Thursday, December 20, 2007

Under Surveillance

Some high schools have a specific academic focus aimed at preparing students for solid job prospects. In August of 2007, Joppatowne High School in Maryland became the first high school dedicated to the future of homeland security. The Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Programs are being funded by federal, state, and local agencies, as well as some defense contractors. The military industrial complex is booming in Maryland, with defense contractors and weapons manufacturers aplenty. The students will choose a track: information and communication technology, criminal justice and law enforcement, or “homeland security science.” Some of the 75 students in this program will receive limited security clearances at the nearby Army chemical warfare lab. Naturally, not all Joppatowne grads will join the intelligence community. Some will certainly end up as hired guns to the “contractors” aka mercenaries currently involved in the US occupation of Iraq. Jonathan Zimmerman, a NY history of education professor said, “the devil lies in whether this is going to be a school for education or indoctrination.”

In recent months, I’ve traveled extensively around the state. I’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of high schools. One school was a fortress. It was unclear where one even entered the building – which didn’t matter so much, since all of the doors were locked. I had to be guided in by a person wearing a lanyard with ID, who brought me to the office, where I was signed in and scrutinized. I was assigned an escort, who had a walkie-talkie. I was the advance person for a presidential candidate visiting the school. I asked to have a small group of students wait outside with signs, so the candidate would know where to enter the building. My request was denied. The students would not be allowed to be outside, “for safety’s sake.” This particular school is not downtown, or in a densely populated area – it’s out on a huge, remote parcel of land. Teachers all seemed to carry walkie talkies, and some were engaged in tracking down some students who didn’t appear to be doing anything other than being students, late for class. I asked one of the teachers about all of the security measures – had they ever had an incident? She said no, they hadn’t, but "this is the way things are since Columbine."

In contrast, another public school, one located in a more downtown area had students waiting outside for the advance team, and later for the candidate. The campus was more open and a lot friendlier. The students at Lockdown High were disinterested, and reluctantly asked very standard questions. The students at Friendly High were fully engaged, and asked better questions than any you’ve heard in any debate so far. Is there a correlation between the level of security and the level of curiosity and education? Sure seems like it.

It has been disturbing to read the reactions to the recent Big Impressive Random Search at Kennett High School. The prevailing attitude seems to be that all kids are presumed guilty, and therefore should not object to being searched to prove otherwise. The Bush administration has done a fine job of programming the populace to be fearful. We are told “if you aren’t guilty, you have nothing to hide” as a means of justifying illegal searches and wiretaps. Now our students are being programmed in the same way. In the name of achieving some sort of nebulous “safety” the student’s lockers and cars are being searched. Were the belongings and cars of teachers, staff, and administrators searched, or are only students “unsafe?”

In the years since 9/11, many of us are subjected to indignities that are supposed to keep us safe. Bored airport security people sometimes look in the trunk of my car. They don’t paw through the contents of the trunk, just open and look. We must take off our shoes, our coats, empty our computer bags, send our belongings through machines at airports – where we must throw out our chapstick if it doesn’t have a baggie to travel in. This isn’t protecting us from anything – it’s merely theater developed to provide the illusion that we are being protected. I am on an airport watch list. Every time I fly, I am taken out of line to be wanded, felt up, and X-rayed, along with all of my belongings, both carryon and checked luggage. I am not a terrorist. I’ve never spoken with a terrorist – at least not that I’m aware of. I don’t make many overseas phone calls, and the ones I do are to the UK. Somewhere, somehow I was put on a list, probably because of my political beliefs, or maybe it was the purchasing of Near East Rice Pilaf. That handy discount card you use at the supermarket gathers information about you, and that information can be accessed by Big Brother (and was, after 9/11), in the name of “national security.” I’ll never know – and I’ll probably never get off the list. Average citizens are not allowed to find out anything about these watch lists, which are protected from those who would question, in the name of “national security.”

We are a nation under surveillance. Many of the folks who responded to last week’s TeleTalk question in the Sun do not even question the need for all of this security any more. By teaching our kids that they have no rights, that their property can be searched at any time, we are indoctrinating them into the future, where they do not question domestic wiretapping and warrantless searches. They will parrot the mantra, “If you don’t have anything to hide, you don’t have anything to fear.” They will learn that they have no rights, and that they are always being watched. They will be perfectly groomed to take their place in our brave new world of the unending “war on terra.” There is no need to teach critical thinking skills to the cannon fodder of the future.

“There is no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland.” George W. Bush

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