Schools Spying on Kids


On February 19th, 2010, a popular online talk show host, Cenk Ugyr of TYT, posted a video on how a certain school district gave students high-end laptop computers that they could take home. The purpose of this program was to allow the students to engage in active research while at home and to motivate students to study at home and do their homework. These high-end laptops had webcams, and the only reason I can think why these computers would have such a device installed in them would be to take one small step forward towards the future that David Hutchinson enthusiastically describes in his book “Playing to Learn” – a futuristic world where students do most of their learning at home and communicate with private tutors who are constantly assessing the student’s work via full-scale holographic projectors. This future would allow for individual, personalized instruction, for an individual learning curve for each learner, and most importantly for a comfortable educational setting. Certainly, the idea of taking a class where lessons are one-on-one from the comfort of the study room that one has set up to their own individual liking sounds better than institutionalized learning where the teacher has less than 30 seconds to spend on individual instruction per student and where sometimes hundreds of students are marched like cattle through school in order, not to get a good productive citizen, but to get rid of them as quickly as possible. These integrated webcams in the students’ laptops would have allowed the students to, for example, on a sick day stay at home, turn on the webcam, have the instructor in the classroom turn on the webcam on their end of the screen, and have the sick student attend the lecture, participate, and ask questions as would other students. If the instructor were not able to, for some reason, make it to the classroom, the class could meet virtually (as it is already done in English Village, a virtual space dedicated to the teaching of English and other languages inside the world of Second Life. This idea seemed truly wonderful and a correct step towards the evolution of education.

But then something went wrong.

The students noticed that, strangely, the laptop-integrated webcams were turning on and off randomly and for no apparent reason. Investigation on this yielded crucial information that talks not only of how far school administrators are willing to go to exert their power over students, but also of a sick, degenerate fact that serves as evidence to the idea that those who have power will, likely, abuse it.

The laptop computers given to the students came with a certain program that allowed network administrators to remotely turn the webcam on and off and see what the people on the other side of the screen are doing. Can you imagine if your webcam suddenly turned on and someone was spying on you? That’s what this school district in Pennsylvania was doing to its students. The excuse for including these programs is certainly valid: the school did not want to spend money on laptop computers for the students and then have them be stolen, so they installed this software so that, if the machine was stolen, they could identify who the thief was. However, this purpose was twisted by some sick administrator who had what likely were dubious intentions in his mind. School administrators defended the network administrator by saying that he was just making sure the students were doing their homework; however, what the students do at home is an issue of the parents, not of schools. The school administrators not telling the students nor the parents about the software makes this invasion of privacy even worse. Because of the actions taken by the school, the parents of the school children are pursuing a class-action lawsuit, which I wholeheartedly support. Sure, the idea of the school giving kids laptops is excellent, and the webcam could indeed be exploited to provide an education of excellence in ways that we cannot even begin to articulate, and it may be that the program to remotely turn on the webcam might be useful, but the truth is that this invasion of privacy must be illegal, perhaps even anti-constitutional. This is, I think, a sad day for education, as what could have been used as a teaching tool that had the potential to advance educational practices tremendously will now surely be considered as a negative instrument of represion, and it is this that we must be weary of, for if we halt the progress and evolution of educational practices then it may come the day when formal education becomes nothing more than a side note in our history.

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About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on March 1, 2010, in Education Commentary and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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