June 10, 2011
‘Every day in communities across the United States, children and adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours in schools that increasingly have come to resemble places of detention more than places of learning. From metal detectors to drug tests, from increased policing to all-seeing electronic surveillance, the schools of the 21st century reflect a society that has become fixated on crime, security and violence.”
So reads a passage from the opening pages of Lockdown High, a new book by the San Francisco-based journalist Annette Fuentes. Subtitled “When the schoolhouse becomes the jailhouse”, it tells a story that decisively began with the Columbine shootings of 1999, and from across the US, the text cites cases that are mind-boggling: a high-flying student from Arizona strip-searched because ibuprofen was not allowed under her school rules; the school in Texas where teachers can carry concealed handguns; and, most amazingly of all, the Philadelphia school that gave its pupils laptops equipped with a secret feature allowing them to be spied on outside classroom hours.
Just about all the schools Fuentes writes about are united by a belief in that most pernicious of principles, “zero tolerance”. Their scanners, cameras and computer applications are supplied by a US security industry that seems to grow bigger and more insatiable every year. And as she sees it, their neurotic emphasis on security has plenty of negative results: it renders the atmosphere in schools tense and fragile, and in coming down hard on young people for the smallest of transgressions, threatens to define their life chances at an early age – because, as she puts it, “suspensions and academic failure are strong predictors of entry into the criminal justice system”. There is also, of course, the small matter of personal privacy.
This article was posted: Friday, June 10, 2011 at 9:57 am