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Fearing Shooters, Schools Put Kids under Surveillance

In the wake of the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, school surveillance has become a big business, with school districts spending more than $8 million per year on ways to electronically monitor their students. At The Guardian, Lois Beckett has documented the extent of these systems, which can monitor everything typed on school-provided laptops and in school-managed student communication systems. If a student says or searches for something concerning, school administrators can, and have, responded in minutes, whether that means pulling a student out of class or sending police to the student’s house at night.

While the article highlights potentially bad situations—notably suicides and threats to others—that were averted thanks to these surveillance systems, it also raises serious questions about both student privacy today and the future in general. A representative from Gaggle, one of the school monitoring companies, argues that its surveillance systems prepare students for the workforce, where they can also expect to be heavily monitored.

Schools are in a tough situation here. Federal law requires them to “monitor” students’ online activities, although what counts as monitoring has never been clearly defined. There’s no question that schools need to provide a safe environment for students, but how far they should go remains open for debate.

Gaggle marketing

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Comments About Fearing Shooters, Schools Put Kids under Surveillance

Notable Replies

  1. Sigh.

    There is a lot more to education than preparing people for the workplace. A monitored workplace at that.

    A high school principal once told me there’s no such thing as a good school, there’s only good teachers. By that he was affirming the relative value of committed caring individuals who knew their job, cared for the students and valued learning over any set of systems, processes and resources made available. I’ve met some excellent teachers in city schools with superb labs and some in country schools with not much by the way of equipment.

    I think about the pupils entering schools who should be free not just to study and work but to explore, to goof off, to check things out, to joke around and work out just what is their place in the world and how to make sense of it.

    Kids in trouble need teachers with time to spot the signs, to make personal and careful calls about how they are doing. Keep the money to open that up.

    Solve the gun thing elsewhere. Don’t use that as a key to open up a new market for AI and camera solutions companies are flogging currently.

  2. From across the pond in The Netherlands I hadn’t realised it had gotten this bad. I did know of the control systems that are tested and rolled out in Chinese schools, literally copying the Person-Of-Interest interface with the squares around faces and accompanying info like attention level percentage, nose poking coefficient and what have you.

    Kids in trouble need teachers with time to spot the signs, to make personal and careful calls about how they are doing. Keep the money to open that up.


    In my country we had an educational ideology called “The New Learning” where teachers would be removed from classrooms to let students teach themselves and only call upon the now “Classroom Assistants” elsewhere in the building when needed. Academics were to be phased out as the classroom assistants would have scripts to follow and not need extensive (read expensive) training.
    Politicians ran with it and poured boatloads of money into consultancy firms tasked with showing schools how to implement “The New Learning” (TNL) as required by government (against all resounding protests from educators). What could possibly go wrong?

    For one thing, kids didn’t learn to do math very well. For just one of numerous examples, the ideologists had determined that fractures were detrimental to the young developing minds of the kids and should be removed from the maths curriculum.
    And when these kids became teachers themselves, they weren’t any good at teaching maths. Surprise! This became a disaster that had to be addressed. It was, by requiring all students in teacher training to pass a math test (mid course!) and those who failed were ousted. Now we are slowly rebuilding what was lost over a number of generations.

    What really never worked of course was the “classroom assistant at a distance” thingy. Luckily that didn’t last too long, although damage was done to students and teachers alike during its run.

    But we never developed a tradition of school shootings, possibly because guns are not as easy to come by here for ordinary people. Apart from a few gun clubs only government and gangsters have them, and so far they have not shown any interest in shooting up schools.

    The weirdest thing of it all is that the TNL ideologues all had themselves enjoyed solid old-fashioned educations. Maybe they developed some freudian grudge?
    Future historians will no doubt make careers out of the TNL lunacy. At least we now know for sure it was lunacy. The politicians will never admit it though…

  3. LOL. I’m sure a surveillance company would want our schools to introduce Chinese level surveillance. What a clown fest. Asking such a company how to run a school is about as sensible as asking McDonalds what car to buy. Why would anybody even care to ask them for their opinion, and worse yet, actually take it into consideration? No offense, Josh. Shining a light on issues like these is great.

  4. Since our son graduated from high school just a couple of years ago, I can completely see where the schools are coming from. They’re under intense pressure to protect kids from outside harm and from the stresses of being kids in today’s society. But as the piece says, there are all sorts of problems wrapped up in this situation. At least they seemed to be pretty clear about how they only scanned official school accounts and school-provided laptops—if it spilled over into private accounts and personal hardware, it would be an even more serious privacy incursion.

  5. One other thing - you can bet these surveillance companies are scrambling over themselves to mine all that data.

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