I currently teach in an old Midtown building in the center of New York City that used to house a secretarial typing school. Legend has it that because there were lots of nefarious “students” in and around the “school” in the past, video cameras were placed in every corridor and cranny to record any crimes for the police that might take place.
Today, the artifacts of those old surveillance cameras are ubiquitous. You can’t walk into any hallway, office or classroom and not see many “eyes in the ceiling” staring down at you.
Some of the teaching staff wondered if we were being watched by security or other management people at the school while we were teaching in our classrooms and working in our offices, and someone got up the nerve to ask the security guard about the cameras in the classroom.
The report that came back that the cameras were not only on, but recording — the good news was that the cameras were only Panopticonically peering into the public spaces: The hallways, the student lounge and the stairwells. Even though there were cameras in the offices and in the classrooms, they were not active or set up.
I add the “yet” — because we certainly know what’s coming. Like the mantlepiece gun in Hedda Gabler — you don’t place a weapon in a scene and not expect someone to get shot! Those cameras will find their way to shooting us all live in our classrooms soon enough — or they would have been removed by now. There will be no such thing as a right to privacy when it comes to a public education.
Can you imagine a future where every movement and classroom giggle is being monitored and recorded “for your own security” by your school or building owners? Is it a Copyright violation if you’re only recording what you see and not what is being said as well?
I argue it is never proper to “watch” classes in session from a video surveillance system, but I’m sure parents in the public schools will start the trend first, so they can watch their kids in school to make sure they’re getting the “right education,” and teachers will become performers for the camera, and not there to just teach the kids; and the gentle and subtle, and intimate, relationship everyone in a classroom currently shares — especially the sacred dyad between teacher and student — will be destroyed in the name of a generic and undefinable, “openness and safety.”
We will be well beyond Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Shadows on the Wall — because the shadows before us will be each other — as the real of us disappears into a reduction of dimmed digital bits to become reflective of nothing.