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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

School's in forever: tracking schoolkids through their uniforms

Reading the news that one of the largest manufacturers of school uniforms in Britain is considering sewing GPS tracking devices into the clothes schoolkids are compelled to wear, just so parents can follow their kids to and from school, I can't help but notice a few things.

Of course, this isn't the first time that GPS has been sold to scared parents as a panacea to their poorly-justified fears. In this newest case, fearful parents can log into a secure website and watch their precious little ones skip about from home to school. But in Japan, for instance, GPS tagged school jackets with "panic buttons" that summon security services have been around for a couple years. In ads for car and cell phone services, GPS is routinely sold to us as protecting us from the alleged dangers of unregulated space - the places where the State and Capital have yet to institute their dream of total surveillance. Going off the map is dangerous, we are told, a sin against the new religion of techno-surveillance. After all, the system wants to track you and everything you produce - including your kids.

Still, I am struck by the way the polling numbers reveal how disproportionately terrified parents are of their children getting kidnapped, even though the odds of that actually happening are quite negligible. Polling cited in most the articles I read about the GPS-tegged uniforms "found 44 per cent of the adults were worried about the safety of their children and 59 per cent would be interested in uniforms with satellite tracking systems." And all this in Britain, the most spied-on country in the world! Clearly technology hasn't alleviated parents' anxieties. Of course, technology's promise is always for tomorrow.

This terrified attitude, propelled as it is by the police and the media's obsession with hyping kidnappings and other crimes against children - especially when they happen to white middle and upper class families - certainly reminds me of the goal of the secret NATO Gladio program in Europe, which I have been researching the last year or so. While it's highly unlikely that government or paramilitary organizations are at all involved in what the media reports as a rash of child abductions, the similarities in the result cannot be overlooked, and the benefits that accrue to the security services and the elite by the continuation of such crimes are obvious.

Considering one terrible episode from the past, under NATO's Gladio program government secret services employed criminal gangs and right-wing organizations to commit random public murders in Belgian supermarkets under the theory that a terrified population would demand for the State to be empowered to protect them by expanding police powers. Of course, this was also the objective behind the security services' interventions into the European armed ultra-left, such as the Red Brigades, as well as their employment of false flag terrorism in Italy (which included the bombing of trains and other public places).

Of course, the system also generates its own independent thugs, criminals and pranksters, which it is quite happy to publicize. But playing both sides, as we see with the arrest today of former Red Brigades member, Marina Petrella, also suits the State quite well. Stoking fear sends people running to the State for help, and that's certainly what we have seen result from the current climate of fear, regardless of its source.

Returning to GPS, I notice that in addition to being boosted as "a safety net for parents" supporters of the technology also point out that "there could be real benefits for schools who could keep a closer track on the whereabouts of their pupils, potentially reducing truancy levels." In other words, the technology can be utilized to attack the autonomy of children at school, who often use ditching and other schemes to get out of the prison that is modern, industrialized schooling and carve out space for their own lives and interests against the wishes of the school autocrats, bureaucrats and babysitters.

It's never explained this way in the mainstream despite the painful obviousness of the point, but forcing kids into public school is a way to dumb them down, to bore them, to regulate them and to make them compliant, unthinking drones. And, of course, getting kids used to being tracked young makes sense if you're an elite class that wants to track everyone. After all, indoctrinating children into the various systems of control is what schooling has always been about.

This is a tragedy for anyone, but while we tend to think of the less-academically inclined children when we think of "dumb" stoners, dropouts and ditchers, it's important to realize that plenty of so-called "smart" kids are forced into this system, too, and they are just as beaten down by it. Their options are limited, too, since the system is just as interested in controlling their choices as it is the kids it puts on the track to a trade or prison. So, using technology to herd kids of all skill levels, aptitudes and interests into the one-track, cookie-cutter school system hurts all the kids who resist and could do better - or who might become independent thinkers - outside the fences. And it turns out that that's a lot of them.

Finally, I can't help but notice the discrepancy between the desire of parents, capitalists and bureaucrats to tag the kids and the willingness of the kids themselves to be tagged. As the Telegraph reports:
[C]hildren rejected the idea of any tracking technology.

The firm interviewed 450 children aged nine to 16 and found that just a third of those under 12 were keen on the move.

It was even more unpopular among older schoolchildren.
No surprise there. Sadly, as was the case with some other former prisoners, namely the 210 paroled burglars that Connecticut plans to track via GPS (remember when it was just going to be murderers and child molesters the government wanted to track?), the system is not terribly interested in what the kids think of the plan to track them, nor is there a formalized mechanism for them to express their opposition. In fact, techno-boosters cite the statistics as proof for their business model. Trutex marketing director, Clare Rix, expressed her disdain for the opinions of students this way: "As a direct result of this survey, we are now seriously considering incorporating a device into future ranges."

But the data does show that the kids, aside from exhibiting a natural tendency towards anti-authoritarianism, surely also understand the importance of maintaining their autonomy from a system that most recognize as operating, to put it most generously, without their best interests at heart. But there's hope. In a sense this lack of a formalized structure for taking students opinions into account is a good thing, because it will leave students to come up with their own forms of creative resistance, probably centering around sabotage and refusal. Any struggle against these technologies of control that results will necessarily have to be centered on modes of organization that the youth themselves will control. Nevertheless, the extension of this technology to students would be another defeat for autonomy.

Still, one article I read, surprisingly coming from an English-language publication in Dubai, expresses the best analysis I have yet seen on the GPS controversy (and perhaps we should be thankful that for now it indeed remains controversial). Citing the alienating effects of technology, the need for youth to have freedom - even freedom to rebel - as well as casting a doubtful eye on the ability of technology to fix the problems it has created, the piece expresses a sound critique of the fate to befall students and the rest of society should they fail to resist.
The internet, and global communications nowadays, has made it easier than ever for parents to be extra-anxious about the safety of their kids. News reports of kidnappings and the continuous coverage of the recent abduction of Madeline McCann has left many parents eagerly embracing the idea of tagging their kids with technology. However, many children, especially those in their teens, are less than enthusiastic about the idea, fearing it would mean that their parents could spy on them.

One 13-year old Dubai school-goer told 7DAYS, “I reckon my parents would have some peace of mind with this device, but I wouldn't really like it 'cause I'd feel like I'd be under surveillance. I don't need a baby-sitter, so why would I need this.”

Rajeshree Singhania, a child psychologist at the Singhania Children's Clinic at Healthcare City is in two minds about tagging a child's movements by satellite. She says that parents today have a heightened sense of anxiety when it comes to their kids, but she doesn't know if tracking them is the answer for all kids.

“I understand the worry parents have about their kids. Perhaps this idea would be suitable for younger children, but for teens it is simply an invasion of privacy. I know that my kids would rebel if I asked them to wear a tracking device,” says Singhania. “I can see certain situations where it might be suitable, like for a single parent. If a single parent had to work, they might be more relaxed if they could check and see if their child got home safely from school etc.”

Growing up, all children are prone to slight rebellion and adventure, which doesn't involve their parents’ permission. If this freedom to be 'free' is taken away from them, because they have to wear a tracking device, how will it affect their personality and development?

“Knowing that you are being constantly observed and that your every movement can be checked on is bound to affect a child's personal development, because their ability to take risks is going to reduce. A child will develop anxiety to the world they live in and see it as a big-bad-world and this is not healthy,” says Singhania.

Perhaps rather than equipping children with state-of-the-art technology, we should be encouraging the idea of community, says Singhania. “In this high-tech world we tend to forget about the human factor. What we need these days is more community-type living, where people look out for other people. Here, community is nearly non-existent. How many people say 'hello' to each other? How many of your neighbours do you know?” she adds.
It concludes on a stark note indeed, issuing a clear warning: "How long before satellite tracking comes here then - it’s time to be afraid Dubai kids..."

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whats next- fucking shock collars?
Another factor I see arising from the eventuality that is complete school lockdowns, is these kids getting frustrated and outletting it through the all too commonplace school shootings that seem to occur fairly frequently. I dont deny that statisically, the chances of this event occuring are low and that oftentimes the media hypes and slants such tragedies for their own disgusting agendas, but it does still happen. And it occurs in both innercity and suburban setting. And what is always the cause? The perpetrator feeling alienated and sick of the abuse that he feels subjected to in a system that reinforces his feelings. I am not advocating this type of behavior, but when a child- going through the most formative stage of their life, a time that will likely shape who they become and how they interact with this world- is left under the wing of underpaid teachers who dont show up to work to passionately educate and nuture a child, but are instead there to collect an insuffient funded paycheck (thats a euphemism for the fucking money went to some war criminal)combined with a crowd of kids who like prisoners also feel frustrated yet fail to see the potential power they hold- thus failing to unite and overthrow- there is bound to be the proverbial snap. And imagine the magnitude of such this snap when these kids are (as you noted) not allowed to leave because of these GPS chips, and they are confined to these institutions without hope of leaving for 8 or 9 hours. I think at this rate school violence will increase if these kids are continuously subjected to this abuse. Ralph Steadman once quoted Hunter S Thompson as saying, that "...he would feel real trapped if he didnt know that he could commit suicide at any moment"- and we all know what happened to him. Im not suggesting that this is a prudent course, but it illustrates perfectly the essence of the human condition. It goes against human nature to be anything but free. Freedom for protection? What a crock of shit. Its like the slave master used to say of his slaves- that they are better off in his custody then off on their own. As Malcolm once likened this country to racial powder keg, this country and this world is about to see its climax. I think not only did they not take the keg out of their house, they've put more in their basement. Racial, gender, age, socio economic, sexual orientation, etc, etc, kegs all getting ready to explode.

Waiting for the Chickens to Roost
Be Free
Fight On

Wed Aug 29, 04:48:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Phoenix Insurgent said...

John Taylor Gatto has some great analysis of the history and role of public education that is worth checking out. As for the lockdowns, they are already doing them. They practice them like they are drills for a nuclear attack. And just as religiously.

Thu Aug 30, 09:51:00 PM 2007  

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