Seen Not Heard: How obscure security makes school suck

By James Stephenson

I graduated from Virginia's public schooling system two years ago, but my memories of it are fresh. After all, my little sister is still there.

Being a kid today sucks. I couldn't tell you if it sucks more or less than other generations because I wasn't a part of them. But I can tell you that the reasons why it sucks are new -- and about some of the unfair acts perpetrated in the name of education.

Unlike the webcam snoopers of Lower Merion school disctict, ours doesn't have the money to buy every kid a laptop. That will probably change soon; the cost of laptops is plummeting. If our school district (and most school districts in the US) don't have a laptop for every child within the next five years, it'd be a surprise. And when my school district gives out hardware, I'm certain that the administrators would watch us with them if they could, just like the students at Harriton High School. The thing to remember about the public schools of today is that students are treated worse than criminals. Everyone is presumed guilty until proven innocent.

I remember the day they installed the cameras in my high school. Everyone was surprised when we walked and saw them hanging ominously from the ceiling.

Everyone except me: I moved to rural Virginia from the wealthier and more heavily populated region of northern Virginia. Cameras have watched me since middle school. So I wasn't surprised, just disappointed. "What have we done?" asked one of my friends. It felt like the faculty was punishing us for something. A common justification for cameras is that they make students safer, and make them feel more secure. I can tell you from first hand experience that that argument is bullshit. Columbine had cameras, but they didn't make the 15 people who died there any safer. Cameras don't make you feel more secure; they make you feel twitchy and paranoid. Some people say that the only people who don't like school cameras are the people that have something to hide. But having the cameras is a constant reminder that the school does not trust you and that the school is worried your fellow classmates might go on some sort of killing rampage.

Cameras aren't the worst of the privacy violations. Staff perform random searches of cars and lockers. Most of the kids know about locker searches because they see the administration going though their stuff in the hall. But not everyone knows about the car searches, all the way out in the parking lot where administrators aren't likely to be observed. (People don't often bother to lock their cars, either).

My best friend found out about the car searches the hard way during our senior year. They searched his car and found a stage sword in his trunk. It was a harmless fake, the kind of sword that is used as a prop on stage. My friend is a live-action role playing enthusiast, and he had planned on going to a friends house to fool around after school. But the school has a zero tolerence policy on "weapons." He was expelled. The school claimed that he had "recourse." He could have appealed his case--to the same administration that had kicked him out. But the injustice of it is is that he was kicked out first, and only then offered a hearing. Guilty until proven innocent.

This could have easily have happened to me. One time when I was still in middle school, I went on a camping trip with my scout troop. As usual I packed my camping equipment in the same backpack I used for school. Only when the weekend was over and I went back to school, I realized with horror that my pocket knife was still stuck in the bottom of my backpack. If administrators had searched my bag, not only would I have been expelled, I could have been arrested.


The sad thing is that the school district I've described is one of the better ones. In northern Virginia, the measures are even more Draconian. They have heavily-armed and -armored police officers roaming the halls. Students undergo a mandatory security orientation during their first week of middle school. In it, a police officer goes through the implements they carry at all times. The police women who performed the demo I attended showed us how she was always wore a bulletproof vest, and carried handcuffs, cable-tie style restraints, a large knife, a can of mace, and a retractable steel baton. "It's nonlethal, kids," she said. "But you don't want me to have to shatter your kneecaps with it."

She also wore a pistol with exactly thirteen rounds: one in the chamber, 12 in the clip. She could have taken out a terrorist or two; which I guess that is what they were expecting some of us to be. At the tender age of 12, this made quite an impression of me, and I still remember the event clearly. But these methods were useless in keeping me or any of my classmates safe. They didn't stop the kid who flashed a gun at me, or the bully who took a swipe at me with a switchblade.

Some people say youngsters are more disrespectful than ever before. But if you were in an environment where you were constantly being treated as a criminal, would you still be respectful? In high school, one of my favorite English teachers never had trouble with her students. The students in her class were the most well behaved in the school--even if they were horrible in other teachers' classes. We were well-mannered, addressed her as "Ma'am," and stood when she entered the room. Other teachers were astonished that she could manage her students so well, especially since many of them were troublemakers. She accomplished this not though harsh discipline, but by treating us with respect and being genuinely hurt if we did not return it.

Being a kid of my generation isn't all bad. Thanks to the Internet, if we want to study something it's a matter of seconds before the relevant encyclopedia article is before us. It makes doing research papers a heck of a lot easier, even if most teachers won't accept Wikipedia as a source (Pro tip: teachers rarely check sources, so in a pinch, read the sources that are linked Wikipedia article and cite them instead). And even if there are lots of bullying administrators, there are many good teachers, too. Heaven bless the long-suffering school librarians: the library was the one place I enjoyed in school. I could always find a good book to read there, and they even had manga. My librarians were interested and helpful, and always wanted to chat about what you were currently reading. The Library and a few good teachers are what kept me from dropping out.

It's a shame that the football team got a bigger budget than the Library.

Petty acts of rebellion--and innocent little covert activities--kept our spirits up. The school's computer network may have been censored, but the sneakernet is alive and well. Just like in times past, high school students don't have much money to buy music, movies or games, but all are avidly traded at every American high school. It used to be tapes; now it's thumbdrives and flash disks. My friends and I once started an underground leaflet campaign that was a lot of fun. I even read about a girl who ran a library of banned books out of her locker. These trivial things are more important than they seembecause they make students feel like they have some measure of control over their lives. Schools today are not training students to be good citizens: they are training students to be obedient.

James is starting a new blog about being a schoolkid: Double Negative

Photo: John Perivolaris AKA DrJohn2005. Design: Rob Beschizza.

115 Comments Add a comment

Anon #1 5:22 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Hm, I just don't understand, how the parents tolerate all this?

If I was a parent (I'm Russian, 23 y.o., managing director of an IT firm), I would probably do everything in my power to stop such atrocities, and, to be frank, senile methods of child control.

capl #2 5:38 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Very interesting piece. It is a wonder that we all made it through High School without the multiple layers of security that currently protect us ;)
I'm going to pass this onto my kid entering high school next year.

orn310 #3 5:55 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I never liked security cameras... and unfortunately it doesn't get any better in college. Security and cameras EVERYWHERE.
(Interesting fact: I am in the Games and System Programing track @ DeVry, and they lock down connections to Steam, and most games for us. even though there are resources that we use from them regularly)

In short I think the Administration a little bit more interested in protecting their own interests than actual allowing the students to learn.

Anon #4 6:08 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

First of all, let me say that I am quite impressed with your command of the English language being only two years out of high school. Clearly your school in Northern VA had something to do with it, much like the public high school I went to in Austin, and the private schools I attended for K-5.

Anyway, I can't imagine growing up and going to school like you and your peers are. We didn't have any of these types of security measures, and we were completely respectful of our teachers. We had no incidents of fighting, no incidents of guns and knives in our schools, etc.

We had bullies, but it was meek compared to some of the lower socio-economic schools in my area.

I will note that those lower socio-economic schools in my area did have their fair share of fights (quite violent), and guns and other lethal things, but it was rare that we had anything on the news as a result of any violent disruption regarding the same. I believe that those weapons were mostly used to deter bullying, and used as intimidation.

Did we have gangs? Sure. Those gangs, however, were in a different part of town, and most of the individuals in gangs did not even attend school.

Bottom line; I am in complete agreement with you. I have never advocated zero-tolerance. It's absolutely ridiculous and causes more problems than naught. And I am not sure that, legally, they can impose zero-tolerance. Coming from a family of lawyers, I am not completely inept when it comes to the law. My father was also a district judge. However, I am also not an expert. Children under the age of 18 have few, if any rights. However, I do believe that they are afforded some civil rights, and in the legal system, they are afforded "innocent until proven guilty".

I had no idea about the car searches. I'm not sure that's legal either. I recognize that the cars are on government property, but I'm not sure what legal premise they have to search the vehicles since they do not belong to the city, county or state.

Either way, no one has challenged the government, be it local, county, state or federal on zero tolerance unless it is an appeal or outright sueing on an individual level against the school system.

As far as I am concerned, I believe that either a class-action suit to overturn zero-tolerance needs to occur, or legislation needs to be brought to get rid of zero-tolerance. Unfortunately, in conservative states such as mine (Texas), it will never happen.

Ah, the good days when I went to school. I graduated in 1990. I'm so sorry that you all have had to go through what you are going through and went through.

peppermintslayer #5 6:30 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Not only does my school have cameras and two campus cops, but they also perform random drugtesting on students who drive or are involved in any school activity. I believe this is another trust issue on the school's part. If someone fails a drugtest, they are forbidden from driving or participating in any school activities for one month.
The plan of drugtesting never seems to work. The kids using drugs either opt out of all activities and driving or acquire "clean" urine from a friend. Many of the kids that have opted out were some of the best players on the different sports teams. And some of those players that opted out don't even use drugs. They simply don't agree with the policy and, like I do, believe it is an invasion of privacy.

Then there is the issue of innocent kids getting punished. I've known of kids that would never even think of touching a drug let alone using one get drugtested and fail, because they hurt themselves somehow and their parent(s) gave them a prescription painkiller. Although teens may not want our parents around at this age, we still trust them on medical issues.

The system is flawed, and it's becoming very apparent. Hopefully articles like this and the appropriate actions can encourage reform.

benher #6 6:35 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

This was a great piece of writing, congrats to Boingboing for hosting it.

It's sad to see this sort of abuse get worse and worse even decades after I've been out of the US school system.

Re-read the last sentence 3 times. It's the most important.

PS to James - The pro-tip made me laugh! If I was 15 years younger I would have done the same!

mindysan33 #7 6:53 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

This is excellent. It's good to hear a student's (or recent former student's) voice on this topic. Sounds like things are pretty bad on the American middle and high school campus. It's a wonder there isn't more outcry about these sorts of abuses against teenagers civil liberties. You'd figure some parents might actually care that schools are treating their kids like criminals for no reason whatsoever. And yeah, training kids to be obedient is just about what it sounds like.

Anon #8 6:58 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Have you read anything by John Holt or John Taylor Gatto? If not, run, do not walk, to your local library or bookstore. Your last sentence shows remarkable insight. But our public school system isn't just training you to be obedient. It's training you to be an assembly line worker and a consumer. Your place in life is to work a repetitive job ruled by the clock, and buy the goods other factories produce. (Disclaimer: I'm a homeschooling parent, and, while I attended public school, have a deep and abiding loathing of the entire system.)

arkizzle / Moderator #9 7:01 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Well done James, great article!

I have to say, I'm really diggin' these specials. The content and layout are just great :)

Anon #10 7:12 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I'm the IT Manager at a local High School. We have cameras installed to prevent theft. After hour breakins are rampant. Daytime thefts are a problem as well. 2 students will work together. One will lure the teacher out of the room while the other snatches the laptop of the desk. This was caught on camera by the way. I've gone out of my way to make the best technology, with limited funds, available to our students and staff. Open and relevant tech resources are my focus. But when these resources are abused, tagging, vandalism, theft etc. I lose confidence.

Anon #11 7:18 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I suppose when my parents were looking for a place to live and checking out school districts, they considered whether the schools had good academic scores, good activities, etc...

And since I'm getting closer to settling down and may be doing that interview myself sometime in the next few years, I'm adding a "no zero-tolerance policies" rule to the list. I am perfectly happy turning down a job if need be to avoid a state or district that does this to their kids. Surely they can't all be mad?

When columbine happened I was a freshman in college (a nice big happy state school, where they treat you like adults)... and I can clearly remember wandering through the dorms that day in shock, everyone thanking the gods that we were out of high school. We knew what would happen. I guess I'd just hoped it would have worn off by now.

JoshP #12 7:19 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

There's an old highschool film called Heathers, maybe it was by John Hughes. One of the lines in it said, 'Your teen angst has a body count.' I've always thought that was fitting even back when high school was just about popularity.
Imho, I forget when the average adult loses complete track of what its like to be an emergent conscious ball of confused hormones, but they do and mores the pity.
Also unfortunately it's always seemed to me that most people get into teaching because of sqee value and for nothing else. Christ, look at the classic social example of the Boomers vs. Gen X. We grew up looking at our parents all hippied out, high and listening to Hendrix. Somehow though, when we started to mature they became the greatest generation of hypocrites on the planet. I mean that in the most general sense. All it took was twenty years to go from peace, save the planet to gas guzzling SUV's and right wing ideologue capitalism. And if you think kids don't notice things like that, you shouldn't be teaching. And if you think they won't remember it for the rest of their lives...well.
Sorry about the novel, but your post really resonated with me. To the other kids though remember the one rule about high school, it's like being a tough Navy Seal or something, just survive. :)

rgkrause #13 7:23 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

As a student who is currently reading this article from within a Northern Virginian high school, every one of these key strokes is being recorded as well as every page and program are being screen captured. Everything said here is true. Every hallway, the gym, the outside sports fields are all covered with cameras. Thats without mentioning the, I kid you not, 24 cameras in the lunch room. They cover ever possible angle just in case one of the 533 students in the lunch room decide to act up.

When questioned, the administration says its for our own protection, for the betterment of our school, and the ability to prosecute offenders of our 50+ page code of conduct. As we enter school property we give away our rights and there is nothing we can do about it. There are good teachers here, ones who are not afraid to teach in abstract manners to get their lessons across and to make sure their students actually learned the subject. It is unfortunate it is these teachers who most often get put under scrutiny by the administration. Where as the ones who could care less about their job and me and my peers education have no problems at all. For if they can get us to pass a test now that I could pass in seventh grade, they've done their job right in the eyes of the county and the country.

Their was one instance my junior year involving a five dollar bill that was "Stolen." Upon the realization that a student had no longer had his bill, we were told to sit and wait and we would not be allowed to leave until the bill was found. Eventually the AP came to the classroom and did personal searches of everyone and interviews. When it got to me he forced me to show him my wallet and alas like anyone could have, I had a few five dollar bills in it. I was immediately accused of stealing the other students money. After being threatened with the possible punishments from the school and the law, the student came forward to say he found his 5 dollar bill in his pocket.

This article is an accurate description of life in these schools and it shows no signs of getting any better, just more oppressive.

Blue_Mage #14 7:45 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I'm very thankful I went to school in Canada. Our high school, with a population of almost two thousand, had 14 cameras. This didn't cover an major portion of a school originally built in 1906 and simply added on to for the next century. All they kept an eye on were entrances, exits and a couple of key areas like the front lobby and the cafeteria. What mitigated that fact even further is that there were also a number of TVs around the school displaying the output from those cameras.

Sure, there was a police officer who came around for a couple of afternoons a week. We shared him with two other schools in the area. He was also an incredibly nice guy, spoke French (handy when you go to a French IB school) and a former Stampeder.

Security? There wasn't any. In the spring, half the school ate lunch on the front lawn or went downtown to find food. In the three years I was there, there was one slashing atack and three suicides, a couple of tire slashings and some vandalism. Not bad for a school population that included students from both the richest and poorest neighbourhoods in the city.

I had some of the most amazing teachers, librarians and other school staff I've ever encountered in that school and I'm incredibly happy that while it's one of the best high schools in Canada, most schools here aren't all that much different. I spent a wonderful three years there.

mazerrackham #15 7:50 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I've got some bad news for you, kid -- it doesn't necessarily get any better in "the real world".

Employers can be just as draconian, and being unemployed and looking for work just to find a job that doesn't have a Big Brother department is not a viable option for many people.

SchoolSecurityBlog #16 7:58 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I appreciate a student's view. It always adds perspective that the adult's angle may miss.

I do find it interesting, however, that not only students, but some adults, don't have a problem with police, security cameras, and other protection measures for their suburban shopping mall security, but believe we should have a lower standard of protection for students and teachers in schools.

Schools reflect the broader society in which they exist. If there are threats to safety in the community, why would be naive to believe we should not take reasonable risk reduction measures to protect kids and teachers in schools? Many high schools have one to three thousand students there every day, which is as large as some smaller communities in this country.

The key issue, then, seems to not be whether or not we should have reasonable security measures in school. The questions should focus on, "What is reasonable?"

School safety must include a balanced and comprehensive approach ranging from prevention to preparedness. The first and best line of defense will always be a well trained, highly alert staff and student body. Relationships among students and staff is a key school safety factor.

But properly designed physical security measures (controlling access, communications capabilities, and properly used cameras, for example) along with professional safety staffing (school resource officers, school security staff) can be a viable part of the broader school safety program equation.

We should not have a double-standard for safety in schools verus security at other public places (malls, recreation centers, sports and entertainment complexes, the local grocery store, or the streets of our local communities). Doing so is a disservice to students and staff.

Ken Trump

Anon #17 7:58 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

The middle school I went to (Grace Metz) had bomb scares on a regular basis back in the '90s. We had to go through metal detectors and bag searches after that.

Anon #18 7:59 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I'm thankful that I went to high school in Canada. We had cameras and there was a police officer who took care of several schools, but that was pretty much it. The only lock-down we had (and this was before my time) was because of an chemical spill an a factory nearby.

Most of all, there just wasn't the guilty until proven innocent attitude that people are describing. The teachers only really looked at the cameras if they knew that something had happened, like a theft. If there was a fight, everyone knew who was involved, no need to check the cameras. Drug use was quite common at my school, but nothing insane was done.

Schools in large urban centres probably have more draconian policies, but on the average, we don't go overboard. A guy I know was the person who searched the cameras when something was reported at his school. My school went around to the computer classes and asked for input on a appropriate cell-phone policy. They empower the students to take responsibility for their school.

The school didn't filter any web sites on the whole, although setting up per-student blacklists was done a lot by my computers teacher (Flash games are distracting). I almost always got my work done, so I almost never got a blacklist. Most of the school computers were in plain view of teachers, anyway, so they could yell at the student about stuff if they saw it. There's still trust there, something that American schools seem to lack.

DSMVWL THS #19 8:02 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

The police-state quality of public schooling was already coming into effect 20 years ago when I was a high school student in Miami.

Many of our schools were giant, windowless concrete bunkers, that had a depressing, post-apocalyptic atmosphere.

Combined with heavy-handed security and administration -- including many staff who were obviously on power trips -- and the guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude described in this piece, the result was a really grim environment in which to spend most of one's days.

I and some other bright kids with prankish natures started a "secret society" whose main purpose was to produce mysterious posters, flyers, etc. intended to tweak school administrators. It wasn't hard to do in such a totalitarian situation.

Andy Kaplan-Myrth #20 8:18 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Parents have a role to play in what their kids' schools are like, even when their kids are in high school. My kids are in primary school, and when they started doing lockdowns I objected to the school, the Board and the parent association. Like security cameras and locker searches, lockdowns don't improve security. They're another tool to train students to be obedient and scared.

Parents -- whatever grade your kids are in, write to their principals, meet with them, ask what their security policies are, and educate them about security theatre and how it undermines respect in the school.

James Stephenson #21 8:37 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Hey all, Original author here. Reading the comments had been amazing. Thank you everyone for your thoughts. @rgkrause, Would you be interested in doing an interview on my blog? If you are head on over to it, find my email address there, and send me a message. @SchoolSecurityBlog, the issue is that in schools your constitutional rights are completely ignored. Random bag searches are not conducted with probable cause or a search warrant. If students spend the first part of their life in an environment where their rights are ignored, then they will not insist on them later in life. Someone might make the argument that since students are minors that they don't have rights. It is a weak argument. For one thing, I reached the age of majority while still in public school, and they still ignored my rights. @peppermintslayer, One of the worst things about random drug testing (other than the fact that in my opinion it violates the 4th amendment) is that it can result in a false positive. If you happen to like poppy seed bagels then you are in trouble. On Mythbusters they tested this and found that a surprisingly low number of poppyseed bagels could produce a positive test. I think it only took two or three. If two or three bagels can produce a positive test in a big full grown adult, then maybe it would only take one for a small 15 year old girl.

Anon #22 8:40 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I would like to point out as the author did as well, that security camera's do very little if anything at all to prevent situations from occurring. They only give us something to watch on the news and be shocked about.

Anon #23 8:46 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

In my senior year (early 90's), I moved to Virginia Beach, VA. I went from a small New England HS to a large baby-sitting facility for teenagers called Cox HS. The security guards were not above the HS mentality themselves. The would get their walk-talkies taken away from them for singing on them in the hallway. I would have security guards ask me for a hall pass while we stood next to each other at urinals. I went to take the AP exams at a local community college. Most kids took the rest of the day off. When I went back for the remainder of the day to tell the chemistry teacher what was on the exam this year I was put up against a wall and patted down. Security didn't know what AP exams were and detained us. Kids trying to get ahead were treated like criminals. That was school.

When adults said this was the "best time of my life" I would think about suicide. The idea that life only got worse was depressing. Thank the FSM they were wrong. Being an adult is far better than the constant criminal treatment I got there. Now I mainly only get it at the airport.

aelfscine #24 8:50 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

How prevalent has this madness gotten? I graduated just before all the Columbine stuff freaked everyone out, and so when I was in school, our security basically consisted of one cop, a hall monitor, and a parking lot attendant. None of them was exactly super-worked-up about security either, they were mostly just there to make sure you had a hall pass. I grew up in automotive suburb Michigan, and at the time, only the 'bad people' in Detroit and Pontiac had security like this. Metal detectors and cops were the domain of big cities, where everyone was mean and deserved to be surveiled.

Is this crap everywhere now?

Matt J #25 8:55 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Reading articles like this surprise me, given that my country (the UK) has an (exaggerated) reputation as a surveillance state. At my secondary school and sixth form college there was no one site security employees, nor did I ever hear of lockers or bags being searched. And neither had zero tolerance policies for anything other than illegal drugs (and even so, a group that conspired to bring drugs on the school ski trip were let off with detentions). Both had CCTV of course, but neither had them in the classrooms. Both had outdoor CCTV, and I think, a camera pointed at vending machines.

teletypeturtle #26 9:10 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

@SchoolSecurityBlog, I *do* have an issue with surveillance at malls and so forth; however, I recognize that when private property is involved, the owner has the right to do as he or she pleases, and I have the option to choose not to go there.

When it's a matter of public funding, government policy, public facilities and mandatory school attendance, it's entirely appropriate that we should collectively question what's appropriate and democratically decide what we're willing -- and not willing -- to give up in the name of 'security.'

Bramblyspam #27 9:11 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

A while back, I read that back in the 1960's, schools had target shooting - with real honest-to-goodness rifles - as a school sport. A team member carrying a rifle in the school halls wasn't considered any weirder than a band student carrying an instrument.

Just yesterday, I read about a six-year-old being suspended from school for shaping his hand into a gun and pointing it at another student. Isn't it fortunate that zero-tolerance policies make us sooo much safer than in the old days, by preventing school shootings?

Anon #28 9:13 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

you are totally right about them breading future generations for obedience. Orwellian policies are a reality. unfortunately 1984 is not part of today's curriculum in schools. they are setting up a police state. most poeple seem to accept it by saying they have nothing to hide, well neither do i, but who wants to live in a world where "they" watch us and control us. all of these security measures are put in place for "our safety". who is monitoring the organizations monitoring us? wake up america !!! popular media lies to us about the extent of the danger. its meant to keep us afraid, separate and vulnerable. people need to come together and change things for the positive again...

SchoolSecurityBlog replied to comment from teletypeturtle #29 9:15 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Interesting perspective @teletypeturtle. So I assume then you believe there should be no reasonable security measures at any public facilities such as government office buildings, courthouses, etc.? Do you believe there should be no security measures at all in K-12 schools then? If not, what do you see as reasonable and appropriate to protect students and teachers?

SchoolSecurityBlog replied to comment from James Stephenson #30 9:22 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Actually, James, students' constitutional rights in schools are not being ignored. There are school board policies which must be legally sound, due process hearings and appeals processes for students who believe discipline is inappropriate, school boards elected by the public (in most cases) to represent the public's interests, and courts which have heard cases on challenges to school safety and other measures which claim rights have been violated. You are right in that courts have set a standard for searches that is not at a "probable cause" level. And school officials function in their capacity "in loco parentis," in place of the parent, consistent with these standards. I agree there should be clear guidelines, reasonable risk reduction measures, student input, and due process to challenge. But I don't agree with claims there are no rights and due processes, nor do I believe there should not be reasonable risk reduction measures to protect kids and teachers. I guess the question is do you believe there should be no security at all in schools? If yes, then are you saying it is acceptable to have no reasonable measures in place to protect students and staff from harm? If no, what do you believe is reasonable versus over-the-top?

Ken Trump

Anon #31 9:36 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

@SchoolSecurityBlog, you don't have to take a drug test to get on an airplane. You certainly don't have to take one to get into the mall. So it seems like pretty classic misdirection to suggest that since we agree to mall security (and I notice you didn't mention airport security, which we have no choice but to agree to), we should also agree to school security.

When I was a kid we didn't have any of this stuff. There were school bullies, and once or twice I got beaten up (being a nerd, not a bully), but somehow I survived school. Reading this story makes me sick--how do we expect our kids to properly participate in society when they are raised in jail?

Anon #32 9:50 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I think that this is all quite relevant and on point. My issue is with those who support the draconian policies, all that does is create chattel and rebels. The chattel are to afraid to do anything and the rebels simply want to free themselves of the fear that is imposed upon them. The schoolsecurityblog person spoke of suburban malls and security there but the difference is that no person is required to go to a mall but we must attend schools. For that argument to hold water school must be optional at all levels, which it is not and that makes no sense. "Security" in public places does little to curb the causes of crime, it simply criminalizes all irrespective of their criminality. The best way to fight crime is to make all people accountable for the well being of society, to trust others and give them the means to find an alternative to crime. In schools we are rarely talking about crimes of necessity, rather we are talking about crimes of rebellion (in general) and to end this we must simply give people the trust to do the right thing. When I was in school the crimes that were committed generally were vandalism (usually by the people who were most alienated) small violence (fights by those who hadn't been taught to deal with their emotions) and drug use (light drugs). Not bad on the whole. I saw that teachers were mostly approachable, staff were kind, security (2 people who had no weapons but walked around and one cop) were very nice and understanding and they all fostered a sense of personal responsibility for the well being of those around us.
To recap, "security" does little to fight the disease but it fights the symptoms with some adequacy. I like having no crime because no one wants to commit it rather then having Big Brother watching all the time.

James Stephenson #33 10:00 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I am by no means an opponent of a secure education environment. What I am trying to say is that most of these so called "reasonable risk reduction measures" are not reasonable nor do they reduce risk. Cameras are entirely ineffective in preventing crime or violence. My school had a camera watching the vending machines, but a student still robbed them and was not even caught (he took the simple measure of obscuring his face). I acknowledge that there have been many court ruling that make what schools do legal. However, even with the "in loco parentis" policy in place, even my parents would not have a legal right to search my stuff without my permission when I turned 18 (which is how old I was my senior year). Yet the school could search my bag if they wanted to. Or my friends car (I am pretty sure he was also 18 when that happened, he was only a few months younger than I). That means that once a kid turns 18, the school system technically had more control over the kid than his parents do. Another problem that I have with in loco parentis is that the school really is not a students parent. A parent presumably has the child's best interests at heart, if they didn't it could be grounds for the state to take the child away from the parent. Unfortunately, school faculty members do not always have the student's best interests at heart. They should and often do, but many times some faculty members just like messing with people. It is an unfortunate fact, and one that I am sure many people would like to ignore, but the fact of the matter is that bullies are not confined to the student body. Also parents go to extraordinary measures for their children. They pay to keep them clothed and fed and cared for. They devote endless hours taking care of them. Therefore it makes sense that they should be granted extraordinary legal measures to take care of their children. To grant these same legal measures to an arbitrary school faculty member is really in insult to the hard and loving work of parents everywhere.

Anon replied to comment from SchoolSecurityBlog #34 10:09 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

SchoolSecurityBlog, when you say things like, "I assume then you believe there should be no reasonable security measures at any public facilities....." it's hard to take you seriously. teletypeturtle didn't say anything like that, so your comment seems rather pompous and arrogant.

Anon replied to comment from James Stephenson #35 10:13 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

James, you are making more sense than the adults on this thread trying to criticize you. You've got my respect.

-Mike B. 53 years old

Aurini replied to comment from SchoolSecurityBlog #36 10:25 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Mr Trump, allow me a moment while I channel the spirit of Schneier.

Your comparison of Schools to Shopping Malls is not at all apt, and is in fact dangerous; the situations are no more similar to each other than are airports, military installations, banks, or computer security. A one-size-fits all approach will guarantee security gaps everywhere.

The primary threats to security in a mall environment stem from the vast array of goods easily available for theft on the shelves, and the large anonymous crowd - shoplifting and autotheft are the threats, and in some areas violent gang activity as well. Locking down *all* items is unfeasible; at best one can lock down small, high-value items such as razor blades and cigarettes without offending customers.

The optimal solution at the shopping mall involves security cameras (in theory protecting my car, and preventing 90% of shoplifting), and security guards to address any violations. However you do not find security guards giving every customer the hairy eyeball. If they did, customers would take their business elsewhere. Because Malls are under free-market pressure, a balance has been found, one which optimally serves their customers (at least, one which gives the illusion of doing so - didn't help my girlfriend when somebody broke into our car and stole her laptop).

In Schools the security conditions are absolutely different. The concerns at most schools are the medical safety of the students, the protection of a small number of high-value electronic devices, and theft deterrence for high-number mid-value items such as books in the library. The solutions to these are simple - lock computer labs and projector rooms, put up an electronic-tag detector at the entrance to the library, and have a resident medical professional as well as First Aid training for all the staff.

Those are the primary threats. The next threat is fire - ergo fire drills - and following that is inter-student violence or theft.

That last - and least of - the threats is the only one where you could justify security cameras, but you have to ask whether it would be an *effective* solution. Just watch an episode of Law and Order: UK to answer that question. By diverting resources to the easily-suberted CCTV system, administrators will ignore the far more lucrative path of investigation, and furthermore it will breed a culture of silence - watch people all the time and "Don't Snitch" becomes the accepted norm.

Security ought to be something that all the students are invested in - not something they're trying desperately to fight against.

None of the measures you suggest would prevent school shootings - as Penn Gillette said "You can't stop crazy people from doing crazy things with crazy laws" - at best CCTVs will relocate that uncommon violence to a different location, but it won't prevent it. The solution is early intervention, not feel-good security measures.

The sole justification for CCTVs is when there is significant gang problems in an inner-city school; when the situation's turned into Bosnia, then heavy armed intervention can be justified. But even then it should be focussed on protecting the students, not on prosecuting them for minor violations. There is never an excuse for randomized drug-testing or vehicle search, outside of a proper court warrant.

Mr Trump, you're too addicted to the power that modern security capabilities grant you, and you've lost sight of the end game. Hell, I love tech and guns too, and when I move to Nevada I plan to purchase multiple miniguns, as well as a Toshiba Toughbook with a Fedora hacker-suite installed - but during my day-to-day activity, I'll be carrying a pistol for self defence - not a minigun, and not even one of those pretty, pretty C7A1 assault rifles they let me play with in my army days.

Just because you *can* do something, doesn't mean you should. Your concern should be the students well-being - not the list of expensive toys you can justify purchasing.

SchoolSecurityBlog replied to comment from James Stephenson #37 10:26 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

So then, James, what exactly (with specifics) do you define as "reasonable security" to create the "secure educational environment" you do support? I'm interested in hearing specifics.

Have you ever considered that in the hundreds or several thousand students at a high school there are those who harm others, damage property, pose a security risk, act inappropriately, and are not the model students you described who are clothed, fed, and cared for? There seems to be an absence of that, and how to address that segment of the population, in your perspective.

Again, school officials are not granted "extraordinary legal measures" to protect their students and there are safeguards (legal policies, due process, established case law, and litigation avenues outside of the school)to protect student rights.

Sadly, not all parents do have the best interests of their children in mind. And not all students are responsible and have behavior standards at the level of others. Schools reflect the broader society, and with the good comes the bad, and just like in the broader society, there have to be reasonable risk reduction measures just as you have in the broader community.

Cameras deter those who can be deterred and often serve as evidence against those who cannot. They are a tool, not a panacea. We have seen schools that do not implement and use them properly, for sure, but that is an issue speaking to the training and skills of those overseeing it, not a condemnation of the tool.

Security is an inconvenience. I, too, believe there needs to be balance and over-the-top measures are not productive. But until we reach the Utopian society some people believe will some day exist (and some mistakenly believe exists today), there needs to be some reasonable safety measures in place.

I haven't heard a call from anyone here to eliminate police to protect people out in their homes and neighborhoods. And it has been my experience some of the first people to cry "negligent security" and run to find attorneys to sue places are the same who are the first to have spoken out against reasonable security measures in the first place. Good theory, but not in touch with today's reality, in my experience.

So again, what specifically do you define as reasonable? That's the question schools and school communities need to discuss.

Thanks for the exchange. I enjoy differing perspectives. It keeps us all thinking and moving forward.

Ken Trump

Aurini #38 10:27 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Dear moderators:

I wrote a very long comment in reply to Mr Trump, which is being held in moderation due to its length. When you get a moment, I ask that you take a look at it - I promise you it ain't spam!

Cheers. :)

SchoolSecurityBlog replied to comment from Aurini #39 10:38 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Hey, Aurini- I'd suggest you read a little bit more about my philosophy and approach before making a personal attack (Mr Trump, you're too addicted to the power that modern security capabilities grant you). If you'd read what I wrote, and do a little more research , I think you'd realize you're misrepresenting my philosophy. Research before attacking, OK? This is a professional discussion and I enjoy differing opinions without personal attacks.

I would dispute your perspective on what you believe K-12 school security threats, issues, and concerns are today. But mine is based on 25-years experience in working with K-12 schools. Perhaps you bring a greater level of expertise in K-12 school safety.

You might want to check your facts. Most schools are not doing random drug testing, which for some reason seems to be a sore spot with some folks here. I don't think that's the cure all for school safety or, quite honestly, that it is the primary thrust of most schools in the country.

In fact, most are so busy worrying about meeting test score standards they're struggling with monitoring who gets in and out of their schools, training staff and students to report strangers, and dealing with basic crime prevention and security. Drug testing is not occurring at the front doors of the vast majority of schools in the U.S. each day.

Bottom line: Balanced and comprehensive approach to school safety. Reasonable risk reduction measures which can include appropriately deployed security technology and professional security/police staffing. As I said elsewhere, first and best line of defense is a well trained, highly alert staff and student body. Relationships with students are a key school safety strategy. But security and emergency preparedness is one part of the overall equation, too.

Good luck on your move to Nevada. I'd suggest you consider checking out Clark County Schools and other larger districts there to get a feel for the school safety challenges they've faced.

Enjoyed the discussion. Time to get back to work.

Ken Trump

Anon #40 10:42 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Nice piece. My editor's brain is always on I guess, I found a couple of things FYI:

"But the injustice of it is is that he was kicked out"

"...I attended showed us how she was always wore a bulletproof vest"

Mainer replied to comment from SchoolSecurityBlog #41 10:45 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply


I dont' have time to read up on your philosophy, but you sound like a know it all in the comments you've posted here. Stop putting words in people's mouths. No one here said there should be no security at all. You asked for specifics, aurini obliged. Frankly, you're getting your clock cleaned in this debate. my 2 cents

Our Kids #42 10:46 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Dude, great article.

I, too, am a Canadian and I had a very different experience in high school. Ours wasn't very big (about 1200 students) and felt like a great community. I will admit that I have little knowledge of the conditions there 20 years later.

I think that the points you made in your comments are probably the most poignant:
1) this atmosphere is put in place to train students to be compliant (Seth Godin has a lot to say about people as the product of schools in his new book Linchpin)
2) if we expect students to grow up to be fair-minded citizens then we must respect their rights in their young-adulthood.

As Cory often points out here all of the cameras in the world (ie. London) do not make a place any safer.

I hope you write more here - I'm following your blog.


mad #43 10:52 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I graduated from a school in Fairfax County, Virginia. In the 80's my high school had medal detectors on the doors, cameras at the doors, in the halls and in parking lots, narcs who looked and acted like high school kids and random searches of cars and lockers. My school was predominately middle to upper middle class, not a violent school. We were not a violent people. I assumed this was going on in every high school.
I left Virginia a long time ago and now I work in achitecture. It's boggeling to me how years later when I work with schools in really violent areas with really violent people and serious drug problems the the metal detectors and cameras are never designed or installed because schools can't afford it. In the lower income areas, schools can't even afford lockers with locks, the kids bring their own - so no random secret locker seaches either.

I really liked your article. I often think it I wouldn't want to be a kid today. I liked that outside of school I got to be a teenager without security cameras everywhere. I think it must suck to be a kid today.

Anon #44 11:02 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

It's becoming increasingly clear that a "zero tolerance policy" is really nothing more than a "zero intelligence policy". When we are randomly drug testing students for the crime of participating in extracurricular activities, when we are strip-searching kids for possibly possessing advil, when we are expelling small children for bringing in a father's harmless pen knife for show-and-tell, something is terribly wrong.

"Zero tolerance" is neither fair nor balanced -- it insists upon a complete ignorance of all circumstances surrounding a given incident or person. This is not the way to ensure that disciplinary measures are evenhanded or effective. I got out of high school just as this "zero discretion" wave began to really take hold, and I feel very lucky for it.

James Stephenson replied to comment from SchoolSecurityBlog #45 11:04 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

An interesting question to research would be whether there has been more violent crime in schools or less since cameras were put in. I am not a statistician nor do I have to pertinent data at my fingertips. But one thing that can be said for sure is that there has been plenty of violence even with school cameras. I would not even be surprised if many of these security measures masturbate the problems that schools face. I really hate debating people in comment threads. It all to often turns into a flame war which I am not interested in participating in. You say you have 25 years of experience in the public school system. Obviously you have reasoned opinions coming from a very different perspective then I do. Would you perhaps be interested in having a more formal discussion if it could be arranged? Perhaps some sort of virtual panel discussion? I am not entirely sure what kind of platform would be best suited to such an event, but I am sure I could figure out something. The last thing I want to do is say that your opinions are crap. With 25 years of experience I am sure that they are really insightful. But from my perspective many of the security measures employed in schools today make students feel like they are being treated as potential criminals. From my perspective many of the security measures seem unfair and even frightening. The schools of decades past seemed to get by without universal surveillance. Why is it all of the sudden essential today? Could many of these security measures be over reactions stemming from mass publicized incidents of school violence? I read a series of articles that were published after Columbine called "Voices from Hellmouth". They document some over reactions in the past. Kids getting kicked out of school for playing Doom, or wearing a trench coat.

chipjet #46 11:07 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

As someone that has been out of college in "the real world" for three years now, I can conclusively say that most major corporations are not much better than schools when it comes to 'perceived' levels of security by being overly invasive into people's privacy. However, they are much more reluctant to fire someone because of a small mishap than schools are to expel students.

Regarding the topic on hand, however, I wholeheartedly agree with "Schools today are training students to be obedient." Kids today tend to become mindless drones of the system that do nothing to push the world forward, but rather just become working class employees that don't question authority. (I won't dwell on the fact that this is what the government really wants anyway: reliable taxpayers who are given tax credit incentives for buying homes, having children, getting married, etc. when all of those things actually hinder progress because they diminish people's ability to take financial risks.)

Under the current school system, kids that try to think outside the box are reprimanded and forced to "play by the rules". It is no surprise that school violence has increased because you can only oppress individuality so far before somebody goes crazy because a) they don't fit in anywhere with anyone, b) the school tells them they are stupid, and c) they probably don't have anyone they feel comfortable talking to about it because they will be immediately labeled as crazy and a threat to students' safety. Hopefully they DO find refuge in drugs before they go postal on everyone.

It is imperative to the future success of our young peoples and the future entrepreneurial spirit of our nation that kids are not raised to distrust the government or superiors so strongly and that kids are given the level of respect they deserve, which is to say, more freedom to make their own decisions and more say when involved in a discrepancy instead of just assuming they are guilty.

edwinx2 #47 11:10 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

"Zero Tolerance" and constantly intrusive school policies are not only unneeded, but absolutely wrong-headed and harmful under the best of circumstances. Add onto that the corruption and pettiness that dwell within a sizable percentage of burned-out and vengeful teachers and administrators who often hate their charges for nothing more than their youth, and you have an antagonistic power imbalance that without doubt causes more harm than good. High school can be a bad enough time, with hormones, peer pressure and what-not-- do they really need to have a corrupt police state on top of that?

I submit, however, that the only solution that I can see for this is some strenuous tort reform to stop the post-event lawsuits that force these policies into place. What happens is this:
1) Something tragic happens in a school somewhere;
2) Anguished parents misdirect grief to find some perceived flaw in the school's security to pin the blame on;
3) A school district is bankrupted because of parental lawsuits;
4) Other schools and districts adopt preventative measures to ensure that they are no longer vulnerable to litigation for not having Security Feature X in place;
5) Corporate entities provide whatever jackbooted enforcement that the school districts request, and more, for profit;
6) Our children are abused more by the systems of fear and control than they would be had they not been implemented;
7) The burden of oppression and nakedness before the eyes of the system become too much for some kid with mental/social/home issues;
8) GOTO 1

There is no genuine concern for safety anywhere at all in this disgusting food chain-- only panic, misdirected anguish, and greed. Just another lucrative system of control predicated on distrust and fear; the same cycle that American society seems to be hopelessly bound to; a thin veneer over the all-important commerce of fear and politics of control.

Anon #48 11:19 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

When I went to school, kids regularly carried pocket knives. I can remember playing with them sitting in the desks after class in middle school.

In elementary school I can remember taking Vitamin pills to school with me so I could take a Vitamin C at lunch every day.

In high school, my brother occasionally left his hunting rifle hanging in the gun rack in his truck when he parked at the school.

In middle school we shot a muzzle loading "rifle" as part of the curriculum. In high school we shot .22 caliber rifles as part of the hunter safety class. (Almost forgot about those).

I went to school in rural Virginia and graduated in the mid 80's. I don't remember anyone getting shot or killed while I was in school. (or any serious injuries due to violence, but I suspect there were a few...)

We didn't have any cops or metal detectors in the school. (Though I think there was an occasional locker search for drugs.)

I'm not saying there is any correlation- just remembering how things were 25 years ago [for all you Noobs ;) ]

p.s. we had a rocket club too, so we took rockets and rocket engines to school sometimes- I'm sure that would get you expelled now.

Gutierrez replied to comment from SchoolSecurityBlog #49 11:24 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Hey Ken, do you know about how much of a schools budget is appropriated for the installation and enforcement of security?

I know it will vary from place to place a good deal. But do you have a rough idea from high tax revenue districts or low revenue districts?

Is the placement of police on a campus an expense paid for by a district's budget, or considered a patrol by the local department?

Do you know of any reputable sources that compare local crime rates to those of reported school incidents?

And more openly, how would people feel if the responsibility for student safety was moved more to an outside entity like the police?

I think the most regrettable loss lately is the death of reasonable judgment. The idea that an elected body such as the school board would pass zero-tolerance policies and remove their own ability to provide judgment of the risk of a situation can create just as many issues as a real security situation through panic and resent.

allen #50 11:35 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Thanks for the article, it was well written and disheartening. I'm 37, and feel like it is my generation who really is on the hook for a lot of these decisions, and I have to say that I expected more from us.

Mr Trump, appeals to authority and andecdotal evidence are both logical fallacies- I'm sure that your experience provides you with facts and tools with which to approach the problems being discussed- providing those would be more useful than assurances that you know what you are talking about.

This article brought back the memory of the frustration of youth, when adults could show casual disrespect for your personal dignity that they themselves would never tolerate. It's amusing to me now that I am older, and can say with authority that people seem to stop maturing somewhere around 23 (when most of them realize they will not be rockstars or football legends), and after that, you don't get wiser- you just get fat, wrinkled, and bitter- and most 45 year olds keep high school culture alive and well within their personal spheres.

Why is it that we "need" these enhanced security mechanisms, when we managed to get by without them before they existed? Is it possible that there is a cultural feedback mechanism in place where the more children are treated like dangerous criminals, the more they act like them? What mechanisms does the education system have in place to protect them from confirmation bias when determining if a security protocol is justified?

I think that most social issues- schools included, are extremely complex and difficult to sort out- but I also think that that is why general guidelines, and lines that should not be crossed are useful. Respecting the personal privacy and dignity is the very start of that, and casually denying that to children isn't acceptable.

I've already talked about how useless appeals to authority and anecdotal evidence are, but I can sense an ad-hominem attack about how I don't understand the dangers and risks we are talking about coming on- so let me just establish some personal credentials of experience: I've attended public high schools in southern california where drugs and guns were sold in the parking lot, and were seen in class. I've been present during a college shooting where a friend of mine was killed, and others injured. I know that life is messy and dangerous, and I still don't think the solution is a police state.

dragonfrog replied to comment from James Stephenson #51 11:36 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

@ James Stephenson An interesting question to research would be whether there has been more violent crime in schools or less since cameras were put in.

There is a potential downfall with that. If violence has gone up, the pro-surveillance side can say "see, social problems are getting worse - we must install more cameras". If it's gone down, they can say "see, the cameras are working - we can get even more benefits by putting in more" (cf. conservative politicians and tax cuts).

To actually draw strong conclusions, you'd need to compare schools whose surrounding social conditions are a similar as possible, where some put in cameras and others didn't, then you control for as many things as possible. In the end you'd have a scientifically sound study which your opposition may dismiss with handwavey rhetoric and catchphrases like "ivory tower," "eggheads," and "common sense."

This is what happens when you enter a debate with someone who has decided on the solution in advance - Mr. Trump is basically a mall ninja with a better ability to sound reasonable. But he is a man with a hammer, for whom everything looks like a nail.

Also I would not even be surprised if many of these security measures masturbate the problems that schools face. - As vivid as the image is, I suspect the word you want is "exacerbate" ;)

Anon #52 11:48 AM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

in reply to Mr. Trump -
while student regulations are subject to due process, that is surely cold-comfort. Case in point, the student strip-search case that recently went before the Supreme Court. How many students or parents have the will or ability to pursue justice to that extent? Do schools need security? Yes. But just as so much in our society has become hostage to unreasonable fear, so has security in some if not many of our public schools.

Aurini replied to comment from SchoolSecurityBlog #53 12:04 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Sorry if that came off as overly aggressive - it wasn't meant as such.

I took a cursory glance at your site, and for the sake of the other readers here I'd like to say this: Mr Trump is not the Big Brother enemy some of us are mistaking him for (it's far too easy to pigeon-hole and demonize people, isn't it?) If I were in a high-threat or combat area, he seems like the kind of guy I'd want designing the security systems; I didn't read in depth, but I did notice a number of key-ideas which your typical Infantry Officer (for example) wouldn't be aware of.

His proposals take into account human nature - such as the advice "Staff should greet strangers by saying 'How may I help you'" - tactics such as that will stop 90% of shoplifting in stores, and it's likely that they'd prevent similar shenanigans at public schools.

That said, I think he's missing something to his analysis; he's looking at security purely in the proximate sense, not looking at the wider society in which it takes place.

Allow me to explain.

When I first joined the Canadian military back in '01, it was during the early days of the PC/human diginity movement - staff was no longer allowed to hit candidates, swear, or use PT as punishment (though the latter two were still prevalent). Despite this softening, there was still a great deal of individual accountability present: halfway through my Basic we were given mess priviliges, and the very next morning - after a couple of guys had drunk to excess - they took us for a 10 klick run, and those who hadn't exercised responsible drinking were puking their guts out.

Back then, they gave us enough rope to hang ourselves - and believe me, there were plenty of people who did just that.

But as the years progressed the PC initiative (which started out with the noblest of goals) mutated into "Any inappropriate behaviour is unacceptable - and the Commanders will be blamed." Instead of allowing enough leeway for troops to screw up and learn from it, they now started banning everything - even senior courses weren't allowed mess privileges. On paper, this looked great, but it bred a culture of irresponsibility. Nobody showed up drunk for duty while they were being watched - but none of them knew how to watch themselves when the supervisors weren't present.

The same thing's happening in Britain right now on a societal level, just google Friday Night Cardiff or New Years Ambulance to see how childish and shameful the citizens who drink have become.

Public Schools are not the embryo vault of InGen; where I disagree with Trump is the expectations he has for staff, and his lack of social considerations. Too much security - while it will certainly make the children safer on paper - will be detrimental to them growing as citizens. He mentions a knife-attack that occurred at a good school: I would argue that the solution to such incidents is not using security to prevent them from happening on a statistical level, but rather to treat them as unique incidents involving individuals which require specific responses.

On paper, this will be messier; but it will create a culture of individual responsibility wherein you can trust your children not to drunk drive, not to date rape, and where the social bonds between children and adults is based upon a mutual culture.

I know that's what some of your policies specifically outline, Mr Trump - but when security is your number one priority, you fast turn everybody into a criminal. That's fine at InGen - it's not what's appropriate at schools.

Earlier you said "I haven't heard a call from anyone here to eliminate police to protect people out in their homes and neighborhoods. And it has been my experience some of the first people to cry "negligent security" and run to find attorneys to sue places are the same who are the first to have spoken out against reasonable security measures in the first place." I find this comment rather telling.

The police most explicitly do *not* protect us in our homes or neighbourhoods - if you're lucky they might catch a crime in progress, but generally speaking they're just there to clean up afterwards. The courts are a negative protection - punishing the guilty - they are not, and should not, be a positive force stopping crimes before they happen. That way lies tyranny.

Now, granted, your average citizen thinks that cops protect them (as opposed to their neighbours and fellow citizens - the people actually present when crime occurs); quite frankly, they're wrong, and as a security professional it is your duty to explain this to people. A cop patrolling my street might make me feel more safe, but it won't stop a burglar. The same goes for the Nancys that scream bloody murder whenever some sort of feel-good policy isn't implemented at schools - their idiotic law suits don't make anybody safer, and it's the duty of all right-thinking people to correct their complaints, not give in to them.

That, I think, is most of the disagreement with your position on this thread; I'd like to reiterate, I believe that you are (probably) great at designing security systems, and if I were to hire a consultant I'd certainly consider you - but you're not considering the wider social and moral implications of your policies.

Democracy and Liberty are just plain messy - but most of us here would take them over security.


SchoolSecurityBlog #54 12:17 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Interesting opinions from all, even those who want to make personal attacks.

It is particularly interesting no one with a different perspective who has claimed to not be in favor of no security or who has attacked what I have posted has yet to articulate what they would consider to be reasonable security measures acceptable to them. A lot of deflection and a few personal attacks, but no one seems to be able or willing to articulate specifics.

I'd also like to hear those tossing around the phrase "zero tolerance" to put forth some type of universally recognized definition. In fact, most people use anecdotal examples when using the phrase, but I can't seem to find anyone who can point to a universally-accepted definition. No one can seem to distinguish how one defines the threshold from regular, acceptable school discipline and enforcement of laws on school property, and what they consider "zero tolerance." Lots of rhetoric, but point to an accepted common definition.

That said, I've enjoyed the debate. It's not about winning a debate, for those who seem to be taking things a bit personally. It's about stimulating thought ---and that mission seems to have been accomplished.

Good conversation piece, James! Thanks for engaging on school safety. Too many people only want to talk about it after a crisis, and then the conversation goes to overreaction.

Ken Trump

Antinous / Moderator replied to comment from SchoolSecurityBlog #55 12:25 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply


If you include your URL one more time, I'm going to send you to the principal's office. And you won't be coming back. Also, if you don't have anything new to add, stop.

chipjet #56 12:32 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

@ Moderator: Not to be a dick, but I like the debate he is encouraging here. I do agree, however, that Trump would do well to actually address some of the points that people have made on this board so far.

James Stephenson #57 12:47 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

@Dragonfrog, You are indeed right about my spelling. It is a prime expel of why I should turn auto-spelling correction off. I do not, however, feel comfortable personally attacking Mr Trump. What I do agree with in your comment is your assertion that the statistics of violence before and after school cameras could be used either way to support them. I should have thought of that. I do not have all the answers. But I have some (probably inaccurate) ideas about why school violence seems to be on the rise. The fact of the matter is that it might not be on the rise, but with the advent of mass media we are being made more aware of it. Then again it might very well be going up. Especially now, in the midst of an economic downturn. That always strains social structures, and often can make people violent. Another thing that is worth pondering is the very high percentage of students who are on mind altering drugs everyday. I am talking about legal drugs here. A surprisingly huge number of students are on drugs for ADD and/or depression. Now let me make this quite clear, I am NOT encouraging anyone to stop taking prescribed drugs without consulting a doctor. I am sure that for many people these drugs are helpful. But the fact of the matter is that these drugs do alter their users mental state; that is what they are designed to do. Is it possible that some of the people on these drugs were put on them in error? It is almost certainly the case. The US has a ridiculously high number of students on these drugs. Many of these drugs have been known to cause violence or suicidal tendencies in some of the people who take them. Like any drugs these can have negative side effects. But with the massive amount of students taking these, could it be that any possible rise in violence might be partially due to the number of people on these mind altering drugs? It is a question worth pondering. Again, I do not have all the answers, but I think somebody should try to answer the questions.

shine #58 2:05 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

My high school was nothing like that. I lived in El Paso, Texas, and we never had so much as a metal detector. We didn't have uniforms, or cameras, or locker searches, or car searches. And you know what? The worst thing that happened was a student getting hit by a drunk driver.

There weren't very many fights. Everyone was on drugs. We were on the border of Mexico, yo. That's just how it was.

I can't imagine being in school nowadays. Raising children in an environment where you don't allow them to do ANYTHING or express their autonomy in any way just can't be healthy. And since we're clearly not really teaching kids anything in school any more, why not at least give them the freedom to express themselves instead of trying to quell any sense of creativity or diversity or dissonance.

Bravo to you for having the guts to point it out.

bruddacag #59 2:26 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

So I know this isn't as exciting, but someone got pulled out of my bio class the other day. When he got back, he said that he was taken to the office because he was caught on camera kicking a piece of trash that he hadn't put there in the first place. He was then given clean up crew. With the public school budgets in the toilet, one piece of trash should not be what they are worrying about.

stuiethegod #60 2:27 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Sheesh, it's horror stories like these that make me glad I went to school in a little hippy town in Alaska. I'm sure we had zero tolerance policies for weapons, but that never stopped me from carrying around a pocket knife at school. I even had teachers borrow my knife or leatherman from me for one reason or another. Then again I know that a knife is primarily tool, not a weapon. I treated it as such and thus never go into any trouble for carrying it around.
Then again, this was also a school where there was a group of kids that had backyard wrestling matches in the woods behind school during lunch or their free periods. It kinda surprised me that the school never really cracked down on those kids, even when one of them ended up in the nurse's office with his face covered in blood because someone hit him upside the head with a florescent light bulb. To put this in contrast, a friend of mine got followed from school drug out of his car and gang beat by a crew of about 5. All of them got suspended for a month, so I know my school wasn't just apathetic.
I think most of us deviants that got away with stuff were still respected by the teachers, so they left us alone. I graduated from that place almost 4 years ago though, so I know things have changed, but I'd still rather have any future kids I have got to school like that one. Small town schools are just different, my graduating class was 70 people, so students were not just nameless faces. Everybody knew everybody, and I think that helps keep schools safer then any security camera. Big brother doesn't make people be more accountable for their actions, it just makes us all twitchy and paranoid.

Antinous / Moderator #61 2:39 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

We didn't have any security at my High School. Had there been any security personnel, we almost certainly would have used them as the subject of every imaginable prank and science experiment.

lolbrandon #62 2:39 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

That's a great article and should be mandatory reading for school administrators. I couldn't agree more, James, and you should be proud of this very well-written article.

LS #63 2:53 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

First off, James, great article. Well written and very insightful.

I graduated from high school in Australia in 1989. While I was a student I semi-regularly carried a rifle to school for target shooting, as did other students.

There were no security cameras, no "campus cops", no monitored gates, no metal detectors, no searches (no fences even). And no-one got stabbed, shot, or even beaten up. It just didn't happen.

Clearly our society has changed. And changed in an unbelievably toxic way. Who's fault is this? Not the kids. They are after all a product of their parent's genetics and - more importantly - a product of their parent's society. The society is to blame. Not the kids.

Give children a supportive, engaging environment, with respect (and I mean that in the broadest sense, not just at school) and you get well behaved, respectful children.

Treat children to "lockdowns" (WTF?! Is this some sort of prison?) and you will get rebellious, fearful children.

Either way, we as a society are getting what we deserve. It's just a shame that the kids have to have their childhoods blighted by societies indifference.

James Stephenson #64 2:57 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

@bruddacag, That is a great example of school cameras being abused. Notice that the camera did not catch the person who littered in the first place. Some could argue that the your friend should have picked up the litter. But if we are punishing people for not picking up every piece of litter that we see, then we all need to be punished. Furthermore, people are more likely to pick up litter in places that they like. I don't know that I would like a place that punished me arbitrarily.

@shine, Sounds like a neat school to have gone to.

@stuiethegod, Makes me almost wish I lived in Alaska. Don't know if I could handle the cold though. I plan on doing blog posts not only about things that schools are doing wrong but things that schools are doing right. I really need people to send me both negative AND positive stories about their school experience. If I only blog about the bad stuff I feel like I am being an unbalanced reporter of events. Not to mention it makes me depressed to only cover bad stuff.

Anon #65 2:59 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I loved the article.

I am currently in college, after suffering many of the same problems you wrote about in your piece. Currently, I am taking a class called "student rights and the supreme court" which is perhaps the most interesting one I've had. While most school administrators will scoff at the idea of student rights and simply disregard any complaint by saying, "well, you're a minor. You don't have rights," that doesn't mean 'en logo parentis applies to every situation.

I've studied dozens of recent cases about admins strip searching 12 and 13 year old girls in search of advil. I believe this to be the most blatant abuse of power. But remember that the constitution wasn't designed to stipulate the rights of people over 18, it was designed to protect everyone's HUMAN rights. Those rights are not determined by age.

James Stephenson replied to comment from LS #66 3:15 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Our society has changed, but I think an interesting question is what exactly has changed. Has our society become more violent. I think not. There are several periods of history that are more violent then ours. In fact the deadliest school killing in the US happened in 1927. I do not have any conclusive figure as to whether the frequency of school attacks has gone up in recent years. It probably has. But I would not be surprised to find that these attacks have a sort of feedback mechanism (as mentioned above). A school attack is perpetrated, then the schools get more paranoid and controlling, which leads to more unhappiness and fear in the student population. Unhappiness and fear can lead to violence. Is this the reason why school attacks seem to be more common? I don't have that answer, but I really think that there is a possibility that it is a contributing factor.

Anon #67 3:16 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

The thing I really have a problem with is what he describes, rightly, as "guilty until proven innocent".

That's not even a new thing. It's just been ramped up with the zero-tolerance policies. They'll do everything in their power to not have to say they were wrong or too zealous, it's always a your fault/let's take the precaution scenario. Some school districts (including mine) have you fill out witness statements and say that they give every child a chance to tell his side of the story, but you can never give definitive proof you didn't do anything.

The way I see it, the modern high school experience is only slightly more respecting of civil rights and privacy than Stalinist Russia or modern China.

LS #68 3:20 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Ken Trump said:

"Reasonable risk reduction measures which can include appropriately deployed security technology and professional security/police staffing ..."

This kind of corporate/political double speak makes me sick. These people are children, not criminals, not livestock.

Ken, you come so close to getting it right:

"Relationships among students and staff is a key school safety factor"

Then get it totally wrong:

"But properly designed physical security measures (controlling access, communications capabilities, and properly used cameras, for example) along with professional safety staffing (school resource officers, school security staff) can be a viable part of the broader school safety program equation."

This stuff isn't necessary, or even good. It is a panic response to a problem that our society doesn't want to admit to: that we as parents do a crap job at raising our children, that we alienate them, and cause their bad behaviour.

Then we go and punish them doubly by turning their schools into virtual prisons.

Anon #69 4:21 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

The last line of the article IS very telling - and it's also very eerie reading the glimpses of the reactions of the students involved to the draconian measures they're facing. Very reminiscent of some of the reactions that were recounted about life in another totalitarian system - the Soviet Union during much of the 20th century.

Myself, approaching 50 years of age, recall a very different atmosphere during my time suffering through public education in the 1970s - yes, I can attest to weapons being 'officially' at the schools - in that instance, the Junior ROTC program, complete with a firing range at the school. There were occasional fistfights, which was one of the few ways one could be suspended (I can't recall anyone ever being expelled for behavioral issues), usual duration, 3 days. There was actually one stabbing, when I was a Freshman, which resulted in what was later termed a 'race riot' - because the kid that got stabbed was white, and the kid that did the stabbing was black - the result of a long running feud between the two, by the way; most of the 'rioting' consisted of confederates of one or the other picking side-bar fights of their own after blood was spilled. It was a one time occurrence, and the source of chatter for years, but little else.

Now, some words for Mr. Trump. Actually sir, quite a bit of your engagement here appears to be to bait people with your straw-man "who wants no security" question. Please. The measures reflected in the article are examples of the incompetence of the people running our public education system, in dealing both with the students in the charge, and the pressures that the politicians that write their policies have imposed upon them, with the root cause being dis-engagement by parents, communities, and the teachers and administrators themselves, all fueled by "bad headline avoidance" behavior.

Engagement is the key. Having the staff of the school out, about, visible, and engaged with the students - being humans watching AND interacting, instead of just monitor drones standing by to document be prepared to offer testimony WHEN something happens, not if. Dealing with issues on a HUMAN level, which does require skill and competence, instead of using one size fits all restrictions on EVERYONE involved in an attempt to "equalize outcomes", but are more likely to produce the absurdity of results that have become almost the norm for tales from juvenile academia. Admittedly, trying to devise a system by which any idiot can be a public educator is one way of avoiding the thorny issue of dealing with idiots who have become public educators. . .

I think that's enough for now. . .

tw: the minamoto - the odd looking dance beauracrats go through while foisting blame someplace else, so they can get back to their self licking ice cream cones.

ocschwar #70 4:51 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

"Some people say youngsters are more disrespectful than ever before."

Maybe it's time the rest of us spoke up and call that out for the bullshit it is. I am 35. And today's cohort of teenagers is better behaved then mine was Back In The Day, as shown by just about every statistical measure. Also, my own subjective experience riding public transit in Boston and occasionally interacting with teenagers bears this out.

Their academic preparation is distressingly worse, but behavior far better. (But they should still stay offa my damn lawn!!!!!)

Garrett U. #71 5:00 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Man, seeing this story opened my eyes to how some kids are treated in educational institutions. I'm an upgrading student freshly graduated in Alberta, Canada and this is almost unheard of up here. I'm surprised they get away with things like this. Then again, the way some parents treat their kids isn't exactly any better. Plus half the time your issues with schools are commonly put down as "milking it". It's crazy how much of a police-state ran school this sounds like. I know, extreme terminology, but it's basically what it seems like to me. Hopefully news of this kind of stuff gets out and around, but it usually doesn't. Thats the sad thing.

ocschwar #72 5:09 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Ken Trump: the purpose of high school isn't just to warehouse the kids until age 18. It is to prepare them for the real world. The real world is not a panopticon. There is no guardian angel looking over anyone's shoulder. The surveillance and control exercised over these kids does more harm than good, because when they leave high school, they have no idea how to cope where there is nobody working to assure their security. If we can't have high schools without these prisonlike measures, then it's time to end compulsory education in the 8th grade.

Anon #73 5:13 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I have read this article and most of the comments and find myself horrified. I am a 36 year old spaniard and the things you describe sound more like Mordor to me than anything. In my Middle School, High School or University I never say any camera, had no security at all (the teachers somehow provided this), no random searches, no switchblades, nothing like what you are describing. If that's USA, I'll stick to Europe, thankyouverymuch.

Anon #74 5:37 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

These issues are complicated and there are other sides to the story.

I am a vice-principal working in a Canadian high school. Yes, we have cameras. They have been there for years and they are used to help identify people who steal from lockers or who disrupt classes by pulling the fire alarm. The feedback we have gotten in our community about the cameras in the school is that we should have more in order to combat theft. After people have an iPod stolen, they can be frustrated and tell us that there should be coverage of every locker and classroom.

However, more coverage does not mean less theft. And I don't buy the bullying reduction argument. Bullying happens more frequently in private places like change rooms and washrooms, and is too subtle to show up on camera. If you want to see bullying in action, Facebook is the real arena.

And yes, we sometimes search students. For example, if we are walking behind a student and overhear someone talking about his stash in his locker, well, we are going to search that locker, but with the student present. And if we get a phone call from a terrified parent that someone has told their son that they are bringing a knife to school to cut them, then we are going to investigate it.

But we feel that we should only search if we are certain that we are going to find something.

One of the toughest situations we face is actually protecting our students from the craziness that results from the post-Columbine response. Every year we get a call from a community member telling us that a person is walking into our school with a gun or rifle. Now, there is a chance of it actually being a shooter, but it is much more likely to be a prop for a presentation or performance. What we have to do is fan out and find the student/weapon as soon as possible for a simple reason: police forces believe that lives could have been saved in Columbine/Taber/Ecole Polytechnique if police had entered quickly and neutralized the threat instead of carefully clearing area to area. These unthinking kids could get themselves shot, and we have to find them to protect them. A rookie officer seeing a kid wandering around the back of the school in a long coat with an old rifle? I am not willing to gamble the life of my students that that is always going to work out perfectly. (Any why do Film and Drama students often wear long coats!!! Argh!)

And no, that has never yet resulted in a suspension, although a 'What on Earth were you thinking?' talk has always been sorely, sorely needed.

So yes, it is an imperfect situation. The trick is to find a balance that infringes less than it protects. Frankly, our community generally responds to respect with respect.

James Stephenson #75 6:17 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

@MrVagoo, I really hope you were being ironic or something. The real problem is most certainly not multiculturalism. The perpetrators of the Columbine massacre were white in case you had not noticed, as was the board member that blew up the Bath school house, the most deadly school massacre in US history. Segregated societies will always have more conflict and violence than in integrated society. I thought this was an issue that the US had mostly resolved. This comment saddens me.

Antinous / Moderator replied to comment from James Stephenson #76 6:29 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I made the bad man go away.

Anon #77 6:54 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I graduated highschool in 2000 (so not so long ago), and I carried a pocketknife to school in my pocket every day. When a teacher occasionally needed a knife to open a package or cut a string or whatever else they could always borrow mine. No cameras, no metal detectors, no complaints. In-school violence nationwide was a fraction of what it is today... go figure.

the_headless_rabbit #78 7:28 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

I was in highschool (grade 11) when the columbine shooting happened. A friend of mine had a black trench coat he had worn to school for years. A teacher came up to him and told him he would not be allowed to wear that jacket to school anymore, because of the Shooting. A shooting that took place in another country was affecting policy in my own highschool.
My friend looked at the teacher and asked "What kind of jacket will you be buying me then?"
"Excuse me?"
"Well, this is my jacket, I don't think I need a new one, but if you insist, then you will be the one buying it."
He continued to wear it throughout his school career.
Months later, about 10 Cameras were installed, and 2 security guards were hired (then let go a year later).

This was a Canadian highschool, so other than about 3 or 4 fights, nothing much happened. Their were drugs galore, but only soft stuff, nothing to worry about.

I loved my highschool experience. It was an old school, with a predominantly older staff that treated the student body with respect, and understood that good students earn some flexibility, while troubled students are treated more strictly.

My younger siblings attended a different highschool, which was a pilot for new zero tolerance rules. The staff was very young and by-the-book. They both absolutely hated it. fights were common, police involvement seemed almost routine, and student performance was terrible.

When students are inspired, respected and motivated, they seem to want to work hard.

Zero-tolerance is just an excuse for zero-thought. It doesn't prove that you are tough. It proves that you are stupid. If you don't trust a teacher enough to allow them to make a rational decision about a given situation, then they should not be trusted to educate children.

Anon #79 7:44 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

This was a great article, but I feel people are missing the root of the problem when thinking about this whole situation. I graduated in '05 from a metro school in Milwaukee. We had cameras and searches and the entire slew of 4th amendment violations. The real problem is with how parents now regard their children. I am speaking without the knowledge of having kids but how my friends and I were treated by our parents growing up. There is an increasing amount of single parents in this country that work and don't have as much time with their children as parents 20 years ago. As such they look to the schools to watch their kids while they work and discipline their children for them. This is the same atmosphere in this country where parents won't let their kids ride their bikes or go trick or treating after dark, because there are strangers out there. Which leads to the root of the entire problem and that is the culture of fear we have in this country. Everyday the media tells us about how many awful things happen and spend little to no time on all the good. We are constantly told that danger lurks around every corner. When parents, who are working and single or two working parents, have less time to spend with their children are bombarded with how awful the world is now compared to when they were kids they are scared for their children's safety. With or without good reason they are willing to abandon their children's rights for safety. And as I am not old enough to know what it was like years ago i can't say the world is any safer or less safe than it was. I just know that I was and high schoolers now are having their rights abused in the name of safety. So yes in the end the system is creating a whole new generation that has learned that they must trade in their rights for safety and will probably turn a blind eye when their children loss even more rights than they had. The society of fear and the reduced amount of time some parents have with their children have bred this culture and its likely to continue because as long as their children are safe parents will allow their rights to be violated, even if it is out of love.

Anon #80 10:42 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

Regardless of the fact that I'm taking the bait and walking directly into a trap, I'll specify my opinion of exactly what security measures should be available for schools.

Disclaimer: My views do not represent that of any other BoingBoing readers or that of the general public.

Locks on outside doors when the school is closed. Passwords for the school's computers and networks.
Locked storage spaces and locks for areas that contain high value items such as laptops or books.
For other rooms, faculty judgement should be used as to whether a room should be locked or not.
A security card to open locked doors could given to students should be optional, with the caveat that they are responsible if anything is stolen while they are in that room.
Teachers and faculty should be allowed to discipline students according to line of sight. If they see something against school policy happening, they should be allowed to take an appropriate action. (Though school discipline is a completely different matter).
Students and teachers alike should be allowed to carry weapons as per their legal eligibility. A person who can defend himself is a safe person.
In public schools, a teacher should not have the authority to act 'in loco parentis' because schooling a child is mandatory.
No cameras, random bag searches, metal detectors or invasive security measures should be taken. Police should only be on school property in the case of a crime.
Students, as well as citizens of the general public, should be considered innocent in the eyes of any judicial rulings until proven guilty.
Schools should encourage students and faculty alike to solve their problems peacefully and on an individual basis without relying on a higher authority to determine the correct code of conduct.

As with any system, mine would likely give rise to a few problems here and there, but humans are versatile and rational enough to self-govern. We have existed for tens of thousands of years, and the good produced by humanity has far outweighed the bad.

Any questions?

Anon #81 11:07 PM Thursday, Mar 11, 2010 Reply

See a camera, break a camera. That is all.

Anon #82 12:20 AM Friday, Mar 12, 2010 Reply

Welcome to the Panopticon.

Just because the technology can does not mean we should.

Anon #83 1:26 AM Friday, Mar 12, 2010 Reply

Very good post

Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother" elaborates very well on this and is a great read too.

James Stephenson replied to comment from Anonymous #84 8:06 AM Friday, Mar 12, 2010 Reply

I have never been against searching a locker or student if the school has a real probable cause to search the person or locker. What I am against are random searches. Some schools even bring in drug dogs. That is essentially like searching everybody and every locker. They probably do have probable cause that there are some drugs somewhere in the school, but that is not an excuse to search everybody for drugs. That is essentially the equivalent of searching every house in a neighborhood for drugs because you think that at least one person will have them.

weewilliewinky #85 9:33 AM Friday, Mar 12, 2010 Reply

This is crazy. I've been watching the progress of the police state in the U.K. with despair over the past decade or so, but I had no idea the situation had got so bad.

America is always a year or two ahead of England when it comes to technology, movies, TV, and of course scary population control. But whatever happens in the U.S.A. is guaranteed to happen in the U.K. a couple of years later. The U.K. already has more security cameras per head of population than any other country, and I've heard stories about the same crap as this happening in inner city schools.

The older generations have feared younger people since time immemorial. There are even records of ancient Greek elders complaining about uncontrollable and dangerous youths over 2000 years ago. What's changed now is the technology and organisation of surveillance and control and the climate of fear inspired by the Cold War and more recently the terrorist witch hunt (sorry - I mean the War on Terror, or the War on Drugs, or the War on Teenagers, or the War on Free Thinkers, or whatever).

Young people have been putting up with this crap for too long already, and before long it'll be everywhere - the workplace, the high street ... the home.

It's time to do something about it. The only trouble is, I don't know what to do. Suggestions please!

Anon #86 5:08 PM Friday, Mar 12, 2010 Reply

Hey James,

Good article
Your observations as apt, you may find Ivan Illich's book deschooling society interesting and insightful. I'd just have to say that your basis your comparison upon an illusory myth of the American dream, the time when things were good like leave it to beaver or something like that.

Giving this up will help you have a better voice as a writer which you are well on your way in becoming. You may like to try something like A Theory of Power by Vail which is available for free on the web.

Think about this historically, 300 years ago they were carrying out the inquistion, 200 years ago children in Europe were working in factories, 100 years ago the Native Americans were pushed onto reservations, in the past centurey only have women gained the same legal rights as men, just before Native Americans, and only in the past 40 years has aparthied been lifted but not white supramacy.

This is an amazing time to be alive in the human story. The fortune you have you do not know, travel the world and see what conditions there are to be dealt with.

Anon #87 10:11 PM Friday, Mar 12, 2010 Reply

I don't understand how this can happen. If I were a parent (I'm Martian, 19 y.o. ruler of the solar system) I never allowed this sort of thing to happen. Students should have their arms and legs surgically removed so that they will be little unmoving blobs of learning. This is how we do it, and once the learning is filled we reattach the arms and legs so they can fight wars and die. But we take very seriously the keeping safe of children so they can learn and then die in war.

aerie #88 10:40 PM Friday, Mar 12, 2010 Reply

From the article: "Petty acts of rebellion--and innocent little covert activities--kept our spirits up. The school's computer network may have been censored, but the sneakernet is alive and well. Just like in times past, high school students don't have much money to buy music, movies or games, but all are avidly traded at every American high school. It used to be tapes; now it's thumbdrives and flash disks. My friends and I once started an underground leaflet campaign that was a lot of fun. I even read about a girl who ran a library of banned books out of her locker. These trivial things..."

James, When I hear of the "petty acts of rebellion" and "covert activities" it warms my heart and soul. They aren't petty or trivial. They are the healthy, normal responses to an 'authoritarian' environment. Question everything.

I liked your thoughts on treating teens with respect and dignity. Kids of all ages are deserving of these because they're human beings. This has been the basis of my parenting approach (2 daughters in HS). It's called authoritative parenting.(*not the same as the above 'authoritarian')

I admire your critical thinking skills. Your subsequent comments/responses show a level of maturity that's great to see at your age.

Great job. I hope you've shown your parents all your positive feedback!

Anon #89 11:25 PM Friday, Mar 12, 2010 Reply

i just got out of public school. i got sick in school once i guess it was just a bug because it literally went away after i took a nap,just a couple of hours. but my stomach hurt so badly i couldn't see very well and i was dizzy and i could barely stand up straight. naturally i went to the nurses office. i waited for a minute9there was a wait) and told her that i had to lie down soon because i thought i might pass out. she refused telling me it was not my turn yet. i politely asked again and when she refused i laid down on the floor, not the cleanest place but i immediately felt much better. when she did let me lie on the cot in the back room she preceded to bend over me and yell in my face asking if i was on drugs. i told her i had taken an ibuprofen(my head hurt as well) and she told me not to lie to her while shaking me. i wasn't lying and only after about five minutes of this treatment did she let me call my dad to come get me. And when he did and i stood up straight and tried to walk as fast as i could to the car so i could rest she accused me of faking. i felt terrible the entire way home even when i put the car seat all the way back so i could lie down. when i did get home and fell asleep i woke up a couple of hours later perfectly fine. like i said i would. I can appreciate her not giving me anything to cover herself if i had taken something else but shaking me and yelling in my face is just ridiculous.

Anon #90 12:25 AM Saturday, Mar 13, 2010 Reply

I posted earlier about an experience in my school's nurse's office. reading this has brought back a lot of bad memories for me. first off our school had a police station. You read right we had a freaking police station in our school. we had several cops in the hallways all the time. another time i went to the nurse's office I talked to a boy, a black boy who's skin was red and his eyes were entirely blood shot. he had clearly been sprayed with mace and when i asked him how it happened he told me he had been standing near a fight. I know most people would call b.s. on this but incidents like this were fairly common. fighting or not if you were close enough you got sprayed. I use the term close loosely. I'll be the first to admit our cops were cool. If you came in late or were sneaking in food after school had started most of them would let you go. if you were polite and didn't talk back or argue they would leave you alone. but they were happy to spray you in the face with mace. i applaud them even having the sense to send this kid to the nurse but i wonder why they didn't take him immediately to the third floor where our science classrooms were with an abundance of chemical showers and eye rinse stations. i know some of you may be thinking how stupid to rehydrate the substance? but had the rinsed his eyes immediately he would have suffered for much less time than he did. another thing that concerned me was that they told him to keep his eyes open all this does is make it worse when you do blink. I had a friend who's little brother got maced at our school and had to be hospitalized due to his asthma he almost died and they never even got an apology. this is a small sliver of things that happened to kids at my schools. including kids getting beaten in front of an entire cafeteria, my chemistry teacher made meth and bombs(I'm not kidding) and the other teacher was a pedophile. i saw him take two girls who were students of his on a date our school never did anything about it ever.

James Stephenson #91 9:29 AM Saturday, Mar 13, 2010 Reply

@aerie, In retrospect what we did seems . . . I don't know, just not all that important, maybe a little immature. The important effect of the things that we did wasn't that we got new songs or movies, or that other students read the badly written rebellious messages that we secretly distributed. The important effect is that we did these things in an environment where we otherwise had little control. It can be very disheartening to spend most of your time in an environment where you have little to no say over what you do and how you can behave. Where many of the rules and the way that those rules are enforced seem arbitrary. Human instinct recoils from situations where we do not have control. I think it is a kind of survival mechanism to try to get out of those kinds of situations. Our actions gave us a small feeling that we retained some of our agency; that is why they were important to me. It was the action itself and not the result that mattered.

@anonymousCommenterWhoSharedTheSicknessStory, It sounds to me that the nurses actions were clearly unprofessional. It is yet another example of being presumed guilty until proven innocent.

Anon #92 9:31 AM Saturday, Mar 13, 2010 Reply

Let start off by saying that I am a public school teacher in Philadelphia. We have cameras, security guards and metal detectors. Even with all the security in place the kids still try to sneak guns, knives and other things that be used as a weapon daily. The guards confiscate these weapons and the kids get arrested, suspended and sometimes expelled.

The security you are complaining about is the very security that makes it possible for many kids to learn in a much safer environment. It also makes my wife (who is also a teacher) feel more secure.

There are legitimate reasons why this security exists. At my school 3 guns and many more knives have been taken from kids. If the school are forced to make students obedient to authority its because the parents aren't teaching kids to respect authority.

You bring up some good concerns in your article but much of it comes off as whinny.

aerie replied to comment from James Stephenson #93 11:19 AM Saturday, Mar 13, 2010 Reply

Correct! On the larger scheme, it's the act that's important. It's a coping mechanism. Otherwise, we become apathetic & do nothing. We become one of the herd.

I wouldn't condone illegal activity. However, I these intimidation tactics to be illegal.

Anon #94 1:06 PM Saturday, Mar 13, 2010 Reply

My 2 cents: The schools are part of a larger trend we've gotten into in this country: a drag-net notion of security, where we sweep up anyone who could potentially be guilty---most of whom aren't---and demand that each of them prove their innocence, comforting ourselves with the notion that surely innocent people have nothing to hide, and will forget any inconvenience in their delight that the system works so well. (This school of thought shows up in our foreign policy, policing policy, everywhere now.)

The problem is, most people are delighted that the system is keeping them safe until _they_ are accused of horrible transgressions like possession of Advil (!), at which point they become paranoid and angry.

What makes matters far worse is the complete lack of media literacy in this country, leading people to accept without question any information they receive, and then viciously attack anything that contradicts what they've already accepted, ignoring any and all factual evidence. As a result, you now have one large chunk of the populace that has been told how well the drag-net is working, and so assumes that anybody accused must be guilty, since the system works so efficiently. This large chunk of people sees reports every day of people being caught by the drag-net and accused of scary things, and is paranoid and angry about those "criminals" posing such a threat to True Americans like themselves.

The other large chunk, of course, has learned to distrust almost anything they see, and are paranoid and angry about the drag-net tactics and the potential these have to disrupt and ruin our lives. Matters are made worse when they try to raise criticism of the institutions; any dissenters are quickly attacked by the True Americans for being un-/anti-American apologists, as they so clearly despise safety and liberty and so forth. Words like "Communist", "Stalinist", "socialist", etc. can be combined freely to assist this process, definitions/reality notwithstanding.

In schools, this all means that students can be quickly and easily labeled as "evil" and kicked out of the system, to the delight of suitably terrified, law-abiding parents everywhere, and security systems that are mostly for show (sorry, Ken, but per schools it's true; I would it weren't) can be hailed as helping to save our troubled youth from themselves. (All without having to actually ask what's making the youth troubled, which costs money and makes the people at the top look bad.)

In the rest of the country, this means that the police can stop every nth person, find something they did wrong (everybody's got something, after all), and then tout their effectiveness with nice clean numbers. It means that our military and secret service can grab anybody anywhere and hold them as long as they want, then tell us how safe they're keeping our country.

Unfortunately, this is all just feeding the paranoia and anger of the people targeted under these policies, and touting the "effectiveness" of the drag-net---and demonizing those caught in it, in the process---is feeding the paranoia and anger of those who think it works. If this continues unabated, the two polarized sides are going to reach a sufficiently agitated state that they're going to violently lash out at anything or anyone they perceive to be on the Other Side. This has already started, and it's only going to get worse as the financial system "deleverages" itself.

But hey, if things get crazy, we can all think wistfully back to this lovely era, in which we're all being kept terribly safe.

Anon replied to comment from edwinx2 #95 3:13 PM Saturday, Mar 13, 2010 Reply

You are my new hero! The more oppressive rules the schools adopt, the more likely they are to have the next shooting when a kid finally snaps under the burden.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out, yet the educrats obviously don't get it!

Anon #96 5:24 PM Saturday, Mar 13, 2010 Reply

Authoritarian schooling breeds sheeple who don't think for themselves and don't question what the corporate controlled media and government tell them. Random locker and backpack searches will eventually become random car and home searches.

Anon #97 11:33 AM Sunday, Mar 14, 2010 Reply

Virginia in general seems pretty authoritarian. I went to the Jamestown celebration and I've never seen so many cops in my life. I was almost arrested for photographing a black panther protest held in honor of native americans.

We're becoming such a risk averse country we'll lose all ability to innovate. Those student rebels are tomorrows entrepreneurs.

Anon #98 11:38 AM Sunday, Mar 14, 2010 Reply

Did moderator man make dissident Ken go away? Dude, an echo chamber full of people in agreement is a lot less interesting.

I was frustrated at his obstinacy, but nevertheless as a security pro his opinion carries more weight than ours. The "us versus them" attitude that our police forces have developed was on bright display there. That is the true enemy. That is the true threat.

His ilk are in command. Running them out of the discussion may make it more agreeable, but it makes it less useful. I get sick with anger when I have to parse doublespeak and terms of art, but sadly they are more relevant than the truth in this debate today.

As a Western Libertarian I tolerate a lot of risk. I have taken to saying things like 'liberty is meaningless without the right to hazard yourself'. Liberty is a stupid idea(from a management perspective), but it is unbeatable because it burns in all of us.

I say let the little bastrds gut it out. We can't let this handholding carry into adulthood. The only ones with the skills to stand up are the entrepreneurs; those who must do business by reputation and enforce their own contracts.
Smart Americans will know that I am praising criminals right now, 'political prisoners' as they are coming to be known in the gaols.

*zero tolerance* means automatic penalties without discretion. I see it as tantamount to replacing a judge with and ATM machine. My life was badly impacted by such a policy aimed at MJ and I'm not the only one. Mr Ken, you seem disingenuous in your claim not to know what Zero Tolerance means. Perhaps you are too familiar with the relevant statutes? Nuance and terms of art are not hiding places here... if this definition is not adequate you, *you*, need to tell us why. Zero Tolerance was sold to America as a simple idea. If you know better please share.

Anon #99 12:59 PM Sunday, Mar 14, 2010 Reply

There is a parallel with school system paranoia and litigation in the medical professions.

At the root of this is the generic policy that someone must be held liable for something that went wrong. The result is a chain of custody mentality that turns into chains of restriction and bondage.

Both school administrator paranoia and health care insanity could be rectified by tort reform. Most importantly the deep pocket rules.

Antinous / Moderator replied to comment from Anonymous #100 1:47 PM Sunday, Mar 14, 2010 Reply

Did moderator man make dissident Ken go away?

Nope. He disappeared when I took out all ten occurrences of his URL and told him to say something original.

I was frustrated at his obstinacy, but nevertheless as a security pro his opinion carries more weight than ours.

- Multiple comments extolling the virtues of the product that the commenter is selling
- Repetitive comments that never directly address concerns from other commenters
- Incessantly putting in the business URL, sometimes more than once in a comment

We have a technical term here on the internet for that sort of thing: spam.

Anon #101 2:22 PM Sunday, Mar 14, 2010 Reply

I went to school in America in the 70's. Since I don't go to school now, I can't *know* if it's better or worse, but from everything I read, I think it is worse now. Far worse. School administration has has been full of control freaks. I guess it is a response to teen rebellion. But teen rebellion is natural an good. Trying to control it and stamp it out is bad. In the end the biggest difference between then and now is that the administrations have technology on their side. Unfortunately, so does government, and it seems intent on making adults' lives similar to schoolkids' lives.

Anon replied to comment from Aurini #102 4:04 AM Monday, Mar 15, 2010 Reply

Aurini: Marvelously written, splendidly put. Our schools are full of ego-trippers masquerading as teachers, and it's more than a bit disturbing to see absolute power in the hands of those mandated to wield it with impunity. And - let's put it simply - surveillance technology is romanticized, as Mr. Trump has done, to make it usable against those least able to react to it.

Anon #103 1:47 PM Tuesday, Mar 16, 2010 Reply

They did a psychological study back in the 70's. It was called the Stanford Prison Experiment, conducted by Zimbardo. What they did was take upper class college students from Stanford and create a mock prison. They split the students into two groups, one being the guards and one being the prisoners. What is interesting is that, while these two groups were for all intents and purposes identical, each group started to behave in manners that one would normally associate with criminals and Prison guards. The conclusion that they came to was that human behavior is dictated by a significant degree to how not only others treat them but the environment in which they are contained. Just some food for thought with regards to your article.

Anon #104 7:16 PM Tuesday, Mar 16, 2010 Reply

I have read through most of the comments. It's always the discussion that is interesting. I come from Vietnam, a mostly communist country. There, we can't afford cameras, or personnel to search our stuff. But we do wear uniforms at schools, line up every morning to sing the national anthems, and salute our flag. All and all, it didn't feel like a prison, it felt like a military base.

Now, America. When I first realized cameras were watching me, I didn't mind. I was a good kid and I couldn't think of anything that they would get me for. It must have been because I was from a school that feels like a military base. Then I believe that US school system can implement what we have done in Vietnam and they could be very successful at disciplining their students. But I doubt any American would like that.

Just a silly thought.

Lastly, I would to leave a note for Mr. Trump. If you have read his blog, he is a strong supporter of school security and I assume he make a living out of making school safe. I think we should all appreciate his effort and good intention.

Now, I also believe that his philosophy represented the general philosophy that schools have. Even though I believe what the schools are doing is inappropriate and does not solve the problems, the none of us really offer the alternatives. Mr. Trump makes a good point by demanding more of those better alternatives instead of just complains on how the system doesn't work. Stop complaining and start proposing solutions.

Mr. Trump demand is unfair of course. He is a lawyer with 25 years experience. However, he also demands a high school graduate to provide "specific definitions" and specific solutions to unsolved problems. Silly man.

Anon #105 1:07 PM Wednesday, Mar 17, 2010 Reply

I am a teacher at Shonto High School. I know exactly what you mean. I am a recent high school graduate myself and I understand what it feels like to be considered guilty until proven innocent. Sadly, the feeling of being untrustable only encouraged me to give the administrators what they wanted. Now that I am a teacher, I feel that it is my duty to prepare my students to be democratic citizens who fight for what they believe in rather than be passive individuals who accept the status quo.

Anon #106 9:32 PM Wednesday, Mar 17, 2010 Reply

For a year or two after Columbine, Alaska kids had to leave their guns at a private home near their school. Now, many schools have a room near the entrance for the students to secure their weapons,
there are few problems with this system. Prior to Columbine they just left them in the coat closet
by the door, no problems then either. The tragic fate of the special education teacher in Chignik Bay last week illustrates the need for protection in our situation. Granted most students in the lower 48 have a far more dangerous walk to school, but they are not immersed in a culture that allows personal defense, just unlawful aggression. Our youth does not think of firearms as a sexy, exciting shortcut to empowerment but rather a tool for self protection.

Anon #107 10:17 PM Wednesday, Mar 17, 2010 Reply

I'm a high school student and I mostly agree with all of this (my school doesn't have heavily armed police that give safety drills, our cars and lockers aren't searched and our cameras are mostly for looks (I also go to school in Denver, CO. Columbine is two cities away, go figure); however I go to an intercity school and so there is a heavy emphasis on attendance, tardiness and "performance", so much so that deans and security guards will check schedules from PDAs if you are caught off campus to ensure that you have an off period, so much so that about four weeks ago they were tracking down every senior with a certain number of absences- regardless of whether they were excused and regardless of how well the student was doing- and putting them on contracts, so much so that DPS (denver public schools) has invented a tool called a hall sweep that rounds up all tardy students still in the halls during random periods, calls their house to alert their parents and holds them for up to 15 minutes, regardless of how late they would have been. Of the latter I was caught in one of these last year during a teacher assist period, outside of that teacher's room, and almost put on one of these contracts for excused absences.

That's my two bits, I have more angst against my high-school but it's a little unrelated and this post is fairly long as it is.

Brainspore replied to comment from Anonymous #108 10:37 PM Wednesday, Mar 17, 2010 Reply

I am a teacher at Shonto High School. I know exactly what you mean. I am a recent high school graduate myself...

Not TOO recent, I hope!

James Stephenson replied to comment from Anonymous #109 6:54 AM Thursday, Mar 18, 2010 Reply

You should go to my blog, get my email address, and send me the rest your story. I am looking for all the stories I can get. Both stories about negative school experiences and stories about positive school experiences.

Anon #110 1:39 PM Thursday, Mar 18, 2010 Reply

Indeed the no tolerance rules are not no intelligence rules.

My school had saline eye drop marked as a drug like Advil which moronically was in the same category as prescription drugs which even more moronically are in the came class as all drugs like meth and such. But you could still buy caffeinated drinks! Which by they way are a harder drug than saline.

This not to surprisingly infuriated the student's parents who what lots and lots of money and threatened to sue and so the rules changed, thank god.

The only thing i can agree is making life better is cameras. This is due to the fact that is some one had drugs they brought in dogs if someone with drugs saw drug dogs the would plant the drugs on another student. this act was caught on camera twice in 5 years.

Anon #111 7:01 PM Sunday, Apr 18, 2010 Reply

This didn't happen in my school, but one poor kid got expelled because his dad had his hunting rifle in the back of the car when he dropped the kid off. A teacher saw the gun and the kid was expelled the next week. No trial. No parent call. Nothing.

Anon #112 9:42 AM Thursday, Apr 22, 2010 Reply

This spying on students in the privacy of their homes, is consistently with what I have elsewhere witnessed: teachers listening adversarily to comments of students and parents about their families; school districts falsifying information in student files, making prejudiced remarks into student files, and illegally destroying parts of student records in order to case-build against children with disabilities--

Public school failure is obviously related to the mentality of those running these schools into the ground----

Change the mentality, and you change the direction of the public schools. Start with people who respect the idea that schools are there to teach academics, not to enable people to subject innocent students and their parents to antisocial behavior of those currently in charge. Adding and subtracting funds to public schools is irrelevant, therefore, to the quality of human beings that we have running our institutions.

Anon #113 9:44 AM Thursday, Apr 22, 2010 Reply

You can get a public interest lawyer to sue the district on technical violations, alone: no due process. Typical mentality. Not fit to teach or hold any public employment, but these birds are running our public schools and public institutions.

Anon #114 11:35 PM Saturday, Apr 24, 2010 Reply

Good article. I would like to chime in for any people not from the U.S. to understand that in America this is not universal (thankfully!!) A few years ago I graduated from a small Maine school district and we have none of this stuff (still don't, my parents teach there). No cameras, no metal detectors, and the only time a cop came by was to pick up his wife once in a while (she was a teacher).

It is a rural area so things work much differently. In high school students often had rifles in their vehicles (for before/after school during hunting season). Toward the last couple years I was there and onward you'd get a few day suspension for that (understandable, I mean that's not going to destroy your life by any means) and a stern talking to pull your head out of your ass and leave it at home from now on. Pocket knives weren't a big deal though that may have changed. I remember handing a teacher one several times to cut open a box or whatever and no one batted an eye.

Amusingly, we had a teacher move to our district who had previously taught in (and was from) Connecticut. She was appalled at our lack of security and rather laid-back policies to punishment regarding things like after school tussles or drinking on the weekends by high school Seniors. In her favor she was also appalled we were using 8 year old computers and our library was the size of an apartment kitchen so...point in her favor there. Anyway she ended up calling people in the area "ignorant trailer trash" or something and moved away the next year. Haha...whatever. I can't say it was a good school (by ANY means, our scores were atrocious, I hadn't even heard of AP classes until I got in college, and we used textbooks older than I was sometimes), but at least it was fairly chill on most levels.

Anon #115 4:39 PM Monday, Jul 26, 2010 Reply

Sir, I respectfully accept your feelings on this, however I would ask to voice my own and you can accept, or reject them as you see fit.
I am 71 years old and have seen young people, (myself included); try to put forward a plan that would be good to run things all through these years. This covers all through 1939-2010 and I would like to explain the use of the cameras today.
Their purpose is NOT to spy on you; at least it isn't in the over-all plan of things. I cannot speak for your area or school of course. If there is a crime, or there may be a thing seen on camera that seems it may lead to a crime; the police or an other law enforcement agency could be informed and stop it or catch the perpetrators.
I can remember several things that led to hurt full acts that happened to friends of mine that in two of them could have been stopped if there had been such things then.
They can be used for the good of all, or they can be used for the wrong things; either by the people that put them in, or those that have access to the material collected.

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