Do I have a right?

Homeless by Carl Lovén

Homeless by Carl Lovén

Author’s note – much of what you’re about to read is inspired by the juxtaposition of articles featured on BoingBoing.

I spent this morning sharing iCivics and its marquee title, “Do I Have a Right?”, with local colleagues. “Do I Have a Right?” is an resource management game in which the player assumes control of a firm specializing in constitutional law. Players must evaluate potential clients’ complaints to determine whether or not the clients’ rights have been violated. If the player determines that a client’s claim has merit, the player must then match him or her with a lawyer who specializes in the relevant amendment. The client and lawyer then poof out of existence to attend court before reappearing with “Prestige Points” a short time later in the game. The player uses “Prestige Points” to hire new lawyers with needed specialities and to buff out the firm.

My colleagues and I met at one of our school system’s high schools as part of our division-level professional development day. As I walked from the parking lot to our classroom, I was struck by the number of security cameras I saw. I wondered about my rights. I wondered about privacy and surveillance.

I wonder about those things a lot lately as a teacher biased toward a tech-rich classroom and as a reader biased toward current events and near-future science fiction.

We live in a society – and world – making sense of itself and the new rules we make in response to new technologies and behaviors.

For example, there’s the case of Tyrisha Greene as relayed by masslive.com . According to the linked article, Greene videotaped the arrest, attempted flight, alleged resistance, and police beating of Melvin Jones III in November, 2009. The video is upsetting and contains strong language. It is also the subject of a criminal complaint filed against Greene by Michael Sedergen, one of the offices involved in the Jones incident. Sedergen claims that Greene broke an illegal wiretapping law and violated his rights by secretly videotaping him.

So, do I have a right to privacy in public if I am unaware of the presence of a video camera? I mean, does the creation of a recorded electronic version of any public act I make create a legal copy of “me” open to permissible scrutiny from by my government? Is there a rider in my contract that says I agree to be surveilled in the course of my work? What do I think about surveillance cameras in schools and what biases do I have about the kinds of schools that I might expect to have cameras or not have cameras? What biases do I have about where I would both expect and accept a camera? Is it a moral obligation to act against any egregiously unfair biases I might have? What do I think about cameras on school busses? About the rights of children?

Yeesh, Sansing – why so worked up about cameras?

Well. For lots of reasons.

First, consider this Guardian article by digital bon vivant Cory Doctorow: Why CCTV has failed to deter criminals.” Doctorow writes that the theory of CCTV-deterrence “[relies] on the idea that the deterred were making smart choices about their futures and would avoid crime if the consequences might catch up with them.”

What if you surveil a group of people who have a biologically-impaired understanding of consequence? What if you surveil a group of people with little hope for the future?

To be direct: what if you surveil teenagers with little hope for their futures?

Perhaps you wind up watching the UK riots and flash mob robberies.

Perhaps you forget about conditions and flash mobs like these.

We have these technologies that cooperate with our behaviors, but it seems that we in the United States of America – and perhaps the West – indulge in those technologies and behaviors that most expediently and ruthlessly assign and act on blame.

Feel free to comment below on the state of your own feeds, but, while my friends are not planning any mobs or riots, it’s not as if the adults I follow on Facebook are unanimously using it for good. There isn’t this adult world of altruism in our social media that somehow counterbalances whatever it is that we fear from our youth.

Am I for robbery? Destruction of property? Anarchy?

No. But in our words and deeds as educators, parents, and adults, are we sufficiently against poverty, destruction of hope, and the market-driven suppression of political power?

I am not a fan of our educational unions for my own reasons, but I’ll say this: if we depend on money to have political power, and we accept that some of our neighbors, based on the educations we’ve provided, can at best secure part time jobs that require them to keep quiet and to not organize, then what are we doing? It’s a paltry, weak sham of a democracy that prefers some voices strong and others weak.

In reading Steven Brill’s Class Warfare this week, it’s abundantly clear to me that a few rich people control public education in the United States of America. By “a few rich people,” I mean fewer people than you would find a standard high school government class.

While some of us might agree with the Broads, Gates, and Kleins of the world – while we might agree that teachers matter most to student achievement – don’t we have a moral obligation to involve ourselves more in how and why we educate our children? If we’re unwilling to oppose the philanthropy of our American giants, does that require us to be so quiet at schools about poverty? Sustainability? Alternative education?

Regardless of the educational merit of pop reformers’ plans for American schools, our pursuit of a middle-class status quo for struggling urban and rural schools will not change our ideas about what school can be, nor will it assuage poverty today or create a more altruistic middle class tomorrow.

We all need to make our own personal decisions to learn about the things that upset us, and perhaps then we’ll take action to help one another end mission-critical upsets – like poverty and industrial-era schools – that threaten our country’s democracy and our citizens’ empathy.

Or we could continue on hurting and blaming one another. I see some of the UK youth in Sedergen: someone has judged me; I want to judge them back.

Which brings me back to cameras.

Yesterday I read a keynote that science-fiction author Charles Stross delivered to this year’s USENIX conference.

In his keynote, Stross spends a significant amount of time speculating on the future of lifeblogging – an individual’s use of cameras and biometric sensors to broadcast and/or record the individual’s life. Think The Truman Show, but with Truman independently choosing to record his life in the real world. Or with Truman choosing to record portions of his life in the real world as required by his job.

How would lifeblogging have impacted the Jones incident? The UK riots? How would it shape the behavior of members of a flash mob? How would it help further define and muddy the difference between different kinds of speech and action under law?

How would it impact schools?

Would we understand schools more if teachers lifeblogged on the job? Would we broaden our definition of exceptional teaching and learning? Would we discover or validate previously hyper-local practices and assessments? Would we understand students better if they lifeblogged while at school? How would a permissions form look for lifeblogging? How would we teach and learn differently if we we’re broadcasting? If we could replay a day’s performance? If we knew a supervisor or more lateral coach was going to replay it? If we knew our lifeblogs could be FOIA’ed? If we knew a vendor would have access to our lifblogs to determine the level of fidelity with which we implemented an intervention program? (Is anyone willing to recruit teachers and dissertate on any of this?)

How would our behaviors change? How would our students’ behaviors change? How would our relationships change? How would labor relations change?

I can see lifeblogging on the job as an imposition, but I can also see it as a bold act of self-evaluation and an assertion of the profession.

How to lifeblog – or whether or not to lifeblood on the job – is a problem worth considering before we get there. Stross estimates that we’ll have the bandwidth and memory necessary to lifeblood as a society by 2061. While constant government and private surveillance might not deter crime, perhaps purposeful, personal self-assessment could provoke us to do better by ourselves, our students, and neighbors.

Do I have a right? Yes, I do. I have a right to turn away that I exercise far too frequently. I am often no better than a camera. I am often worse in that I choose what to ignore; there is no one to blame but me for my memory dumps.

Would lifeblogging curtail a painful expression of hurt like the UK riots or a robbery? Probably not. How do you deter someone who’s understanding and/or fear of deterrence are compromised?

I think you (and by “you,” I mean “I”) would have to watch your life and look for those moments when you turn away so that tomorrow you can try to face your problems (and by “your problems,” I mean “our problems”) head on with all the accumulated strength of those evidenced – but inadmissible – moments of compassion, joy, and love we routinely capture in our cameras’ unblinking eyes and then delete from our cities’ bursting memories.

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