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.

Yet.

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.

Posted by David Boles

David Boles was born in Nebraska and his MFA is from Columbia University in the City of New York. He is an Author, Lyricist, Playwright, Publisher, Editor, Actor, Designer, Director, Poet, Producer, and Boodle Boy for print, radio, television, film, the web and the live stage. With more than 50 books in print, David continues to write 2MM words a year. He has authored over 25K articles and published more. Read the Prairie Voice Archive at Boles.com | Buy his books at David Boles Books Writing & Publishing | Earn the world with David Boles University | Get a script doctored at Script Professor | Touch American Sign Language mastery at Hardcore ASL.

18 Comments

  1. Why can’t they cover the cameras in the classrooms and offices to put everyone at ease? Since they are ~not~ doing anything to the cameras makes me think they prefer paranoia, not a sense of safety. Probably not the right emotion you’d want at a school.

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    1. That’s a fair assessment, Anne. A simple piece of masking tape would solve the whole, wondering, problem.

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  2. You are on a roll lately with these pieces on cameras. I was aware that they were putting cameras in hallways in schools. I know my high school’s cafeteria and halls had cameras but they were never in the classrooms. This is so scary how cameras are beginning to show up everywhere. Soon there will no longer be a sense of privacy.

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    1. We had a whole blog — Panopticonic.com — dedicated too all these technologies watching us. It is getting eerie and creepy everywhere we go! We need a way to opt out of being watched all the time without being punished by non-participation in life.

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  3. They are alive and well and rolling in the UK – http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/aug/04/schools-cctv-surveillance – there is uproar now as they are putting them in the toilets and changing rooms as well.

    Home schooling anyone ?

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    1. Ahhhhhghhh! I find that a horrible and disquieting reality — especially if you’re teaching American Sign Language — you can be spied on and “understood” just by watching. No audio necessary!

      I’m not sure if homeschooling is any better — parents often outsource the teaching and the parents are “in the room” with the child at all times if you’re distance teaching. Are you teaching the parent or the child? The sad answer is: The parent, because the homeschooled child is always beholden to the domineering parent who is terrified of public schooling.

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  4. Gordon Davidescu February 23, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    I certainly hope they never turn on the cameras — but the realist in me knows they’d have been removed had they no future in being on!

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    1. Right! Pull out the cameras if there’s no future use.

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  5. I home schooled two of mine for a year – neither of them were terrified of the local school and I am not sure I was domineering – all of us were just despairing of the local school .

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    1. I think we have another separation of intentions between the UK and the USA.

      In the USA, the homeschooling movement was pressed forward by Christian fundamentalists who did not want their children exposed to science without God. So, they pulled their kids out of the public schools and decided to teach them through the influence of God. When you teach those children, their parents are your “co-teacher” and can overrule you and correct you as they wish.

      Here’s an example:

      https://bolesblogs.com/2011/10/06/do-the-children-of-bigots-deserve-a-righteous-education/

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  6. I find that as creepy as the original story.

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    1. Agree! Super-Duper creepy!

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