White kids don’t fidget, clown, and scuffle?

    But then… the scenes with the computers. The kids are quiet, alert. The laptops, nay, Google, has saved this school. Note how the children are studious and focused.

  67. Cory’s points tend to center around his concerns as a teacher.

    Here’s what concerns me as a parent.

    I don’t want people who think video spying is an appropriate activity for school employees anywhere near my children!

    I knew a telco guy once who delighted in listening in on other people’s private conversations. He also liked to hang around with little boys, buy them little presents and stuff. Creeped me out, and I wasn’t even a parent yet. Healthy, sane adults do not want to behave that way. They just don’t.

    If you are being paid for teaching, but you are spending your work day spying on children, you aren’t earning your pay. You are gratifying some sick obsession and defrauding your victims’ parents who have to pay your salary. Anyone who is spending time monitoring their students’ laptops instead of monitoring their academic performance and their psychological well-being is sick and should be permanently banned from holding any teaching or school administration position immediately.

    These people are most likely paedophiles, or similarly mentally ill, or they just plain wouldn’t want to do this. It’s not what real teachers want to spend their limited time doing.

  68. When I was in school, the teachers would keep an eye on what we were doing. If we were reading fiction instead of paying attention, or doing other things we weren’t supposed to, we would get called on it.

    I honestly can’t see the difference between paying that kind of attention in real life, and paying it to the computer. With computers, it’s a lot easier to hide what you’re doing at the touch of a “boss key”, and a lot of kids are smart enough to figure those sorts of things out.

    There does need to be some kind of balance, and perhaps the whole snapping-photos thing goes a bit too far, but you can’t just give kids carte blanche to goof off without some way of keeping an eye on what they’re doing. I can’t pretend that I would be happy about it if I were in that situation…but on the other hand, I now sometimes wish people had kept a closer eye on me when I was in school. If I’d paid better attention I could have gotten the grades I know I had the potential to get, instead of the ones I actually did.

    1. I think this is where people are diverging at. You are right, if it´s about obtaining the highest possible grade by following explicitly the instruction given by the instructors then in that case yes, give ´em more structure and oversight. But if we instead are trying to create an environment where the kids grow to love learning, and will continue to do so even after they leave this public school system, then policies such as these are going in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, this is a discussion that only takes place in comment sections of boingboing posts and the other fringes of society, even though we would all be much better served if it were to be discussed openly.

      1. And I think that’s a false dichotomy. It’s not an “either or” proposition. Adherence to rules doesn’t necessarily make teaching kids to love to learn impossible, and if you don’t have strict rules you won’t necessarily let a hundred flowers of creativity and intellectual curiosity bloom.

  69. Suppose an IM is being used for cyberbullying or sexting. The school opens itself up to a lawsuit from the parents of the victims for not monitoring what students are doing on the computer because they gave the student the device and means to commit the act. Scratch that, they WILL have a lawsuit on their hands, and they will likely loose.

  70. If you don’t work in the school system I could see how this would be troublesome to people on the outside. I work with kids age 7-14 in a computer lab M-F. You would be surprised what kids try to get into (Inter-species pornography, building bombs, etc.) on their own. If you work in the school system and you are not monitoring what children (not adults) are doing, you are held responsible when bad things that happen. Technology in the classroom is a privilege, not a necessity. This is the same as a locker search, checking the bathrooms to see if kids are smoking weed between classes, etc. If we give kids the keys to all the world’s knowledge good and bad we need to do it responsibly. I don’t this should be turned into a privacy violation issue.

  71. It´s hardly a dichotomy. We are all naturally curious and seek to understand our environments. Given that, a natural learning experience would be one that is not subjected to constant monitoring, meaningless rules (3 tardies equals detention!) and overbearing adults. Outside of the occasional mentor and the physical resources (labs, libraries, computers and such) the majority of the things that make up what we call education are simply barriers to learning. If education is our priority then why bother with all this stuff that goes on in the schools? If it isn´t the priority then why do we keep pretending that it is?

    I can only speak to what I know of course, but after having been to a public school and also homeschooled at different points, having spent time in universities in the US and abroad and likely soon to be teaching kids myself I feel pretty secure in my opinion that if we just left the doors open at the public schools, kicked out the bureaucracy and brought in the community with it´s resources, we would find that the kids are much better off. If that´d been the case a few years ago maybe I would have found someone to show me how to avoid writing paragraph long run-on sentences. ;)

  72. Let’s remember the only reason the principal could “spy” on the students was that the students had photobooth open on their computer. Schools have a responsibility to monitor what students are doing on the computer. Students sign an acceptable use policy (Come to think of it, so do employees!), and the reasons they were using photobooth could not possibly be considered acceptable. If students were truly concerned about their privacy being invaded they just need to put a piece of tape over the webcam. Problem solved.

  73. What people need to realize is that it is not the technology that is the problem here, it is the people misusing it. It is pretty amazing how people tend to forget that fact, that people should be responsible for their actions, blaming it on technology is ridiculous. People spy on people, not technology. How about Find my iPhone? You can track your wife, your kids with it. This teacher is using remote destkopt which is part of the OS X desktop. Get over it, put tape on your camera and problem solved.

  74. Those who say just put a piece of tape over the webcam are entirely missing the point. First, I would not be surprised to learn that the school considers taping over the camera to be “defacing” the laptop. That sound ridiculous? It absolutely is. That doesn’t mean it’s not the school’s policy. They’ve already demonstrated quite clearly that they have a tolerance, affection even, for the ridiculous and strange. Sweaty, old dudes surreptitiously watching 12 year-old girls apply lip gloss seems inappropriate to me, but then… I guess my bizarre and apparently abnormal perspective might make me unwelcome at a serious institution like that school.

    We’re hearing too much from the administrators and their side of this issue. I would like to hear what the students themselves have to say. Not some spokesperson speaking on their behalf.

    Second, saying “get over it” or “just tape the camera” does not address the issue of whether school officials ought to be monitoring students via video surveillance. If a teacher was looking through a peephole in a bathroom stall, would it be prudent to remark: “Put tape over the peephole and get over it?”

    Also, I doubt students sign any policy that states they agree to being surveilled. Same thing with their parents. And incidentally, children do not have the choice of opting out. Should we cavalierly strip them of other rights because they have no choice but to submit? There are lots of things we can coerce children into accepting. Humans can and do this every day on our planet.

    Children rely on adults for food, shelter, and guidance. Even if we compel them to sign away their privacy, that doesn’t make it right.

    1. Sweaty, old dudes surreptitiously watching 12 year-old girls apply lip gloss seems inappropriate to me

      This is exactly what I’m saying. It’s not normal for an adult to want to do this. It’s completely different from walking around the classroom openly looking at what kids are doing, or checking the bathroom to make sure the kids aren’t smoking weed or giving the class nerd a swirly.

      Only sick people who should not be allowed near children wouldn’t feel extremely uncomfortable doing this.

  75. The whole world seems to be going this way. I worked (briefly) for a boss who turned out to be obsessed with watching everyone and everything. I was hired as the head of IT, and she seemed pretty normal, almost nice, during the interviews.

    Shortly after starting work I was monitoring some network traffic from my desktop, and found she was monitoring my desktop. I quietly disabled her access to my machine, and wrote a script that would redirect future attempts at spying on employees to random desktops. She came trotting over to yell, and I informed her that if she wanted to know what I was doing, she had only to ask. And if she didn’t trust me, she certainly shouldn’t have hired me for the position.

    Over the next several months, I found more an more evidence of very intrusive monitoring (key-loggers, snapshots taken of various employees checking their financial records. All sorts of creepy things). She repeatedly approached me with requests to eavesdrop on phone conversations (digital phone system) or decrypt encrypted communications. She didn’t want to disable such communications, she just wanted to know what everyone was saying or doing.

    I put her off, and explained that my professional ethics prevented me from honoring her requests, and after about six months, we both decided I was better off working somewhere else. All I can say was I’m glad I was the head of IT, not the secretary, and at least I could see what she was doing!

  76. It looks to me like the laptops are strictly for use while they’re still at school, so really it doesn’t seem any different from how most schools monitor computers already. Students already are often under video surveillance. My high school was small, with maybe about a little over a 120 in my graduating class, and even we had video surveillance cameras around in the hallways. It’s really far less exceptional than you might think.

      1. Looks like you went to the same school he did. Do you see vice-principle (sic) in a quote here?
        A few weeks ago, Frontline premiered a documentary called “Digital Nation”. In one segment, the vice-principle of Intermediate School 339, Bronx, NY, Dan Ackerman, demonstrates how he “remotely monitors” the students’ laptops for “inappropriate use”. (his demonstration begins at 4:36)

        1. Dial it down a little, Rita. Do you see those big red parallel marks and the indented text? That signifies a quote.

          1. Then it should be edited with the proper spelling, or put (sic) after it. This story is, after all, about education, is it not?

  77. Good Lord!! Now we have Big Brother in our homes & laughs about it. What is America coming too? When will we have enough of this & start putting people in prison for invading our privacy & taking away our freedoms?

  78. As a student, I have no issue with what this school is doing. You’re on school grounds, and you have to follow by their rules. I’m a senior of a PA high school, we use macs, PCs and other forms of technology in the classrooms all the time. Even the choir room has a smart board which allows our teacher to show us videos that teach us new techniques.

    The school has every right to be checking up on the students to make sure that they’re doing their work.

  79. I understand that for some of your people, as teachers, this is your job and you’re supposed to keep the kids within certain boundaries, but I think your point of view is skewed to your own interests only. It’s not your job to make sure that every kids pays attention to what you’re teaching, any more than you are being evaluated on whether every child that comes through your classroom eventually graduates or not. There were plenty of people in my classes that read other books, wrote letters, slept, whatever – but didn’t bother anybody or the education going on in the class that they wanted no part of. The law says that they have to be at school until around the age of 16 or so, but they don’t all have to participate actively in what’s going on. If their parents haven’t been able to make them learn, it’s not your job to make sure they “tow the line”, like some prison guard. To me, this is no different than many other situations where people did abhorrent things and were quoted saying “it was just my job” or “I was just following orders”, like they had no sense of right and wrong. Obviously it’s a little different in the military, but I personally don’t believe that your job as an educator means making sure that kids do everything they’re told, every second and need constant supervision, whether technologically related or not. Regarldess of what you might infer as your responsibility, most of us don’t send our kids to school for “training”, we send them for an education. If I had the financial ability, I would home school my children, and they would still turn out to be socially adept and follow the rules, but instead they’re going to a school where they’re mostly concerned whether their uniform is in code or they’re wearing a belt – and will send them home to miss an entire day of education because of a subjective opinion regarding their clothing or earring or whatever. It’s just gone too far, and this kind of mentality is what causes it.
    I may not be the normal parent, but I’m not holding a teacher responsible for something my kid does while at school, that is my kid’s responsibility for having done it, and I will be a parent about it and hold my child responsible for it – being babysat at day care stopped when they were 5 years old.

  80. The observation of the student’s activities during school time is totally warranted. The school system is providing the machines and, within the confines of the school grounds, making sure that those machines are being used for their intended purpose is completely legit. Ackerman clearly states in the interview that the kids are showing that they’re capable of completing their classwork while goofing off from time to time and that the monitoring is used when they get too far off track. This video doesn’t show anything close to what the Pennsylvania school was doing with their remote monitoring of students computers while in their homes. And even that is supposed to be a failsafe option in case of theft of a school laptop.

  81. @ #47 telling kids you can spy on their activities is not a fix, it’s an excuse + the problem is not that simple.

    A “simple” fix would be a U shaped desk layout like in tech classes (No computers on inside facing desks for lectures, computers along the wall so teachers can see them all from a central position), but it requires larger spaces than you’ll see in most school buildings.

    As to whether having someone randomly spy on you making you more productive as a student – I disagree. Being watched in a workplace causes distraction, being watched typing produces more errors.

    Watching students form and edit ideas is a crappy environment for creativity. Cameras are good for catching criminals, which sadly schools do have.

    They mean to stop slacking, but they will also pay by stopping some degree of trial and error, because it sucks to fail with teachers watching (before you are even done with your work).


    OK, since everyone is telling personal stories about their schools, I’ll play. Our Jr. High School actually looked like a prison. Caged entry / exit. Every class faced an open courtyard. Bullies would torment (and injure people) in bathroom stalls to avoid some first hand witness accounts, so the simple fix was to remove the bathroom stalls. Hey, like ya’ll said, we’ve always known we don’t have privacy at school, but it sucked when you really had to go #2. BTW, that was the ’70’s.

  82. The powers that be might meet some resistance today if they were to announce that everyone was going to be routinely, randomly surveilled in their homes. By the time these children reach adulthood they’ll be accustomed to this sort of thing.

    Schools are places where children go to be indoctrinated and conditioned for the future, not educated. Many graduate high school as functional illiterates.

    I wouldn’t call someone a parent who sends their children off to be inculcated and shaped by another person whom, the majority of the time, is a total stranger.

  83. “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

    ~George Orwell “1984”

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