Cameras In The Classrooms

Espionage in the Learning Cell

Four high-definition closed circuit television cameras and microphones have been installed in the classrooms of each of hundreds of British schools and the authorities do not deny that they are determined to expand this surveillance on a massive scale.

They claim that the footage, of which the principal is in charge, is used primarily for the purpose of teacher training but that collateral benefits include the inhibiting of bullying and students’ false allegations against teachers.

The phrase “teacher training” is widely viewed as code for teachers’ forced acquiescence to principals’ micromanagement with the sovereign right of the principal to fire, without challenge, any teacher deemed noncompliant or incompetent for reasons that they need not articulate.

It has already proven a potent constraint on freedom of expression, intellectual risk-taking, flexibility of technique and style and much else that is essential to the viability of the profession. Obviously there can be no significant scope for academic judgment, originality and interpretation of results when teachers are straightjacketed by morbid scrutiny.

Given the prevailing instinct of self-preservation and the shriek of bills that need to be paid, teachers are likely to choose to play it safe rather than get booted from their profession. Even the mavericks and gadflies, who often are among the most dynamic teachers who leave the most cherished and indelible impression on kids, are spooked by the glare of Big Brother gone wild.

And robbing kids of their privacy rights is inexcusable. Leading them to take that theft for granted as an administrative privilege is despicable.

The wicked aim of these cameras and microphones is disguised by the benign sounding reasons that officials give for installing them. They claim that the cameras are there to record “best practices” for producing dramatic improvement in behavior, concentration and productivity.

Sound familiar? Jargon lends itself to transplantation across the seas.

The cameras at first were ensconced above school entrances and exits as intruder alerts. But quickly their potential as devices of intrigue and intimidation was appreciated by the educational authorities. Some schools, such as Harrop Fold in Salford, England, unblushingly avow that their cameras are positioned for only one reason: to monitor teachers.

And guess what! The British counterparts to our reactionary self-dubbed “reformers” crow that ever since the cameras have been engaged, students’ standardized test scores rose astronomically. They say it’s no coincidence.

What’s no coincidence is that the proponents of these invasive lenses happen to also be fiercely anti-union. Not surprisingly they also insist that teachers feel “supported” by the spying. Of course they don’t call it spying. (They too, like Tweed, have an Office of Gibberish and Jive.) It’s no stretch to suspect that they would also claim that teachers both in Britain and America would feel more “supported” if they were disburdened of albatrosses such as equal pay and buffers to employer abuse.

It’s the same cyanide-laced speech. Only the accent is different.

Mary Bousted, the general secretary of Britain’s Association of Teachers and Lecturers, isn’t fooled by the deceptions. She realizes, for instances, that the cameras were not, as claimed, deployed to stop students from making false allegations against teachers. (That blood sport is a global pandemic.)

The whole controversy would have been averted if there were across the board respect for the law. But in Britain, as here, there are often no sanctions against management when its violations are actual official policies.

An agreement between the teachers unions, their employers and the government explicitly restricts the monitoring of teachers to three hours in any school year! That fact ought to render moot any argument for the moral equivalence of mandating cameras as opposed to banning them.

But the law these days is a chameleon that is at the disposal of management for placement in any environment it has created and decided is suitable. Unless you’re one of them, be indignant at your own peril.

Some of the crazy trends in education originated here and spread to Britain and many of the mad vogues that we are saddled with here were conceived over there. Clearly our nations share one sibling: Big Brother.

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