The Guardian‘s John Harris reviews Annette Fuentes’s Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse, an investigative book on how “zero tolerance” policies have produced high-schools that “reflect a society that has become fixated on crime, security and violence.” Harris points out that the insanity isn’t a mere American phenomenon, and has been enthusiastically embraced in the UK, where things are about to get much worse.
Now, as the surveillance state embeds itself in the lives of millions of children, the education bill currently making its way through parliament promises to extend teachers’ powers to search pupils to the point that, as the pressure group Liberty puts it, they will be “proportionate to terrorism investigations”. Teachers will be able not just to seize phones and computers, but wipe them of any data if they think there “is a good reason to do so” – a move of a piece with new powers to restrain pupils and issue summary expulsions.Not entirely surprisingly, education secretary Michael Gove casts all this as a matter of copper-bottomed common sense. “Our bill will put heads and teachers back in control, giving them a range of tough new powers to deal with bullies and the most disruptive pupils,” he said last year, before he used a very telling phrase: “Heads will be able to take a zero-tolerance approach.”
For many people, the idea of school discipline will still be synonymous with Victorian images of cane-wielding teachers, but we now seem to be headed for something much more insidious: authoritarianism for children, sold to students and staff using the dazzle of technology, and the modern vocabulary of the security crackdown.
And all this, you may remember, from a government whose coalition agreement promises “a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government and roll back state intrusion”.
Only for grownups, perhaps.
Every morning, I walk my daughter to day-care, a ten minute walk in which we pass about 50 CCTVs, ending with the two over the outer and inner doors to the day-care itself. However, once we get there, there is a sign warning us that we’re not allowed to use our phones “as many phones are equipped with cameras” and that this is for the children’s safety.