Academic journal article Educational Foundations

"Eyes on Me Regardless": Youth Responses to High School Surveillance

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

"Eyes on Me Regardless": Youth Responses to High School Surveillance

Article excerpt

In public schools across the country, students are encountering the effects of a variety of security measures designed to make schools safer. Students enter and exit their schools through metal detectors, scanning machines, and under the suspicious stares and booming shouts of security officials and police officers. On their way to classes, they move through hallways, stairwells, and sometimes classrooms mounted with surveillance cameras. From California to Florida, Washington to Maine, urban and suburban public school officials and government policymakers are choosing to respond to issues related to student violence and school safety by deploying an array of surveilling techniques and technologies.

New York City, home of more surveillance cameras per square foot than any other city in the country, leads the pack in developing and implementing school-based surveillance initiatives (Ruck et al., 2005; Boal, 1998). In 2004, City Council passed a bill to install surveillance cameras and metal detectors in every public school by 2006 and allocated $120 million in the five year capital budget for new security cameras which cost approximately $75,000 per school to install (Bennett, 2004). In fact, the City's Impact schools and nine other large high schools, with large African-American and Latino populations, were top priority to receive cameras, metal detectors, and heavy police presence. Ostensibly designed to improve school safety, the effects of the technologies and personnel required to implement surveillance are manifold--many of which are counterproductive to safety, and, in some cases, actually foment violence. Instead of a greater sense of safety in and around school, along with an active and civicly-minded sense of school community, students describe a feeling of danger and disillusion.

More and more, public schools are becoming part of the network of post-9/11, state-sponsored surveillance--spaces in which students experience firsthand what it is to be monitored, feared, contained, and harassed all in the name of safety and protection. Even after security measures are installed, students refer to an increase in the number of violent incidents inside their schools, and attest to the harassment they experience at the hands of police and school safety agents (SSA) (1) now located inside their schools. (2) As one student put it: "If you would walk outside when the late bell rings, you would hear [the security staff yelling] 'Get out. Go home. Go home' ... They do not want us there. And even when we're inside the building, they do not want us there. So it's a constant 'I don't want you here' typa thing."

These stories match up with current research noting that low-income youth of color are being pushed out of public spaces and are increasingly monitored by authority and placed under the threat of criminalization (see Fine et al., 2003; Ruck et al, 2005). Correspondent with research that contends that with greater police presence comes an elevation in arrests and incarceration rates for youth of color, especially African-Americans (Poe-Yagamata & Jones, 2000), the students with whom I worked are equally aware of heightened scrutiny in their school, as well as in surrounding neighborhoods and around their homes.

These studies illuminate some of what gets forgotten in the search for greater school security and fewer incidents of school violence: that school-wide surveillance policies also produce indirect and counterproductive consequences on urban students, especially but not only those already marginalized by the school system. The very presence of urban youth, educational theorist Henry Giroux argues, prompts in the public imagination a "rhetoric of fear, control, and surveillance" (2003, p. 554). Loic Wacquant refers to this level of scrutiny as the phenomenon of "social panopticism" in which social service bureaucracies, like schools and other institutions, are called on to use the information and human means they possess to exercise close surveillance on 'problem populations' (2001, p. …

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