Thus ends one of my favorite stories by the Good Doctor Asimov, “The Dead Past.” I won’t tell you much more about it, because it would spoil the read, and it’s one of his best pieces. However, it addresses the issue of privace in a way that few people could; Asimov has a way of being able to take concepts to their logical, illogical, or eternal conclusions.
Image courtesy of redditors SexualWeasel, joystick354, and Sqorck (more about that at a previous post.)
In today’s world, its very difficult to maintain the illusion of privacy. Just how much information about each and every one of us is available out on the Internet would curdle your plasma if you really knew, and scrubbing the ether of our presence is, while not impossible, a challenging task.
So the question is raised: how much privacy are we entitled to, and what constitutes a violation?
An interesting article over at the Huffington Post addresses both the issues of bullying/abuse and privacy in a story of a father who sent his autistic son to school with a wire, and uncovered some very unsavory behavior on the part of a teacher and a classroom aide.
Certainly we are entitled to an assumption of privacy about our vital statistics, financial data, and medical records (much stricter now since the introduction of HIPAA); whether or not that privacy actually exists is another issue, but that’s a subject for another discussion. What we do in our own homes or on our own property should be inviolate, although government has long been pushing for inroads, and whereas they were formerly chipping at the cornices of this right with small hand tools, they are now drilling at the foundations with jackhammers. Again, a topic for another day.
But when we are out in public – on the streets, in stores, in view of other people, it should be fairly assumed that we are being watched by someone, somewhere – even if it’s only by a duck.
Gary Larson, “The Far Side,” Image ©1988 Universal Press Syndicate
Bullies don’t like light. Like cockroaches, they prefer to hide in dark corners, exercising their unrighteous dominion over others in places where they think they won’t be seen or caught. Unfortunately, schools have long been shielded from public scrutiny, but this HuffPost article suggests that this immunity may not be long for the world.
I remember when I was in elementary school, in another geological era, our school installed closed-circuit cameras as part of there experimental educational regime. I had forgotten about those until one of my classmates – even 50 years on, many of us have stayed in touch – reminded me about them during a reunion in June of 2012. We had to be on our best behavior when those cameras were rolling – it was an odd sensation. Today, recording devices on school buses have become more common, installed to protect students, aides, teachers, and drivers in the event of mishap or misbehavior. They’re not always used to best advantage, but they are there. This implies that intrinsically, there should be nothing wrong with having a video camera in every classroom, because it is in essence a public place, and teachers and students alike should be operating under the assumption that they are being watched. I don’t feel very George Orwell about this at all; when you’re sitting in a classroom with 40 or 50 other students, this is hardly a private environment. And, every parent of every child in that classroom has the right to know that their children are learning in an environment of safety.
Where every piece of technology can be used for good, there must also be the assumption that it can be used for ill. As a result, I can hear 1,000 legal hands waving in the background, each attached to an attorney who will a) have an opinion as to why this is a bad idea, and b) offer their services at a very reasonable hourly rate. But the point here is not about practicality, it’s about the rights of our children to learn without fear. The only thing that is certain is that things in the world of education will change, and it will probably move in the direction of greater scrutiny and less privacy. That may be a good thing, or it may not – but going forward, I will support any reasonable proposal that makes this world a safer place for our children and all of us.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
 I’m sure a whole raft of educators will have their hands up as well, and that’s not a bad thing. These are the people in the trenches, and their ideas need to be heard, but for myself, I do not look favorably on ideas that sacrifice safety for convenience.