The purity of American education is no longer a bulletproof vestige 

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Seventeen crosses bearing the names and ages of those killed in last month's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., were hung overnight from a Louisville billboard that advertises a local gun show.  Scott Utterback / Courier Journal

Seventeen crosses bearing the names and ages of those killed in last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., were hung overnight from a Louisville billboard that advertises a local gun show. Scott Utterback / Courier Journal

Mass shootings have become disturbingly routine throughout America. Our schools—formerly deemed safe havens for youth development—have endured some of the worst of these incidents: Virginia Tech, Parkland and, of course, Sandy Hook. While I don’t necessarily believe—as some on UConn’s Buy or Sell page do—that the NRA should be classified as a “terrorist organization,” its influence certainly has exacerbated these unfortunate circumstances. As such, schools nationwide are “investing in new security technologies that scan social media posts, school assignments and even student emails for potential threats.” Although I advocate for gun violence prevention and understand schools’ obligation to act upon any potential urgency, I take major issue with this particular approach. 

For one, this is a blatant invasion of privacy and confidentiality, both of which already have been diminished greatly within this digital era (after all, once you post something online or merely store it within a digital data cloud, people can access it forever). I remember back in high school, we were warned that all of our social media activity would be monitored heavily. I took this threat as, to put it mildly, hogwash, especially coming from a bunch of non-tech savvy adults who couldn’t care less about our lives beyond school bounds. Yet here we are, with schools that actually have the motivation and means to support such a claim. To a mass audience, it’s fairly easy to sell “technological advancements” as a palatable solution for virtually any issue, but there’s hardly any evidence pointing to their ability to reduce school shootings thus far. Ultimately, students’ online activity accompanies violent video games, mental illness and the color of one’s skin as a scapegoat that distracts us from the real issue of unrestricted gun access and should be left alone. 

Contrary to popular belief, this additional surveillance also heightens the potential for misinterpretation, which’ll only hurt the cause. I have to believe that the more tech-savvy among our prospective school shooters will find ways to circumvent such surveillance or shy away entirely from posting online, which in turn would make it even more difficult to find warning signs and consequently prevent their insidious plots from taking effect. Yes, we’ve seen several perpetrators who lacked such foresight or felt indifferently, but this may very well change once they catch wind of these heightened securities. And this works the other way, too—we may suspect innocuous parties more frequently. Consider the disabled and mentally ill, for example: They are people who may lack the social awareness to realize that publicly joking about or expressing interest in committing gun violence is viewed as dangerous. Are we really going to make examples out of those who can’t fully comprehend the implications of their words and actions? Also, we’re talking about using these surveillance tactics in schools, right? Well, they’re teeming with young people who say plenty of stupid things that largely aren’t worth overanalyzing. Even the average person under extreme duress—who comments in passing that they want to “kill themselves” or “shoot someone in the face” without any serious intention of doing either—may be falsely implicated. Ironically enough, heightened surveillance appears to further cloud our perspective. 

The most unfortunate aspect of this, however, is that it’s yet another way in which we’re stealing children’s innocence and allowing fear to overtake our lives. Think about experiencing intensified airport security post-9/11, having police officers guarding your school’s doors (as my high school did for a significant time following the Sandy Hook shooting) or having your teachers conduct school shooter drills for students of all ages. Each of these practices is tragically necessary in many respects, but this over-surveillance of our routine interactions isn’t. We’re exposed to so many of this world’s harsh realities already, and “starting out young” shouldn’t be mandatory for children still developing their identities and mental capacities. To any school administrators reading this: Just give us some breathing room for once—please. 

Again, don’t misinterpret this as me downplaying the importance of gun violence prevention; in fact, I’ll be one of the first to vouch for it. All I’m saying is that we must devise a better approach, or else the purity of American education will no longer be a bulletproof vestige. 

APThumbnail photo courtesy of AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File


Michael Katz is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at michael.i.katz@uconn.edu.

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