A debate over whether or not RFID chips should be used to track students in public schools has sparked an interesting debate online. Two San Antonio, TX schools have implemented an RFID tracking policy as part of their safety initiatives. Are these schools taking it a bit too far?
I have many not-so-fond memories of school. Teachers made it abundantly clear that students had very limited rights to privacy, and that we were pretty much sub-citizens between the hours of eight and four. This was one of my least favorite parts of growing up, and I hear the same complaints made today by students I’ve met through my work at LockerGnome and through family.
There are some very valid reasons for this. Students aren’t legal adults, so their well-being is entrusted by the parents to the school to keep them safe. The cause of safety has always been a controversial reason to take often drastic steps in society. Security is, to me, one of the more dangerous words in the English language. It’s been used since the dawn of history to justify a variety of travesties on mankind.
That said: Is the implementation of RFID in schools really an action that crosses the line?
Schools Have a Responsibility to Keep Track of Students
Let’s be clear on one thing. Nothing scares a parent more than the potential loss of a child. When they’re unable to care and watch over them, that duty falls to the school district. Overcrowded and often chaotic halls, open campuses with a variety of exits, and a limited teaching staff make it extremely hard to keep track of everyone. If a student wanders off campus to meet friends and skip classes, it creates a small panic among staff as they try to find out if the disappearance was intentional or malicious. It’s not a good situation for teachers or parents to be in. This is the justification that schools are using to make policies like this possible.
Location Leads to Assumptions and Misplaced Judgements
On the other hand, do you really need your every movement tracked? Does the principal’s office need to see every trip to the bathroom? Imagine being in an area in the courtyard where something happened and your location being used to accuse you of taking part in the incident. With lack of physical evidence, there plenty of reasons your exact location could be used to accuse you of something to which you were actually oblivious. It happens, and school officials are hardly detectives. There isn’t much burden of proof required to suspend a student.
In my old high school, there were social groups that spent their lunch hour in different parts of campus. I remember hearing teachers talk over the walkie talkies about the different groups, and incidents that took place. Your location on campus puts you in a category that the staff uses to assume a lot about you. The last thing I would want is my location becoming another avenue of judgement.
Conditioning Youth of Today to Tracking
Tracking anyone’s location conditions them to accept tracking as part of their lives. This is also an element of virtually every tyrannical dictatorship in history. Mao, Hitler, Kim Jong-il, and Stalin tracked their citizens and categorized them. Certain citizens were only allowed to visit specific parts of cities, and their whereabouts had to be reported to the government. This is an aspect of tyranny, and it’s one to which we have to be very careful about desensitizing students.
Comparing RFID tracking in schools to tyrannical dictatorships is a bit extreme, but what students are learning in school through habit or educational influence shapes who they will be as adults. Do we want a generation that grew up being tracked and traced by an institution?
Still, any teacher will tell you that having an unexpected empty chair in class is never a good thing. It falls on the faculty to make sure students are where they should be, when they should be there. Perhaps this is just the most efficient and only feasible way to do it.
I’ll throw this question to you, the reader: Do you believe that RFID chips should be forced on students in public schools?