What would you do if your daily activities were continuously monitored and recorded? How would you feel if Andover was inundated with security cameras? Cameras in the classroom. In the dorms. In the stairwells. In Commons. While the notion of constant surveillance might seem absurd to those of us living on Andover Hill, for other teenagers in America, it is becoming a stark reality. Surveillance cameras have recently been installed in schools across America. The technological advances that have improved our daily lives (cell phones, iPods, laptops) have resulted in an unprecedented invasion of our privacy. In 2002, The New York Times reported that three-quarters of the 950 new American public schools were outfitted with surveillance cameras. In New York City alone, there are reportedly cameras in 150 of the public schools. The current trend of “bugging” institutions of learning marks an unprecedented and regrettable assault on the rights of students. Students should feel free to inhabit their school buildings without constant scrutiny. Constant surveillance is ultimately detrimental to the creation of safe and stimulating learning environments. Biloxi, Mississippi, stands out as a flagrant example of school surveillance gone wrong. In Biloxi’s 11 public schools, every one of the 500 classrooms is home to a digital video camera. Amazingly, these cameras are identical to those employed by Wal-Mart in an effort to detect and deter thieves. The resultant atmosphere of suspicion is hardly appropriate for our schools. Will our students become inherently suspect? One of the most frequent justifications for the use of surveillance systems in schools is the fear of student violence, particularly incidents involving guns and bombs. However, Biloxi’s cameras have found use for more mundane purposes only, such as ensuring that students do not drift off to sleep in class. Indeed, the cameras have done more to implicate janitors than student. One custodian was caught stealing a television, and another was exposed cluttering up a classroom. The cameras have demonstrated the need for more stringent staff hiring policies rather than closer student supervision. Not surprisingly, the introduction of cameras in Livingston, Tennessee’s schools last January resulted in a federal lawsuit filed by parents against the local district. The parents argued against the use of cameras after their middle-school children were filmed changing in their locker rooms. These images were then stored on a computer program that could be reached through the Internet. In this circumstance, students’ human rights were clearly and brazenly violated. The only possible justification for this infringement on the constitutional rights of some individuals is to protect the safety of the entire community. However, such drastic measures as filling a school with security cameras are detrimental to the public good. The placement of security cameras in schools is fundamentally wrong. It negates the important role of a school as an institution for learning ethical and moral values, as well as writing, reading, and math. The co-existence of students and cameras produces unnecessary and undesirable consequences. Students will come to believe that they are inherently untrustworthy and will rightly feel violated by their constant supervision. These measures will make teenagers even more self-conscious than they already are about their appearance and behavior. Students should be taught to be good and do good; they should not be undermined and intimidated by surveillance cameras.
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