I am not entirely sure when it happened, but at some point in the last 50 years, teachers became “Other.” They became people who come from outside of the community in which they teach. Teachers became antagonists in a war for our nation’s soul. They became masters of indoctrination as well as robots doing the bidding of boogeyman unions.
They were no longer civil servants who spent a great deal of money to join a profession with very little monetary upside. Teaching was no longer a vocation to which people heed the call but rather a dead-end job of last resort. Teachers were not kind. They did not care for, or even teach, your children. Rather, they were a liability, a parasite leaching off of the perfection of your kids for a paycheck.
At least that is what you would think if you only read the Facebook comments.
In particular, the comments that were so well highlighted by Nick Covington, an History teacher from Iowa, in a debate about whether to put cameras in every classroom of a school for the expressed reason of “seeing what our children are being taught.”
This thread struck such a chord with me because it seems so foreign and such a drastic departure from the discourse that I was a part of as a teacher in the first decade of this century. And yet, it follows directly from the rhetoric of fear that has been pervasive in many other areas of our lives, from politics to healthcare.
I felt so strongly, that I felt compelled to respond. Not to poke fun at the outlandishness, but rather to delve into what is really being asked for and seeing if these words can stand on their own when they are taken out of the toxic cesspool that are Facebook parent groups:
This is the clearest indication that many parents do not know how to navigate the publicly available curriculum of their schools. The information about which books are being taught, which textbooks are being purchased, and which teaching resources are being utilized is not a secret. In fact, the vast majority of these decisions are made at a district level and are available via open records requests. The need for cameras is entirely misplaced, given the wealth of opportunity that is afforded to parents for engaging with the transparent way that public schools have to make purchases and provide records.
This seems like an innocent enough statement, as we have come to believe in the proliferation of “body cams” for police officers as a true asset for public awareness and accountability of bad actors among them. And yet, this would require us to see students as (potential) criminals, and I find it hard to believe that parents want their students to be thought of in that way.
The issue is that Cameras do not discriminate. They will pick up hate speech from everyone. They pick up the vulnerable moments of kindness from all. They will pick up the mistakes of every single fifth grader who hasn’t figured out the boundaries of acceptable behavior. They will pick up the machinations of an ill-informed teen who is bullying a classmate for their differences (politically, socioeconomically, racially). It is a statement of belief that all behavior should be policed. And the results of that are that all children will be prosecuted for their transgressions, not just the adults that you think are “doing harm.” And yes, that includes your children. Read this statement another way, “If your children have nothing to hide, they will hide nothing.” When your kids are the ones under suspicion, how much do you want cameras in the classroom?
It is obvious from this statement that this individual does not trust teachers, but what is less obvious is she also do not trust her children (or the children of the other parents in this Facebook group). If she trusted her children, she would not worry about multiple viewpoints in the classroom. She would know that her children would be able to critically evaluate “woken, leftist or progressive beliefs” and reject them as inferior ideologies. Instead, she sees her hold on her children’s minds as so tenuous that even the mention of equity in a classroom will somehow turn them away from an “america first” perspective.
So, I have to wonder, is this belief system so fragile, so uneasy and ill-conceived, that it will all crumble if it is presented with an opposing viewpoint? If “progressive beliefs” are that powerful and persuasive, it is a marvel that any other viewpoints have survived in the face of them.
As for the respect argument, I would love to probe into what it would take to “earn” this woman’s respect. Does she want each of her children’s teachers to share lesson plans with her for approval? Does she want the teachers to take a loyalty oath to her way of thinking? Or, perhaps it would be better for the teachers to simply have the vague threat of being fired perpetually hang over them because of cameras in the classroom. That would certainly earn her respect, right?
Or, is it rather, that she is afraid that her children will learn to think for themselves and question the things that she has taught in her home? She would certainly see that as disrespectful! And that kind of disrespect is something that she will not stand for. Her children are her own. They are not independent thinkers. They are not capable of making their own decisions. They do not deserve respect. Oh wait…
My only response to such thinking is this:
Surveillance is not inevitable.
It is a choice that we make each day. It is a stance that we take in our public and private spaces as to whether or not we actually want all of our lives to be recorded and available to others to parse through and find objection with. We do not need to “suck it up and deal with it.” We should fight the invasion of our privacy, and think critically about any time that we invite surveillance into our lives (Ring doorbells, etc.). We should question the need for more data and inform others whenever data is being collected because it isn’t just what is being done today with these recordings. Today they exist as simple video files on a hard drive somewhere. But, what would happen if you had trillions of video files that could be used to train machine learning in order to “spot suspicious behavior” or “determine intent” before actions occur? This is not about what these cameras are capable of in this moment, it is what these cameras allow for in the future.
We are definitely at a crossroads in our discourse about the education of our children. From clandestine board meetings to remove employees with a lifetime of service to debates about whether or not our history can be taught in our schools, this is not an easy time for teachers to care deeply for our kids. These are important conversations, and ones we should be having. But, let’s do it in the open. Let’s not hide behind private Facebook groups where we can whip each other up into a frenzy. Let us have good-faith arguments about our educational standards and the scope and sequence of our curricula. But, let’s root it in the agency that kids have over their own lives. They are the ultimate beneficiaries (or casualties) of our decisions, so let’s make sure they are rooted in the hard-fought history of the last 50 years and not just the last 50 months.
Also, don’t put cameras in classrooms, please! It is a terrible idea.