Ponderance

(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

Thursday, September 25, 2003
The Panoptic Classroom

The New York Times reports:
BILOXI, Miss. — A digital camera hangs over every classroom here, silently recording students' and teachers' every move. The surveillance system is at the leading edge of a trend to outfit public schools with the same cameras used in Wal-Marts to catch thieves. Fearful of violence, particularly in light of the nation's experience with schoolhouse shootings, educators across the country are rushing to install ceiling-mounted cameras in hallways, libraries and cafeterias. But no other district has gone as far as this Gulf Coast community, which, flush with casino revenue, has hung the cameras not only in corridors and other common areas but also in all of its 500 classrooms. That has made virtually everything that happens at any of Biloxi's 11 public schools subject to instant replay, though so far, principals report, they have used such replays to confront only humdrum problems like clarifying the disappearance of a child's ice cream money or ensuring that students do not sleep in class. ... "It's like truth serum," said Dr. Laurie A. Pitre, principal of North Bay Elementary, who frequently peeks in on her classrooms from a computer monitor in her office. "When we have a he-said, she-said situation, 9 times out of 10 all we have to do is ask children if they want us to go back and look at the camera, and they fess up."
From Orwell's Big Brother to Michel Foucault's re-theorising of Bentham's Panoptic Prison, the power of surveillance has been a cultural question mark with series ramifications. Foucault's idea of disciplining subjects is all too evident in the article describing *every* moment of a student's life in the US being under the digital microscope. In the short term, there may be a few benefits to teachers, and even to students (it would be nice to catch bullies in the act), but what of personal freedoms? More to the point: the digital never forgets. What happens when school's digital archives start getting linked to student records that might be accessible for the rest of their lives? Everyone does things when they're younger they don't want to think about, let alone see in high definition digital glory! But Australia's safe, right; we'd never do that here! Think about it, though: we're following the USA's lead in international politics, war, and so many other fields, and in our post-Sept 11, post-Bali Bombing world of fear, how hard would it really be to convince shell-shocked parents and teachers to accept surveillance in schools? Definitely a concern worth keeping at the forefront of your mind, ....

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