Doing time in high school

The Milgram Experiments demonstrated that normal people can easily do nasty things to other people if an expert tells them what to do. The Stanford Prison Experiment showed that normal people act like sadistic guards when placed in a “prison-like” environment. Today, in New Brunswick, we are making our schools more like prisons. Video surveillance cameras will be installed in all high schools in School District 2.

Of course, we have been assured that the cameras will only be used ethically and in the best interests of the students; but power corrupts. No public consultations preceded this decision. Video surveillance is one more control tool to be used “against” students, without their consent. Treat people like prisoners and sure as anything, they will start to act like prisoners.

Alternatives to technologies of control are available, cheaper and more ethical. First, build smaller schools, where everyone can feel at home. The maximum number of students per school should be 150 [Dunbar’s number]. Getting all teachers out of the staff room and into the halls, interacting with students, might put a more human face on the institution as well. Give students increasing amounts of control so that by Grade 12 they are able to make their own decisions about curriculum, homework, study time, etc. The more control you have, the less you feel like a prisoner, isn’t that correct, Employee #12 in Cubicle Zone D?

It seems as if our education system is trying as hard as possible to disempower and alienate an entire generation.

6 Responses to “Doing time in high school”

  1. Kevin Gamble

    Good post. I’m not sure i buy your logic on extrapolating Dunbar’s number to the maximum number of students that should be in a school. If you use that logic, then teachers, administrators, and other staff need to be included in the 150. That also assumes that people don’t cross lines in their social networks and that people only participate in one self-contained network.

  2. Harold

    You’re right, Kevin, it should be 150 people, including teachers and other staff, to maintain a human level of interaction. Smaller may be even better, as you say that there are relations outside of school. I think 150 would be a good start, as it’s not class size but school size that really alienates kids from the system.

  3. Cindy

    Amen! I don’t know how we can tell kids that it’s unethical to use their cell phones to take pictures of their classmates without their permission and then install video cameras. It also creates the sense that world is a very dangerous place. Any you’re right about teachers getting out of the staff room. It’s hard to find a balance between interacting with students as well as your colleagues… and you need lunch!

  4. Tim Davies

    Some really interesting points. I need to read more on the numbers before I can fully concur (Is the school the core community for young people? Is the school a cohesive community, or does the artificial age-based constraint on who is or isn’t a member (around 20% people join and leave each year in most schools) mean that it’s better to look at the size of age cohorts and community building within those?)

    However – the argument that we need young people participating in decision making in schools is spot on. Both because young people being involved in decision making creates responsibility, ownership of learning and better decisions – but also on the basis of a right of young people to be progressively involved in decision making. Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified by every country apart from the US and Somalia) gives under 18’s the right to be involved in decisions that affect them in line with their increasing capacities. And when young people are in school settings for upwards of 7 hours a day, decisions made there certainly affect them.


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