British High Schoolers Write About CCTV in School

If you think that under-20-year-olds don't care about privacy, this is an eloquent op-ed by two students about why CCTV cameras have no place in their UK school:

Adults are often quick to define the youth of today as stereotypical troublemakers and violent offenders --­ generalisations which are prompted by the media --­ when in fact the majority of students at our school are as responsible and arguably better behaved then the majority of adults. Some commentators insinuated that we overheard adults talking about rights and repeated it. That notion isn't worth the space it was typed upon. We are A-level politics students who have been studying civil liberties as part of the curriculum for the last two years. Sam campaigned for David Davis when he resigned over the issue of civil liberties and spoke at speakers' corner about the issue. The criticism of our campaign only serves to illustrate the ignorance of adults who have surrendered within only the last few years our right to protest in parliament, our right to go about our business without being stopped and questioned by police about our identity and our affairs, and our personal privacy.

Eroding standards in schools and deteriorating discipline are down to a broken society and the failure of the education system. The truth is that we are whatever the generation before us has created. If you criticise us, we are your failures; and if you applaud us we are your successes, and we reflect the imperfections of society and of human life. If you want to reform the education system, if you want to raise education standards, then watching children every hour of every day isn't the answer. The answer is to encourage students to learn by creating an environment in which they can express their ideas freely and without intimidation.

Posted on June 8, 2009 at 1:38 PM • 34 Comments

Comments

DocJune 8, 2009 1:58 PM

"The truth is that we are whatever the generation before us has created. If you criticise us, we are your failures; and if you applaud us we are your successes, and we reflect the imperfections of society and of human life."

Profound truth, that.

BWJune 8, 2009 2:30 PM

It's so much easier to be reactionary then try something that might work. But this isn't new wisdom for readers of this blog. Hello security theater, when will you be putting on Hamlet?

LourensJune 8, 2009 2:41 PM

Sounds like Cory Doctorow taught them a thing or two as well :-).

BrettJune 8, 2009 3:02 PM

At least we know that not all of the kids comming from public school are mindless zombies for the State.

AaronJune 8, 2009 3:24 PM

rofl @ "The answer is to encourage students to learn by creating an environment in which they can express their ideas freely and without intimidation."

Yes if only we let students talk more about what they thought, then, and only then, shall the grades rise and our education system become as it should be. The time for more talk is now!

Because while some may want to fix the problem or take action, we know, that what we really need is talk about what we think.

Bah and humbug:D

kangarooJune 8, 2009 4:10 PM

Aaron: Yes if only we let students talk more about what they thought, then, and only then, shall the grades rise and our education system become as it should be.

And why are grades the end-all and be-all of school? It's like security theater -- it's easy to measure school on easy measurements of data regurgitation by students.

But that should, at most, be a minimum standard. If that's all you want -- folks who can repeat what the authorities say -- well, you get what you deserve.

Y'all never wondered why each decade we spend more and more on science, yet produce more and more trivialities?

TimJune 8, 2009 4:13 PM

Erm, generally *people* don't care, irrespective of age. And there's absolutely no reason why A-level students couldn't think/write about this. It's not like you really get more intelligent after age 20.

Ward S. DenkerJune 8, 2009 4:18 PM

"At least we know that not all of the kids comming from public school are mindless zombies for the State."

Not all. Most is dangerous enough. I think the author's conclusion is spot on: critical thinking is the greatest skill to teach a student. They need to learn how to learn, while their minds are young and plastic, not when they reach the university and have already got calcified learning habits. Part of that is learning that all mistakes are not the end of the world and that we must learn from them, and be free to make them.

Of all things, security would have much to gain from a generation of people who have learned how to critically think. Then every single citizen would understand which of our rights are most precious to us and be capable of judging which policies increase security without the unintended consequences of giving the government too much power to fight in the name of that security.

Davi OttenheimerJune 8, 2009 4:48 PM

Huh? I though conventional wisdom was the opposite -- kids care a whole lot about privacy. Information control is a huge aspect of identity management in the adolescent years. This is precisely the time when they start establishing a boundary with authorities (e.g. parents, teachers)

Here's a quick example:

http://www.parentingadolescents.com/...

"The concern and boundary confusion evident in these parents' query are echoed by many others. In fact, I get a letter about once a week from a parent asking how to approach an adolescent whose privacy has just been invaded by the parent."

Likewise, CCTV is just a security control. It can be used for violations of privacy, but it also can be used for protection and care. The parenting site says privacy does not have to be invaded, but there must be attention paid. Viewed in this context (pun not intended) hopefully CCTV can be seen for its benefits as well as privacy risks.

"watching children every hour of every day isn't the answer"

Right, but watching them when they want to be watched is definitely an advantage to not being able to watch them.

alanJune 8, 2009 5:26 PM

I expect the only way these cameras will get removed is if a few administrators are caught wacking off over the images of a few cute students. Only our fear of sex will overcome our fear of terrorism.

aliceJune 8, 2009 6:00 PM

@alan

That's perverted! It's sick! We need MORE cameras, not less, if this is what we can expect from administrators!!

markJune 8, 2009 9:45 PM

The other day a friend mentioned of her reborn hope in society based on her interaction with some members of "Generation Y".

Lets hope these kids become our future political lobbyists, then perhaps there will be hope .... at least until the machines come.

SlartyJune 8, 2009 10:08 PM

"zombies of the State"

Couple of things - in Britain a Public school is what everyone else calls a private school! Easiest to refer to it as a State school.

Secondly, despite years of effort by simple minded politicians, the State system in Britain still manages to deliver high quality, smart, inquisitive members of society. It has been separated from religious and other "vested interests" over time.

I would suggest the USA and France (who have similar philosophies WRT education) could probably learn something...

mooJune 9, 2009 12:52 AM

@alan: Best comment so far! And so true.

@alice: I sure hope your comment was meant as sarcasm, but unfortunately I can't tell!

AnonymousJune 9, 2009 12:59 AM

Bravo! Bravo!

I really like the thought at the end. Schools are the LAST place CCTV should be used. Not because it is the least needed, but because whatever is accepted by the students as the norm in schools now will BE the norm in society at large 10-20 year from now.

H.June 9, 2009 2:53 AM

"in fact the majority of students at our school are as responsible and arguably better behaved then the majority of adults"

Sorry, I doubt that this "holier than thou" is a clever argument to use. More likely, the students at this school are just as bad or good as any crowd of adults.

uk visa lawyerJune 9, 2009 3:46 AM

Two sides:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1183855/...
Is a classroom a 'private place'?
Would the stronger pupils be more vocal in their condemnation of CCTV; the pupils at the weaker end quietly relieved that their lives just got better?
The bigger question:
If CCTV is working on the larger scale then why not let schools benefit?
If CCTV isn't working, why do we have it everywhere?

HenkJune 9, 2009 4:08 AM

Spot on!
Although this is just the eloquent way or tearing the bloody camera's off which happens even more often.

A nonny bunnyJune 9, 2009 4:40 AM

@uk visa lawyer
"If CCTV isn't working, why do we have it everywhere?"

Because certain people have made up their minds that it should work, and they ignore all research to the contrary.
Besides, as a politician it is better to be seen doing something that isn't effective than not to be seen at all, or seen to do nothing. The sad fact is many of them are there to make a career, not to make our lives better.

SeroJune 9, 2009 6:20 AM

Anonymous wrote:
"Bravo! Bravo!
I really like the thought at the end. Schools are the LAST place CCTV should be used. Not because it is the least needed, but because whatever is accepted by the students as the norm in schools now will BE the norm in society at large 10-20 year from now."

Well, of course, in the UK this is alreayd the norm, as I understand. Isn't the average inhabitant of London photographed some extremely large (in the hundreds) number of times daily by security cameras?

But in a way, I agree. The UK needs to rationalize its surveillance policies, and this is not that. I'm not sure what purpose this serves. It reminds me of the UKs attempt to profile children 5-12 years old as likely to become criminals and put them in a DNA database.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/mar/16/...

I'm a highschool student. This would bother me. Four cameras in a single classroom? That's just getting...creepy. Look, I'll readily enough admit I have a kneejerk reaction to surveillance that is negative. Our school has a single camera at the front of each bus. This makes sense to me. I don't like it, but there's minimal supervision and punishment after the fact is a practical necessity, rather than intervention. Multiple CCTV camera domes in a single classroom? I'd walk out too.

Adult in Child's ClothingJune 9, 2009 7:16 AM

@H.:
Sorry, I doubt that this "holier than thou" is a clever argument to use. More likely, the students at this school are just as bad or good as any crowd of adults.

I'll agree with your statement. Thus, if we agree that a random set of high-school students is as (in)capable of making decisions as a random set of adults, can we agree that the environment most students find themselves in (little to no personal liberty, rigidly structured daily schedule, no voice or representation in the decisions which affect them) is unhelpful for not only their personal development but for society as well?

keithaJune 9, 2009 7:31 AM

No one appears to have commented on the statement that "the cameras were to be used for teacher training purposes alone"

Is this because the respondents here do not believe the statement? Or that it's irrelevant; the issue is a about surveillence generally not this specific case? There is an issue around the 'collateral damage' in collecting this data, but that's covered by UK DPA 1st, 2nd and 5th principles (http://www.northtyneside.gov.uk/pls/portal/NTC_PSCM.PSCM_Web.download?p_ID=29520"


I can see real value in filming a class with many cameras as a training exercise for the teacher. Seeing the reaction the students have etc.

What might be an interesting exercise would be to see if the school sticks to the DPA principles. Break a rule on camera, but behind the teachers back and see what happens.

keithaJune 9, 2009 7:52 AM

@Adult in Child's Clothing

(little to no personal liberty, rigidly structured daily schedule, no voice or representation in the decisions which affect them)

Sounds like schools are preparing studenst for life. At least middle aged life anyway.

A nonny bunnyJune 9, 2009 8:12 AM

> No one appears to have commented on the
> statement that "the cameras were to be used
> for teacher training purposes alone"
>
> Is this because the respondents here do not
> believe the statement?"

Well, the students did find that the microphones were switched on; despite the fact that the system was supposed to be off.
But if they only installed this in one classroom, then I'm willing to buy that it isn't meant as a general surveillance system.

> I can see real value in filming a class with
> many cameras as a training exercise for the
> teacher. Seeing the reaction the students
> have etc."

I agree there can be value in it; but I don't think it should be done without the students' knowledge, or without the permission of the parents and students. It was callous of the school administration not to even consider the students had an interest here; and that sends the wrong message to the next generation.

Off the wallJune 9, 2009 8:37 AM

Crimes are committed in front of cctv all the time, if someone important is involved, the authorities will actually play the cd and look at it, many crimes recorded on cctv are never seen again by anyone. The most crime affected areas may have these cameras, but its only meaningful if someone important gets hurt, most crimes on cctv are never heard of or seen again. No one is looking at those screens. No one ever plays the cds.

DaveJune 9, 2009 10:13 AM

I'm reminded of a quote:

"Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers."

--Socrates

Plus ça change...

andyinsdcaJune 9, 2009 10:50 AM

That's why we have the 3rd Amendment in the Constitution (here in the US) - quartering troops. The Brits quartered troops in people's houses as a way to intimidate the populace.

BCS (was Anonymous)June 9, 2009 11:18 AM

@Sero:

I'd love to live for a while in the UK... if it weren't for all the CCTV and what not. I think I'll stay here in the US where we haven't (yet) trained people that big brother is a "good thing".

nmagJune 9, 2009 2:11 PM

"If you criticise us, we are your failures; and if you applaud us we are your successes, and we reflect the imperfections of society and of human life."

This is a cost justification. The British High-Schoolers who write that blog are trying to let their responsibility outside (If you write something like the text in the blog then you know the difference between good and evil...). They could choice a good option instead blame others.

Rik, UKJune 9, 2009 5:30 PM

Having been subject to the UK state education system before pulling myself together at university in the 1980s, I doubt the quote above is from anyone studying for A levels.

I cannot find the article I read about two years ago that was published in The Times concerning the drop in examination standards. It made interesting reading.

They selected two students, one had achieved grade A in A level economics, the other an A* in GCSE (the old O level) maths.

The A level student was ask to take an A level economics paper set in 1982. Result - ungraded.

The GCSE student an O level paper set in 1979. Result - F.

Economics may have changed a great deal, maths has not. The qualifications awarded today in the UK are not worth the paper they are written on.

Clive RobinsonJune 10, 2009 3:50 AM

@ Rik, UK,

"Economics may have changed a great deal, maths has not. The qualifications awarded today in the UK are not worth the paper they are written on."

Like you I was educated in the UK state system, and what I do know is the maths syllabus I was taught at school is greatly different from that of today.

To test your argument you would need to educate several groups of children some in the old syllabus some in the new and get all to take both papers...

Things change, the style of the exams, what students are alowed to use during exams, methods of teaching etc etc. All change both from within the proffession and from external political preasure.

What I do know is school children have longer hours and considerably more homework than when I was a child.

Further from traveling on public transport and listening to various school children talking, it is abudantly clear that the level of ability and interest varies very very broadly.

What does not appear to change from year to year is the press crying out "dumbing down" in a very unobjective way.

SortkattJune 10, 2009 6:15 AM

I'm relatively young (just one the right side of 30), and I don't live in England, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that my pupils receive a more extensive education than I did at the same age. Thus, I distrust the media saying the opposite is true.

As for the cameras, this may very well be a case of students overreacting to cameras meant for teacher-training, but their points are still valid. Further, controlling kids to strictly is not a very good idea for one other reason: Kids used to being under strict discipline from authorities don't know how to behave when not under such scrutiny. We want children, and eventually people, who behaves well, not because they are afraid of being watched, but because they feel it is right.

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