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Camera in a Classroom

Iowa Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would force all public-school classrooms to have a camera that would livestream classes which parents and guardians could view online.  Under the bill, school staff who did not keep cameras active or who obstruct the camera’s view could be fined up to 5 percent of their weekly salary.

“I have a right to know what is happening in my child’s classroom every minute of every day.  If teachers have nothing to hide, there is no reason to keep cameras out of the classroom.  Let the parents know what teachers are doing to their children.  This is no different than police officers wearing body cameras to ensure they’re not doing anything wrong.  And, like body cameras, cameras in the classroom will provide evidence to protect teachers when they are unjustly accused.  Why on Earth would anyone object to Cameras in The Classroom?”

That’s an excellent question.  I asked it this week on my Facebook page after a dear friend made a request for this episode.  What I’m about to give you is NOT to be confused with scientific research, or even with a valid poll.  It’s nothing more than the responses of a few of my friends, many of whom are, shockingly enough, teachers.  I taught Elementary School for 29 years.  I made friends with a few teachers in that time. 

I won’t be using real names.  One of them already has a built-in pseudonym, and the others I will invent. 

A friend I’ll call “Jennifer” suggested:

My two cents is that if you mistrust teachers so much, keep your kids home and home school them.

The response to this would probably be that not everyone CAN keep their kids at home to home-school them.  Many, if not most, parents are working.

Another friend I’ll call Frances, who has mixed feelings about it, made a case for having cameras in the classroom.  She told us:

As an abused child that switched schools several times in order to get away from our abuser, I could see how this could go terribly awry.

On the other hand, my 6th grade teacher used to hit us with yardsticks and paddles when we were “bad”.  One time, there was this boy named Bobby that used to go rounds with the teacher.  Teacher bullied the student & the student retaliated with a disrespectful & aggressive attitude.  Bobby spouted off to the teacher this day & the teacher full on assaulted this 12 yr old boy.  It was horrifying.  As it turns out, Bobby was being abused at home by his alcoholic father only to come to school to be further abused by his teacher.  In that case, maybe a camera would have saved that boy from yet another assault from an adult that was supposed to be taking care of him.

I’m kinda torn on this one.

This is an important point.  Most teachers, like most police officers, are good, kind, caring people of decent moral character.  In any group, however, there will be bad people, and the teaching profession is no exception.  I don’t know anyone who wants a teacher like this in the classroom.  Is a camera in the classroom the only way to stop someone like this from abusing our children? 

I think we all know that it’s not.  At no time in my career was there ever a camera live streaming my class to the world.  Near the end of my career, however, cell phones were common.  I’m sure they’re even more prevalent now than they were in 2016 when I quit teaching.  You can be reasonably certain some student would record that moment.  Even if that didn’t happen, it would be discussed around dinner tables when students go home to tell their versions of the story to their horrified parents.  It would get to the administration.  It would be addressed swiftly and in accordance with the policies of the district.  The camera wouldn’t offer immediate assistance. 

There is also a legitimate legal issue of student privacy.  As Frau Bleucher tells us:

I teach 3rd grade.  I can’t even take pictures of my entire class without putting an emoji over 2-3 faces because their parents won’t give permission for their pictures to be taken.  So, it would be an issue.

I have 6 students who are currently kindergarten level, so I’m trying to fill in some deep gaps.  Therefore, they will receive different types of lessons and learning strategies than my other students.  I referred all of them for an SST (Student Study Team) meeting in September so we can see if they qualify to be academically tested.  We are currently a year behind in our intervention meetings due to Covid/distance learning.  No other parent needs to know this.

I have one who has the mentality of a 3-4 year old. (We are in the process of trying to find a suitable educational placement before she goes to 4th grade).  She also goes to speech and occupational therapy.  No one needs to know this. I have 3 students who suffer from emotional distress and go to a counselor.  No one has the right to know this.  One is absolutely brilliant, 5th grade level. But, we believe he is on the spectrum and has had episodes of extreme frustration that he gets mad and begins to tear up my classroom or throw things, or break down in tears because he can’t handle it. He also has a severe stutter, but it’s taking a long time to process for testing.  No one needs to see him trying to control his feelings and not succeed on a particular day.

She makes excellent points here.  Students’ privacy outweighs the need for parents to watch what happens all day long in a classroom.  Such a stream could easily be hacked and used for unthinkable purposes.  I’ll say the word pedophile, and I’ll leave it at that. 

A significant part of teaching is establishing relationships with students.  This is made much more difficult by having every move watched in an almost Orwellian sense. 

Another friend I’ll call Austen, who does a weekly news and commentary show on YouTube, saw both sides of it.

I am legitimately torn on this issue.  I feel like the way it is going to be implemented and used is nothing more than spying on teachers for the state.  I don’t think people can work or study in that environment.  On the other hand, I think child abuse at the hands of teachers would probably go… way down and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have an objective view of what’s happening inside of classrooms.  Really tough.  On the one hand we have this watch state, which is dystopian and disturbing.  On the other hand the constant use of cameras everywhere save(s) lives and stops abuse and exposes lies.  We would need to create a lot of regulation around them if we did.  I cannot fall on one side of this issue or the other, I am genuinely torn.

I would be way more in favor of recordings though than streaming.

This might be a more workable idea.  If we insist on putting cameras in the classrooms, the videos are locked down, and they can be opened only with just cause.  I wouldn’t want to try to determine what qualifies as just cause, but others can figure that out. 

I think she’s right, too, that much of this is because there are those who live in terror that teachers will discuss issues that they don’t want discussed.  I suspect you’re familiar with The Scopes Trial.  It is explained succinctly by here:

The Scopes Trial, also known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, was the 1925 prosecution of science teacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in a Tennessee public school, which a recent bill had made illegal.  The trial featured two of the best-known orators of the era, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, as opposing attorneys. The trial was viewed as an opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of the bill, to publicly advocate for the legitimacy of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and to enhance the profile of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).,recent%20bill%20had%20made%20illegal.

Even today teaching Evolution can be controversial.  It was the cry for inclusion of religious doctrine as science that gave rise to The Flying Spaghetti Monster.  In an open letter to the Kansas School Board, Bobby Henderson wrote:

I am writing you with much concern after having read of your hearing to decide whether the alternative theory of Intelligent Design should be taught along with the theory of Evolution.  I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them.  I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design.

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design.  I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster.  It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel.  We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

Today, many are concerned about Critical Race Theory.  They don’t want teachers to discuss anything that might make anyone uncomfortable.  Books are being banned for having LGBTQIA characters, for discussing racism, for illustrating the holocaust, or for having ideas that cause a reader to reflect, ponder, or think at all.  Cameras in the classroom would have provided powerful evidence against Scopes.  I believe this is among the reasons Republican state Rep. Norlin Mommsen, who introduced the Iowa Bill, would like to have every moment of the day recorded.  There are bills restricting what teachers can discuss in their classrooms, and the punishments for violations can be extreme.  In short, they want their ideas to be taught to the exclusion of all others.  History shows us this never works out well. 

Your ideas about religion are personal.  The government has no business telling you what your relationship to the universe, or to God, or to multiple gods should be.  Certainly, the school doesn’t have the right to do that. 

History, however, is not a matter of personal opinion.  The Declaration of Independence was dated July 4, 1776.  To say otherwise would require quite a bit of evidence that would probably require a TARDIS to collect.  Slavery was a part of America.  European Americans subjugated and slaughtered Native Americans.  These are facts.  Understanding our history allows us to learn from our mistakes and celebrate our victories.  The United States has won extraordinary victories for humanity.  We have put human beings on the Moon.  We have made an effort at having Freedom unlike any before us.  And we have made mistakes.  We have done evil.  This is all part of the canvas of our history.  We need to see all of it in the cold light of day. 

And just as we trust doctors with medicine and lawyers with legal matters, because they are professionals who have learned more about it than we know ourselves, we need to trust our teachers and treat them as professionals who know more about education than the rest of us.  They are already underpaid and insufficiently respected.  They are filling roles for which no school ever prepared them.  They have become parents, counselors, social workers, and practitioners of patience on an unimaginable scale.  They need to deal with a host of children’s challenges, whether the child is abused, neglected, homeless, or simply sad because their dog died.  They take on an enormous responsibility, and they do it for very little money.  If we would like to end what people are calling a teacher shortage, perhaps we could let them do their jobs unencumbered by the uninformed opinions of those who have, or want to have, power over them. 

No one went into teaching to make money.  We did it to make a difference.  Don’t beat the passion out of those who are still in the profession.  They’re doing the best they can with incredibly limited time and resources.  If you don’t want to support them, at least don’t make their jobs harder.  Let’s leave the cameras on cell phones.  Let’s let teachers do what they can to save the world.