OPINION – Even the people who know me best might be surprised to learn that, many years ago, I did a six-year stint in the pen.
Okay, actually it was William Penn Elementary in Salt Lake City, but my friends and I lovingly referred to it as “William Penitentiary.” It used to be that comparing school to prison was just a joke. But over the past 40 years, the difference between schools and prisons has become indistinct.
Some features are common to any state-run institution. This includes things like an authoritarian structure, emphasis on rules and conformity, abridged freedoms, and a loss of individual autonomy.
But lately, the similarities have grown even more ominous.
Like correctional institutions, schools regularly go into lockdown when there is even a rumor of danger. During a lockdown, no one is allowed to enter or leave the school and students are required to remain locked in their classrooms until the lockdown is lifted. Prisons use this technique to secure the facility and control the population.
Another piece of prison technology that has become commonplace in our schools is the use of cameras and movement tracking. School officials will often defend the use of cameras as a security feature to ensure safety and keep track of the students.
Of course, the cameras also serve to remind the students that they are always being watched and that they will be caught if they break any rules within sight of a camera. This underscores the primary reason why cameras are also used in prison where the denial of privacy is intended to influence behavior.
This particular piece of prison technology is finding its way into our public life locally as well in the form of ubiquitous video cameras and license plate readers. Upcoming generations are being conditioned, starting in school, to see this complete lack of privacy as the new normal.
Like inmates, many students have no real expectation of privacy and can be subject to warrantless searches of their persons, bags, and belongings. A recent lockdown training exercise at Cedar Middle School brought in Cedar City police with drug-sniffing dogs to ‘practice’ on certain student’s bags.
Parents were told about the lockdown drill, but were not informed that the drug dogs would be used to search their children without a warrant. Does this mean that by allowing our children to attend government schools that they forfeit their inalienable rights? Visitors to any correctional facility will see signs openly stating this policy.
Another striking similarity between schools and prison is found in the presence of armed guards and zero tolerance for anything that could be construed as weaponry in the hands of the inmates/students. Just last week the Granite School District in Salt Lake City was celebrating the fact that its police force had just acquired three military surplus M-16 rifles.
Remember, a student who so much as draws a picture of a weapon can be punished for violating the so-called safe schools policies. But an actual select fire assault rifle, in the hands of a guard, is portrayed as a safety measure.
It’s another example of how students are being progressively conditioned to live like prisoners under constant surveillance and armed supervision. And this conditioning is spreading to society at large.
It’s clear that fear is winning out over the American public. But it shouldn’t be.
In reality, the incidence of in-school violence has been steadily decreasing since 1993. Public perception based on a handful of highly publicized instances of school violence is being used to justify a growing authoritarianism on the part of the state.
How did we ever survive going to school in a time when we had no police officers or cameras there to watch over us? Those who would say that the world is a different place today than it was then are only partly right.
The biggest change isn’t that the world has become a more dangerous place. It’s that the state has expanded in ways that treat all of us, whether in school or not, as the inhabitants of a massive correctional institution.
Because this change has come gradually—on cat’s feet—rather than all at once, we’ve become accustomed to the new normal.
But normal, healthy societies don’t treat their citizens as a resource to be managed or as potential criminals to be caught.
This is worth remembering the next time you’re being patted down at the airport, or herded into an administrative checkpoint while driving down the road. Keep it in mind when your child comes home talking about their school’s latest lockdown drill.
Then remind yourself that these techniques are consistent with prison life.
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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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