I used to have serious qualms about all of the video cameras that are watching the world in public locations. In certain big cities, London, for instance, it is hard to go anyplace without being stared at by the eye that never blinks. I felt that all of the video taping was a serious violation of privacy, a further indignity heaped upon the masses by an omnipotent Big Brother.
But now I'm not so sure.
Over recent months we have seen several examples of police assaulting people with little or no apparent reason. Sometimes these incriminating films were taken by bystanders or passing motorists, and other times by the dash cameras in the cops' own cars. Now there is a strong movement afoot to require all police to wear body cameras - a movement that is not resonating well with the police themselves.
However, body cameras for police make sense. When police do happen upon an actual crime, the videos taken from their body cameras would give a judge or jury a very complete and accurate sense of what was happening at the scene of the event. And if an untrained, inexperienced, or angry policeman did overreact, well that would be in evidence as well. Body cameras should make police safer in the long run as they help to rid the streets of criminals, and they should have a calming effect on society as they remind police not to cross the line of proper response.
Today there was a petition at Change.org from a mother in Kentucky whose daughter suffered physical injuries in a special education classroom at school. The little girl left the school with welts after being tied to a piece of furniture. The mother spent a lot of time investigating the incident and learned that her daughter's individual educational plan was not being used and that she was being exposed to the general curriculum, something which was frustrating and scary to the little girl.
Now that Kentucky mother is circulating a petition in an attempt to get Kentucky to place cameras in all of its special education classrooms. My concern with her petition is that it does not go far enough.
As a former teacher and school administrator, I know that classrooms truly are often a jungle. Teachers are overworked and underpaid as they manage classrooms that are filled with far too many children. The students come to school to socialize, or fight, or engage in numerous activities that take precedence in their minds over study and learning. And parents, once overly supportive of teachers, now enter conferences with the stated view that their child is right and the teacher is wrong - when they bother to show up at all.
I also know from experience, that not every teacher is a good one, a person with the knowledge and self-control to run a functional classroom.
Cameras in every classroom in America (and on every school bus) would modify and record behaviors - and provide a valuable record for everyone as to what is actually occurring inside of those confined spaces. It would be a record that could be easily reviewed and analyzed - and understood.
The world is a complicated place. Reducing it to a video library sounds like a cold and heartless solution to that complexity, but perhaps, in an age of near unchecked authoritarianism, it is an idea whose time has come. We all deserve to be safe at school and on the streets - safe even from our protectors.