The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

Big Brother Is Watching You: Texas tracks students’ whereabouts

School as a prison has always been a popular simile, especially in the last century. Teachers controlled the class, students did drill work, then moved onto other classes. Luckily, schools today are moving towards a student-centered pedagogy where teachers share their authority and agency with the students during the day.

But it looks like the image of school as a prison is back again.

The San Antonio Northside School District (SANSD) was granted the legal right to expel students should they decide not to wear the Radio-Frequency Identification chip (RFDI) on them when on school premises. RFID chips emit a radio signal that connects with the students’ Social Security Numbers, so the wearer’s location can be tracked all day, every day.

This isn’t a new proposal. Wired.com lists the following cities that have used this:

  • 2004: Houston, Texas — monitored students in 13 campuses
  • 2005: Sacramento, California — resulted in parents being livid
  • 2010: Richmond, California — embedded RFID chips in students’ clothing

SANSD is considering implementing this into 110 other schools in the school district.

Implementing RFID would not only infringe on privacy rights, but the school as a learning environment.

Policies like these create a dangerous learning environment, if any learning environment at all. Students are treated like suspects. This is a valid phenomenon: after scary incidents like Columbine, Virginia Tech, and recently, Sandy Hook, educators, caregivers, and society has incurred a fear of students and harboured contempt for teachers. These practices are similar to those upheld in prison, hence Annette Fuentes, author of Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jail House, calls these practices as “a prison-to-school pipeline”.

We constantly hear of the “school-to-prison pipeline”, which is setting up students for failure. In this case, students are prone to being singled out for their behaviours from the tracking system. If they move around often during the day, appearing in stairwells and washrooms, do educators label them as hyperactive or as “skippers”? If a student stays around one location most of the time, are they labelled as lazy?

When we don’t give students enough agency, they are restricted to solely going through the motions in school. They don’t feel that learning is tailored to them, so there is little importance and value to the student. Why would they want to learn more about Martin Luther King when the minimum is only knowing about when he died? Why learn about the implications of his speech when they only need to know the first line for citations? It isn’t like schools particularly care about their education.

This is seen in the reasons for implementing RFID tracking. The main reason for doing so is because schools do not receive daily funding for the student if the student is not present during roll call in the morning. Yes, funding is important, but at whose expense? When a school implements a policy that drastically infringes the purpose of a school, is that going too far?

Schools can still receive daily funding if the child is present on school premises.

Not only is this a flaw in the school funding formula, it also sees the student merely as a ticket to money.

Students need to want to learn to actually learn. Students aren’t stupid. They know when they are merely a tool for an ulterior goal, as explicitly seen here. If a student wants to learn, and is engaged and interested, they will make the choice to investigate further a certain topic and better themselves. They would not need to be bribed with gift cards to go to school. Why would they need to bribe if educators engage their students?

The lack of trust and agency in students is detrimental to their learning and erodes the purpose of education. How can we expect students to trust us with their future if we cannot trust them? Trust, like education, is a two-way street that involves students, their families, educators, and the community. If the community is reluctant to spark the interaction, educators need to take the first step and show that they want to trust the students, and that they care for them.

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8 comments on “Big Brother Is Watching You: Texas tracks students’ whereabouts

  1. Cierra Wissing
    February 5, 2013

    Some truly select articles on this web site , saved to favorites .

  2. Blu Angels
    February 5, 2013

    This is scary but google now has already removed the interactive map.

  3. Pete Laberge
    January 23, 2013

    I am more worried about invasion of rights, privacy, and the risks that these chips can bring if misused. (I could address USA Constitutional Rights, but being from Canada, this would not be appropriate.) Sadly, some thought yielded a long essay, which i do not have time to post, but some critical thinking, would probably lead to your thinking of it.

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      January 23, 2013

      I think it would be great if you could share your thoughts. I only decided to focus on educational and learning aspects because if I wrote about invasion of rights, my post may become too historical, and it would end up too long for anyone to read. I assure you that I have definitely given some thought to invasion to privacy.

      • Pete Laberge
        January 23, 2013

        Well, the fact is:

        1. These RFID chips can, easily be set to track you anywhere. (The tech is here, And with the right tech, you could be tracked up to several blocks from the school. In fact, with the right tech, you could be tracked city wide.) Whether or not you are a student … Just be with one, that has such a chip… So parents, friends, etc…. May end up being tracked. Would YOU want that happening to you? Maybe not. Because you might be tracked without your knowing it….. I view that as an invasion of privacy. (See Canada’s Privacy Act & Privacy Commissioner.) I realize this might not matter in the good old USA. (Land of the Free? Home of the Brave?)

        2. Now theoretically, these chips report to a safe computer tracking system, that cannot be accessed by other non-authorized people. COUGH! Hackers? Password theft? Facebook? Credit Card and ID theft? Need I go on? And if you had the “wrong people” getting into such a system…. Terrorists? Some gang of kids that want to shoot up their own school? GREAT! So now they know exactly where their victims are…. Even if killing is not on their minds, there is Stalking, Bullying, Robbery, Rape, Beatings…. Gang Rivalry? ETC… Surely, you have the imagination to see, the horrid possibilities. You see, it REALLY is NOT likely to happen. But it CAN happen. It is 2013….

        3. So now the school knows who you are and where you are. What next might they do? What if that info was sold (even anonymously) to… marketers… parents… etc. HUm. This might be a great way to balance school budgets. I wonder how much various firms would pay for this? And if you were to track the Teachers, and staff, too…. (See points 1 and 2 above, and consider: If you worked there, how happy would you be? Well, adults over 40, of course, come from the dinosaur world. We will have to get modern, eh?)

        4. This lawsuit went down. In ONE state. There are 50 states. And several court levels. What if something happens (any small thing) and someone manages to sue and win on religious, cultural, ethnic, or other grounds? So you are a tax-payer in that district. Hi. Your school board lost a $60 million dollar lawsuit. COUGH! Your new tax bill may be a little higher, right?

        5. Discrimination: Part 1. No, I am not from the NRA. But I wonder if the Mayor’s, Governor’s, President’s kids… are at risk? Imagine this: “America! This is Al Quaeda. Surrender! We have the President’s kids. We want 1 billion dollars in small unmarked Canadian bills….” What would happen? It is not like the USA has a budget problem or anything…. But change that a little, to: “We have the following 10 students…”. (Nobody important!) Who pays then? What if it was YOUR child? And it need not be a big powerful group. (Of course, that can happen without these chips and tracking systems, too. But, withe the right info, the kids could vanish from the burger joint, 2 blocks from the school….)

        6. Discrimination: Part 2. Johnny’s dad is a Tech Wizard. He figures out how to hack into the tracking system, and fool it. Or how to turn off the chip. Or…. (I can think of a number of scenarios.) So now, Johnny has “stealth mode”. Maybe he can even turn it off and on from his smart phone, at will. How about your child?

        I don’t know, Call me an old fogey. But I see 1984, Brave New World, Animal Farm, Blade Runner… and so on… coming true.

        I am sorry. If I scared anyone, remember: For NOW, the systems are safe. Theoretically. Forgive me, though, if I worry about tomorrow. I am not a Luddite. But we should have a choice with Tech. What if you were forced to have a Radio, TV, a Certain Cable Provider, or ISP? Or have to carry on you, something that could theoretical;ly track you anywhere, 24 hours a day? But I guess for kids and teachers, that’s OK. For today. Tomorrow, we will get the cops, firemen, train conductors, and Wal Mart greeters…..

        And that is the set of my worries, in a nut shell. But, I could be wrong. I sure do hope I am. Mind you, take a few of my “possible scenarios” above. Might make a good Bruce Willis Movie, eh? “Die Hard. In School.” Maybe it will all be in the next Transporter Film. “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to be Tracked.” But then I do have an over-active imagination. And I am paranoid. How about you? Still…

        There are other things I could say. But they are best left unsaid. This is a public medium. I fear I gave the bad guys enough ideas. You may want to censor my post. Or edit it. I sent it to you because you asked….

      • The Grumpy Giraffe
        January 23, 2013

        These are all ideas that have already been trending over the Internet on popular forum boards like Reddit and 4Chan (in the sub-boards that do care about society, anyway). They aren’t new. They are all true points, and legitimate concerns.

        In response to point 1: Today, gizmodo posted an article about a website that is an interactive Google map where you can literally click into a dot to see into another person’s room by turning on their webcam without them knowing. I actually saw a woman from China eating her ice cream like it was nobody’s business. I clicked another dot accidentally and it was a dark room with the computer on.

        This is frighteningly creepy and scary. Technology is a powerful too, and with great power comes responsibility. I find that this use of technology with RFID chips is not conducive to education at all, and it sends a horrible message to students: they’re prisoners, they aren’t trusted (and never will be), and they’re only there because the school wants money.

        Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

      • Pete Laberge
        January 23, 2013

        And me who has nevver been to Reddit, 4Chan, or gizmodo! (I’m 57. A lot of the stuff online is beyond my ability to fathom, or be interested in, or get into.) I have a web cam, but I keep an opaque cover over it, just in case. I am beginning to wonder if I should do something about the microphone as well…. (And now you just scared the Hella out of me…) Take care. Thanks for letting me voice my 2 cents. I wish there was an answer to this stuff… But it is beyond my ability to fathom.

      • The Grumpy Giraffe
        January 23, 2013

        You’re welcome. Thank you for taking the time to type out a detailed response. Google took down the creepy interactive map now, so we’re safe (…for now). But it does show the power and reach of technology, and how intrusive it can be.

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This entry was posted on January 23, 2013 by in education, politics, school, society and tagged , , , , , , , .

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