Fearing Shooters, Schools Put Kids under Surveillance

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2019/10/23/fearing-shooters-schools-put-kids-under-surveillance/

In the wake of mass shootings in the United States, schools are spending millions on surveillance systems to find out what their students are thinking and saying. The legitimate benefits come with troubling questions of privacy.


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.

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…

1 Like

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.

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.

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

Normally I’d agree, but in this case I think FERPA might prevent such behavior.