Critiques on social and education issues
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:
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.