By now you’ve probably read about the school district in Texas that wants to spend some large sum of money to outfit its high school students with RFID chips in their identification cards. RFID stands for radio frequency identification. Yes, indeed. You can now track students wherever they go. It’s not enough to have metal detectors, hall passes, detention areas, lunchroom monitors, bells to mark periods of the day, thick rule books, positive and negative reinforcement for good and bad behavior, report cards, hall monitors, closed campuses, various punishments for sundry infractions, and quasi-judicial disciplinary procedures. Now we have radio-frequency identification cards that you are supposed to wear around your neck. Are the students institutionalized or what?
Here’s the big question no one wants to think about that much. Students who receive this institutional treatment spend their entire adolescence and then some in schools that train them to be passive and compliant. They are supposed to be ready for adulthood when they leave those schools. Whether they depart for college, a job, or some other destination after commencement, many eighteen year olds leave home at this point. If we want them to be compliant citizens – in fact, so compliant we could hardly call them citizens, what would we do? We would create high schools like the ones we have now.
A lot of high school students would not even question the emphasis on obedience, monitoring, and control in their high schools. It’s all they know. From age eleven or so – when they enter middle school – through their high school years, the institutionalization becomes habitual, part of the daily routine. The only substantial difference between high school and middle school is that high school is bigger.
Another scary thing is that a lot of parents seem to like schools that operate like quasi-prisons. They like the lockdowns, police officers in the hallways, the locked doors and the check-in procedures. All these measures seem to keep the students safe. Parents like that. Keep people scared, and you can do anything to them. Keep them on edge, and they’ll accept anything. When you create a secure environment, you create an environment that is easy to control. When you create a controlled environment, you can give people the illusion of safety. Meantime, the balance of authority tips strongly toward rule-based behavior and away from unpredictable, freer modes of action.
If you wonder why adolescents seem to be under so much stress, look at the unnatural environment they encounter every day. It ain’t Summerhill. It’s not a place where they can grow towards freedom. It is a place that cultivates the qualities they’ll want to have as they adapt to a country that used to honor freedom and wide participation in public affairs. Now it encourages compliance, resignation, and keeping your mouth shut. Ask the people who joined the Occupy movement. Try to give voice to your discontent, and you’ll feel a police baton come down hard on your back. If you didn’t learn to keep your mouth shut in high school, well, we’ll teach you now.