Posts Tagged ‘public schools’

[The aim of public education is not] to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. . . . Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim . . . is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States…”—Henry Mencken, American Journalist (April 1924)

How do you persuade a nation of relatively freedom-loving individuals to march in lock step with a police state? You start by convincing them that they’re in danger, and only the government can protect them. Keep them keyed up with constant danger alerts, and the occasional terrorist incident, whether real or staged. Distract them with wall-to-wall news coverage about sinking ships, disappearing planes and pseudo-celebrities spouting racist diatribes. Use blockbuster movies, reality shows and violent video games to hype them up on military tactics, and then while they’re distracted and numb to all that is taking place around them, indoctrinate their young people to your way of thinking, relying primarily on the public schools and popular culture.

After all, public education the world over has always been the vehicle for statist propaganda of one sort or another, whether it’s religion, militarism, democracy or totalitarianism, and America is no exception. In fact, today’s public schools, far from being bastions of free speech, are merely microcosms of the world beyond the schoolhouse gates, and increasingly, it’s a world hostile to freedom.

As I show in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, within America’s public schools can be found almost every aspect of the American police state that plagues those of us on the “outside”: metal detectors, surveillance cameras, militarized police, drug-sniffing dogs, tasers, cyber-surveillance, random searches, the list goes on. Whether it takes the form of draconian zero tolerance policies, overreaching anti-bullying statutes, police officers charged with tasering and arresting so-called unruly children, standardized testing with its emphasis on rote answers, political correctness, or the extensive surveillance systems cropping up in schools all over the country, young people in America are first in line to be indoctrinated into compliant citizens of the new American police state.

Zero tolerance policies, which punish all offenses severely, no matter how minor, condition young people to steer clear of doing anything that might be considered out of line, whether it’s pointing their fingers like a gun, drawing on their desks, or chewing their gum too loudly. Although the Obama administration recently called on schools to rethink how they discipline and punish students who misbehave, their guidelines to help schools re-evaluate their disciplinary policies fail to address the source of the problem: the quasi-prison atmosphere of public schools.

Surveillance technologies, used by school officials, police, NSA agents, and corporate entities to track the everyday activities of students, accustom young people to life in an electronic concentration camp, with all of their movements monitored, their interactions assessed, and their activities recorded and archived. For example, the Department of Education (DOE) has created a system to track, archive and disseminate data on every single part of a child’s educational career with colleges and state agencies such as the Department of Labor and the offices of Technology and Children and Family Services. The system relies on a database called inBloom, which is funded by corporate magnates such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. DOE has also received $40 million from various state and federal agencies to help fund the program.

Metal detectors at school entrances and police patrolling school hallways acclimatize young people to being viewed as suspects. Funded in part by federal grants, school districts across the country have “paid local police agencies to provide armed ‘school resource officers’ for high schools, middle schools and sometimes even elementary schools.” As the New York Times reports, “Hundreds of additional districts, including those in Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, have created police forces of their own, employing thousands of sworn officers.” The problem, of course, is that the very presence of these police officers in the schools results in greater numbers of students being arrested or charged with crimes for nonviolent, childish behavior. In Texas, for example, school police officers write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets a year, each ticket amounting to hundreds of dollars in court fines—a convenient financial windfall for the states. All too often, these incidents remain on students’ permanent records, impacting college and job applications.

Weapons of compliance, such as tasers which deliver electrical shocks lethal enough to kill, not only teach young people to fear the police, the face of our militarized government, but teach them that torture is an accepted means of controlling the population. It’s a problem that has grown exponentially as the schools have increasingly clamored for—and hired on—their own police forces. One high school student in Texas suffered severe brain damage and nearly died after being tasered. A 15-year-old disabled North Carolina student was tasered three times, resulting in punctured lungs. A New York student was similarly tasered for lying on the floor and crying.

Standardized testing and Common Core programs, which discourage students from thinking for themselves while rewarding them for regurgitating whatever the government, through its so-called educational standards, dictates they should be taught, will create a generation of test-takers capable of little else, molded and shaped by the federal government and its corporate allies into what it considers to be ideal citizens. Incredibly, despite the fact that the U.S. invests more money in public education (roughly $8,000 per child per year) than many other developed countries, we rank 27th in the world for school educational achievement.

Overt censorship, monitoring and political correctness, which manifest themselves in a variety of ways, from Internet filters on school computers to sexual harassment policies, habituate young people to a world in which nonconformist, divergent, politically incorrect ideas and speech are treated as unacceptable or dangerous. In such an environment, a science teacher criticizing evolution can get fired for insubordination, a 9-year-old boy remarking that his teacher is “cute” can be suspended for sexual harassment, students detected using their smart phones during class time can be reported for not paying attention in class, and those accused of engaging in “bullying, cyber-bullying, hate and shaming activities, depression, harm and self harm, self hate and suicide, crime, vandalism, substance abuse and truancy” on social media such as Twitter or Facebook, will have their posts and comments analyzed by an outside government contractor.

So far I’ve only mentioned what’s happening within the public schools. It doesn’t even begin to touch on extracurricular activities such as the Explorers program, which trains young people—“ages 14 to 21 who have a C average”—to be future agents of the police state. Explorers meet weekly, train for competitions and spend their weekends working on service projects. In one Border Patrol training exercise, teenagers as young as 14, suited up in military gear with lethal-looking airsoft guns, were “instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout,” reports the New York Times. “Put him on his face and put a knee in his back,” a Border Patrol agent explained. “I guarantee that he’ll shut up.”

Then there’s the military’s use of video games and blockbuster movies to propagandize war and recruit young people. Thanks to a collaboration between the Department of Defense and the entertainment industry, the American taxpayer is paying for what amounts to a propaganda campaign aimed at entrenching the power of the military in American society. As author Nick Turse points out, “Today, almost everywhere you look, whether at the latest blockbuster on the big screen or what’s on much smaller screens in your own home – likely made by a defense contractor like Sony, Samsung, Panasonic or Toshiba – you’ll find the Pentagon or its corporate partners.”

What’s really unnerving, however, are the similarities between our own system of youth indoctrination and that of Nazi Germany, with its Hitler Youth programs and overt campaign of educational indoctrination. Now before I’m drowned out by howls of outrage, note that while I am not suggesting the United States is deliberately attempting to raise up a generation of Hitler Youth, our schools and society at large are teaching young people to march in lockstep with the all-powerful government—which may be just as dangerous in the end.

You don’t have to take my word for it. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provides some valuable insight into education in the Nazi state, which was responsible for winning “millions of German young people … over to Nazism in the classroom and through extracurricular activities.” The similarities are startling, ranging from the dismissal of teachers deemed to be “politically unreliable” to the introduction of classroom textbooks that taught students obedience to state authority and militarism. “Board games and toys for children served as another way to spread racial and political propaganda to German youth. Toys were also used as propaganda vehicles to indoctrinate children into militarism.” And then there was the Hitler Youth, a paramilitary youth group intended to train young people for future service in the armed forces and government.

Hitler himself recognized the value of indoctrinating young people. As he noted, “When an opponent declares, ‘I will not come over to your side, and you will not get me on your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to me already. A people lives forever. What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants however now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community.’”

We’re certainly not doing ourselves or our young people any favors by allowing them to be indoctrinated into a police state mindset from early on, with no knowledge that they have any their rights or any sense that they are the descendants of revolutionaries who stood up to tyrannical regimes.

If there is one glimmer of hope for this younger generation, it may be found in the unlikeliest of places: young adult literature, specifically dystopian literature, which is all the rage among young people today. Serial books such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Bone Season and The Giver all speak to a growing awareness among young people that the future awaiting them is far from secure, and that freedom ultimately rests in their ability to take on the powers-that-be.

“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” ― George Orwell, Animal Farm

What was striking about this year’s State of the Union address was not the sheer arrogance of the president’s remarks, the staged nature of the proceedings and interactions, or the predictable posturing of the rebuttals, but the extent to which the members of the various branches of government—President Obama, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the assorted government agencies—are just one big, brawling, noisy, semi-incestuous clan.

Watching these bureaucrats, both elected and appointed, interact in the unguarded moments before the event, with their hugging and kissing and nudging and joking and hobnobbing and general high spirits, I was reminded anew that these people—Republicans and Democrats alike—are united in a common goal, and it is not to protect and defend the Constitution. No, as Orwell recognized in Animal Farm, their common goal is to maintain the status quo, a goal that is helped along by an unquestioning, easily mollified, corporate media. In this way, the carefully crafted spectacle that is the State of the Union address is just that: an exaggerated farce of political theater intended to dazzle, distract and divide us, all the while the police state marches steadily forward.

No matter what the president and his cohorts say or how convincingly they say it, the reality Americans must contend with is that the world is no better the day after President Obama’s State of the Union address than it was the day before. Indeed, if the following rundown on the actual state of our freedoms is anything to go by, the world is a far more dangerous place.

Americans have no protection against police abuse. It is no longer unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later, such as the 16-year-old teenager who skipped school only to be shot by police after they mistook him for a fleeing burglar. Then there was the unarmed black man in Texas “who was pursued and shot in the back of the neck by Austin Police… after failing to properly identify himself and leaving the scene of an unrelated incident.” And who could forget the 19-year-old Seattle woman who was accidentally shot in the leg by police after she refused to show her hands? What is increasingly common, however, is the news that the officers involved in these incidents get off with little more than a slap on the hands.

Americans are little more than pocketbooks to fund the police state. If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the American taxpayer always gets ripped off. This is true, whether you’re talking about taxpayers being forced to fund high-priced weaponry that will be used against us, endless wars that do little for our safety or our freedoms, or bloated government agencies such as the National Security Agency with its secret budgets, covert agendas and clandestine activities. Rubbing salt in the wound, even monetary awards in lawsuits against government officials who are found guilty of wrongdoing are paid by the taxpayer.

Americans are no longer innocent until proven guilty. We once operated under the assumption that you were innocent until proven guilty. Due in large part to rapid advances in technology and a heightened surveillance culture, the burden of proof has been shifted so that the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty has been usurped by a new norm in which all citizens are suspects. This is exemplified by police practices of stopping and frisking people who are merely walking down the street and where there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Likewise, by subjecting Americans to full-body scans and license-plate readers without their knowledge or compliance and then storing the scans for later use, the government—in cahoots with the corporate state—has erected the ultimate suspect society. In such an environment, we are all potentially guilty of some wrongdoing or other.

Americans no longer have a right to self-defense. In the wake of various shootings in recent years, “gun control” has become a resounding theme for government officials, with President Obama even going so far as to pledge to reduce gun violence “with or without Congress.” Those advocating gun reform see the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms as applying only to government officials. As a result, even Americans who legally own firearms are being treated with suspicion and, in some cases, undue violence. In one case, a Texas man had his home subjected to a no-knock raid and was shot in his bed after police, attempting to deliver a routine search warrant, learned that he was in legal possession of a firearm. In another incident, a Florida man who was licensed to carry a concealed firearm found himself detained for two hours during a routine traffic stop in Maryland while the arresting officer searched his vehicle in vain for the man’s gun, which he had left at home.

Americans no longer have a right to private property. If government agents can invade your home, break down your doors, kill your dog, damage your furnishings and terrorize your family, your property is no longer private and secure—it belongs to the government. Likewise, if government officials can fine and arrest you for growing vegetables in your front yard, praying with friends in your living room, installing solar panels on your roof, and raising chickens in your backyard, you’re no longer the owner of your property.

Americans no longer have a say about what their children are exposed to in school. Incredibly, the government continues to insist that parents essentially forfeit their rights when they send their children to a public school. This growing tension over whether young people, especially those in the public schools, are essentially wards of the state, to do with as government officials deem appropriate, in defiance of the children’s constitutional rights and those of their parents, is reflected in the debate over sex education programs that expose young people to all manner of sexual practices and terminology, zero tolerance policies that strip students of any due process rights, let alone parental involvement in school discipline, and Common Core programs that teach students to be test-takers rather than critical thinkers.

Americans are powerless in the face of militarized police. In early America, citizens were considered equals with law enforcement officials. Authorities were rarely permitted to enter one’s home without permission or in a deceitful manner. And it was not uncommon for police officers to be held personally liable for trespass when they wrongfully invaded a citizen’s home. Unlike today, early Americans could resist arrest when a police officer tried to restrain them without proper justification or a warrant—which the police had to allow citizens to read before arresting them. (Daring to dispute a warrant with a police official today who is armed with high-tech military weapons and tasers would be nothing short of suicidal.) As police forces across the country continue to be transformed into outposts of the military, with police agencies acquiring military-grade hardware in droves, Americans are finding their once-peaceful communities transformed into military outposts, complete with tanks, weaponry, and other equipment designed for the battlefield.

Americans no longer have a right to bodily integrity. Court rulings undermining the Fourth Amendment and justifying invasive strip searches have left us powerless against police empowered to forcefully draw our blood, strip search us, and probe us intimately. Accounts are on the rise of individuals—men and women—being subjected to what is essentially government-sanctioned rape by police in the course of “routine” traffic stops. Most recently, a New Mexico man was subjected to a 12-hour ordeal of anal probes, X-rays, enemas, and finally a colonoscopy because he allegedly rolled through a stop sign.

Americans no longer have a right to the expectation of privacy. Despite the staggering number of revelations about government spying on Americans’ phone calls, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, Google searches, emails, bookstore and grocery purchases, bank statements, commuter toll records, etc., Congress, the president and the courts have done little to nothing to counteract these abuses. Instead, they seem determined to accustom us to life in this electronic concentration camp.

Americans no longer have a representative government. We have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age, let’s call it the age of authoritarianism. History may show that from this point forward, we will have left behind any semblance of constitutional government and entered into a militaristic state where all citizens are suspects and security trumps freedom. Even with its constantly shifting terrain, this topsy-turvy travesty of law and government has become America’s new normal. It is not overstating matters to say that Congress, which has done its best to keep their unhappy constituents at a distance, may well be the most self-serving, semi-corrupt institution in America.

Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice. The U.S. Supreme Court was intended to be an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet through their deference to police power, preference for security over freedom, and evisceration of our most basic rights for the sake of order and expediency, the justices of the Supreme Court have become the architects of the American police state in which we now live, while the lower courts have appointed themselves courts of order, concerned primarily with advancing the government’s agenda, no matter how unjust or illegal.

Yes, the world is a far more dangerous place than it was a year ago. What the president failed to mention in his State of the Union address, however (and what I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State), is the fact that it’s the government that poses the gravest threat to our freedoms and way of life, and no amount of politicking, parsing or pandering will change that. — John W. Whitehead

“To the degree that we take away play, we deprive children of the ability to practise adulthood, and we create people who will go through life with a sense of dependence and victimisation, a sense that there is some authority out there who is supposed to tell them what to do and solve their problems. That is not a healthy way to live.” – psychologist Peter Gray

These days, it is far too easy to rattle off the outrageous examples of zero tolerance policy run amok in our nation’s schools. A 14-year-old student arrested for texting in class. Three middle school aged boys in Florida thrown to the ground by police officers wielding rifles, who then arrested them for goofing off on the roof of the school. A 9-year-old boy suspended for allegedly pointing a toy at a classmate and saying “bang, bang.” Two 6-year-old students in Maryland suspended for using their fingers as imaginary guns in a schoolyard game of cops and robbers. A 12-year-old New York student hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. An 8-year-old boy suspended for making his hand into the shape of a gun, in violation of the school district’s policy prohibiting “playing with invisible guns.” A 17-year-old charged with a felony for keeping his tackle box in his car parked on school property, potentially derailing his chances of entering the Air Force. Two seventh graders in Virginia suspended for the rest of the school year for playing with airsoft guns in their own yard before school.

Thus, it’s tempting, when hearing about the 7-year-old suspended for chewing his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun to chalk it up to an isolated example of school officials lacking in common sense. However, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, these incidents are far from isolated, occurring as they have for the better part of the past 30 years under the guise of maintaining safety and security in the schools. They are part of a concerted, top-down approach to creating a generation of obedient worker-bees content to be directed, distracted and kept in line.

Despite a general consensus that zero tolerance policies have failed to have any appreciable impact on student safety, schools have doubled down on these policies to the detriment of children all across the nation. Indeed, the zero tolerance mindset is so entrenched among school administrators all over America that we are now seeing school officials reaching into the personal lives of students to police their behavior at all times. For example, 13,000 students in the Glendale Unified School District in California are now being subjected to constant social media monitoring by school officials. Superintendent Richard Sheehan has hired private firm Geo Listening to analyze the public social media posts of students both off and on campus. Whether on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or any other social media platform, students will have their posts and comments analyzed for evidence of “bullying, cyber-bullying, hate and shaming activities, depression, harm and self harm, self hate and suicide, crime, vandalism, substance abuse and truancy.”

Unfortunately, the Glendale program is simply one component of a larger framework in which all student activity is treated as an open book by school administrators. What we are witnessing is a paradigm shift in American society, in which no personal activity is safe from the prying eyes of government agents and their corporate allies. Every decision and action, no matter how innocent, is scrutinized, analyzed, filed, stored, and eventually held against you when those in power feel like it.

When one pulls back the veil of zero tolerance, one can see the real culprit is the corporate-state, which has been meticulously applying the zero tolerance mindset to not just public schools in America, but our workplaces, our political forums, our social interactions and even our own homes. The end result is a society which is completely pacified and willing to march in lockstep with the corporate-state.

Government officials have worked hard to indoctrinate Americans into the belief that everything you do is suspect, and anything you do can be held against you at a later date. This mindset is clear in all aspects of society, from zero tolerance policies in our nation’s schools, to SWAT team raids in our neighborhoods, from the NSA’s surveillance of all Americans’ communications, to the corporate-state’s insistence that people aren’t capable of managing their own affairs. More and more people are becoming suspicious of others, quick to judge, and more than willing to follow the government’s dictates, however irrational and immoral they may be.

This manner of thinking has been slowly adopted by many Americans, but more worrisome is the manner in which it’s being foisted upon our nation’s youth. We are now living in an era in which childhood as it was once understood, a time to learn, to make mistakes, to try and fail, to try again and succeed, has been replaced by the worst elements of corporate and government culture. Children are treated as workers and prisoners, collected, corralled and controlled by teachers who increasingly act as bureaucrats, forced to fit every child into the exact same mold, regardless of their personal abilities and talents. This mindset is apparent among the proponents of the Common Core Testing Standards which threaten to unleash a new system of standardized testing on a new generation of kids.

As communications consultant Luba Vangelova has noted, the key attributes of a productive member of society are “a zest for life, creativity, perseverance, empathy, effective communication and the ability to cooperate with others. These are things that can’t be measured well – if at all – by tests.” Our obsession with testing leaves children without basic reasoning and analysis skills. They are taught to parrot information, rather than produce arguments. Their value is tied to letter grades and numbers.

Psychologist Peter Gray takes this criticism further, noting that children today are rarely allowed the opportunity to engage in undirected creative activity, also known as playing. Gray notes that since the 1960s, time for play has taken a backseat in the lives of children in favor of rigid curriculums revolving around high-stakes testing. Even sports, which were once simply games played on the fly by a mixed group of neighborhood kids, have taken on the rigidity of life in a factory or cubicle.  The obsession with quantifying childhood progress has gone so far that charter schools in DC are beginning to conduct high stakes testing for three and four year old children.

Over the same time period, incidences of childhood mental illness have steadily increased. The number of children and young adults suffering from major depression and generalized anxiety disorder have increased between five and eightfold since the 1950s. The suicide rate for 15 – 24 year olds has doubled, while the suicide rate for those under the age of 15 has quadrupled.

The rise in these mental illnesses is coupled with a decrease in empathy and an increase in narcissism in young people, indicating that their ability to work with others — as is necessary in a society — has been muted. We’re raising a generation of anxious individuals who expect their life’s direction to come to them from orders from above. In short, we’re creating a generation ingrained with an authoritarian mindset.

This authoritarian mindset is an unavoidable consequence of the American education system. Indeed, while so-called education reformers insist on more tests, pushing schools to emulate the Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean educational systems, they miss a big piece of the puzzle: educators in those countries consider their systems a failure. Despite performing better than American children on certain international standardized tests, Chinese educators have noted that Chinese students have also demonstrated a “lack of social and practical skills, absence of self-discipline and imagination, loss of curiosity and passion for learning.”

Despite this fact, states are pushing ahead with programs like Common Core, which not only threatens our children’s quality of education, but their privacy as well. A great deal of data will be collected under new guidelines proposed by the program. While the purposes of the data collection appear legitimate on their face, mainly focused on keeping track of student progress, we must keep in mind that we are living in the era of Big Data, in which information becomes currency between the government and their corporate benefactors. The data collected on students goes beyond test scores and includes “social security numbers, attendance records, records of interaction with school counselors, identification of learning disabilities, and even disciplinary records.” Of course, having all of this information about every misstep or mistake one has made through his whole life does not bode well in a society in which government and corporate authorities are happy to punish any minor mishap.

We are living in an era where every personal decision, such as where to work, where to shop, where to play, who to love, who to befriend, who to worship, what to believe, and what to say, is open to scrutiny by government officials and corporate managers. It’s a poisonous mentality for those hoping to preserve democracy, and it’s being foisted upon our children, whether in the form of bureaucrats fashioning one-size-fits-all educational standards, or police officers investigating innocent activities such as children playing in the street as possible crimes.

This situation will only get worse as our children are taught to accept the police state as normal. Between the regimes of zero tolerance, the surveillance of students both in school and in their homes, and the value placed in standardized testing over teaching analytical thinking skills, we are raising a generation which is being encouraged to adopt the authoritarian mindset which pollutes the minds of our government and corporate leaders. By allowing our children to be subject to the forces of the market and the dictates of the state, we are ensuring tyranny within a generation or two, if not sooner. — John W. Whitehead

“Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” – Michel Foucault

Once upon a time in America, parents breathed a sigh of relief when their kids went back to school after a summer’s hiatus, content in the knowledge that for a good portion of the day their kids would be gainfully occupied, out of harm’s way and out of trouble. Those were the good old days, before school shootings became a part of our national lexicon and schools, aiming for greater security, transformed themselves into quasi-prisons, complete with surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs and strip searches.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, instead of making the schools safer, we simply managed to make them more authoritarian. It used to be that if you talked back to a teacher, or played a prank on a classmate, or just failed to do your homework, you might find yourself in detention or doing an extra writing assignment after school. Nowadays, students are not only punished for transgressions more minor than those—such as playing cops and robbers on the playground, bringing LEGOs to school, or having a food fight—but they are punished with suspension, expulsion, and even arrest.

As a result, America is now on a fast track to raising up an Orwellian generation—one populated by compliant citizens accustomed to living in a police state and who march in lockstep to the dictates of the government. Indeed, as I point out in my book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, with every school police raid and overzealous punishment that is carried out in the name of school safety, the lesson being imparted is that Americans—especially young people—have no rights at all against the state or the police. In fact, the majority of schools today have adopted an all-or-nothing lockdown mindset that leaves little room for freedom, individuality or due process.

For example, when high school senior Ashley Smithwick grabbed the wrong lunch sack—her father’s—on the way to school, the star soccer player had no idea that her mistake would land her in a sea of legal troubles. Unbeknownst to Ashley, the lunchbox contained her father’s paring knife, a 2-inch blade he uses to cut his apple during lunch. It was only when a school official searching through students’ belongings found the diminutive knife, which administrators considered a “weapon,” that Ashley realized what had happened and explained the mistake. Nevertheless, school officials referred Ashley to the police, who in turn charged her with a Class 1 misdemeanor for possessing a “sharp-pointed or edged instrument on educational property.”

Tieshka Avery, a diabetic teenager living in Birmingham, Alabama, was slammed into a filing cabinet and arrested after falling asleep during an in-school suspension. The young lady, who suffers from sleep apnea and asthma, had fallen asleep while reading Huckleberry Finn in detention. After a school official threw a book at her, Avery went to the hall to collect herself. While speaking on the phone with her mother, she was approached from behind by a police officer, who slammed her into a filing cabinet and arrested her. Avery is currently pursuing a lawsuit against the school.

In May 2013, seven students at Enloe High in Raleigh, North Carolina, were arrested for throwing water balloons as part of a school prank. One parent, who witnessed police slamming one of the arrested students on the ground, was also arrested for attempting to calmly express his discontent with the way the students were being treated.

Unfortunately, while these may appear to be isolated incidents, they are indicative of a nationwide phenomenon in which children are treated like criminals, especially within the public schools. The ramifications are far-reaching. As Emily Bloomenthal, writing for the New York University Review of Law & Social Change, explains:

Studies have found that youth who have been suspended are at increased risk of being required to repeat a grade, and suspensions are a strong predictor of later school dropout. Researchers have concluded that “suspension often becomes a ‘pushout’ tool to encourage low-achieving students and those viewed as ‘troublemakers’ to leave school before graduation.” Students who have been suspended are also more likely to commit a crime and/or to end up incarcerated as an adult, a pattern that has been dubbed the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Moreover, as suspensions and arrests for minor failings and childish behavior become increasingly common, so does the spread of mass surveillance in our nation’s schools. In fact, our schools have become a microcosm of the total surveillance state which currently dominates America, adopting a host of surveillance technologies, including video cameras, finger and palm scanners, iris scanners, as well as RFID and GPS tracking devices, to keep constant watch over their student bodies.

For example, in May 2013, Polk County School District in Florida foisted an iris scanning program on its students without parental consent. Parents were sent a letter explaining they could opt their children out of the program, but by the time the letter had reached parents, 750 children had already had their eyes scanned and their biometric data collected.

Making matters worse, these iris scanning programs are gaining traction in the schools, with school buses even getting in on the action. As students enter the school bus, they will be told to look through a pair of binocular-like scanners which will either blink, indicating that the student is on the right bus, or honk, indicating that they’ve chosen the wrong one. This technology is linked with a mobile app which parents can use to track their child’s exact whereabouts, as each time their eyes are scanned the parent receives a print out with their photo and Google map location, along with a timestamp. Benefits aside, the potential for abuse, especially in the hands of those who prey on the young, are limitless. 

Insiders expect this emerging industry to expand beyond schools to ATMs, airports, and other high security areas within the next few years. It’s definitely big business. The school security industry, which includes everything from biometrics to video surveillance, was worth $2.7 billion in 2012 and is expected to grow by 80% over the next five years and be worth $4.9 billion by 2017.

Even so, promises of profit, safety and efficiency aside, it doesn’t bode well for our nation’s youth who are being raised in quasi-prisonlike school environments where they are treated as if they have no rights and are taught even less about the Constitution. It has been said that America’s schools are the training ground for future generations. If so, and unless we can do something to rein in this runaway train, this next generation will be the most compliant, fearful and oppressed generation ever to come of age in America, and they will be marching in lockstep with the police state.

For more on this and other issues, read my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.

It’s bad enough that the government thinks it can violate our rights whenever it chooses and the populace accepts all manner of violations as long as they’re told it’s for their own good. However, once you start treating young people as if they have no rights by subjecting them to random lockdowns, mass searches, and drug-sniffing dogs, you’re not just violating their rights, you’re teaching them a horrific lesson—one that goes against every fundamental principle this country was founded upon—that we have no rights at all against the police state.

This is the principle at the heart of Burlison v. Springfield Public Schools, a case The Rutherford Institute has just appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Warning against the long-term ramifications of treating young people as if they have no rights, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the use of random lockdowns, mass searches and drug-sniffing dogs in the public schools to be unconstitutional in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable seizures.

In appealing Burlison v. Springfield Public Schools to the high court, Rutherford Institute attorneys are challenging a Missouri school district’s policy of imposing a “lockdown” of the school for the purpose of allowing the local sheriff’s department, aided by drug-sniffing dogs, to perform mass inspections of students’ belongings. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found the lockdown policy was a reasonable procedure to maintain the safety and security of students at the school. However, Rutherford Institute attorneys disagree, insisting that government officials should be required to show particularized suspicion for instituting such aggressive searches and should still be required to operate within the parameters of the Fourth Amendment.

The case started on April 22, 2010, when the principal of Central High School announced over the public address system that the school was going into “lockdown” and that students were prohibited from leaving their classrooms.  School officials and agents of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department thereafter ordered students to leave all personal belongings behind and exit the classrooms. Dogs were also brought in to assist in the raid. Upon re-entering the classrooms, students allegedly discovered that their belongings had been rummaged through. Mellony and Doug Burlison, who had two children attending Central High School, complained to school officials that the lockdown and search were a violation of their children’s rights. School officials allegedly responded by insisting that the search was a “standard drill” and policy of the school district which would continue.

The Rutherford Institute sued the school district in September 2010 on behalf of the Burlisons and their two children, asking a federal district court to declare that the practice of effecting a lockdown of the school and conducting random, suspicionless seizures and searches violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the similar provision of the Missouri Constitution. In its January 2012 decision, the district court declared that the random lockdown and mass searches did not violate students’ rights. In March 2013, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, holding that the school’s interest in combatting drug use outweighed the privacy rights of students.

For  more on this and other pressing issues relating to the emerging police state in America, read my new book  A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, available now at Amazon.com.

Yet another sign of the insanity in our public schools today: a second-grade teacher was suspended and charged with possessing, carrying, storing or using a weapon after he displayed garden-variety tools such as wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers in his classroom as part of his second grade teaching curriculum that required a “tool discussion.”

Incredibly, despite the fact that all potentially hazardous items were kept out of the students’ reach, school officials at Washington Irving Elementary School informed Doug Bartlett, a 17-year veteran in the classroom, that his use of the tools as visual aids endangered his students. Bartlett was subsequently penalized with a four-day suspension without pay.

In an age where public schools face an unprecedented number of real challenges in maintaining student discipline, and addressing threats of real violence, surely no one benefits from trumped up charges where no actual ‘weapons’ violation has occurred and there is no threat whatsoever posed to any member of the school community.

This school district’s gross overreaction to a simple teaching demonstration on basic tools such as wrenches and pliers underscores exactly what is wrong with our nation’s schools. Education truly suffers when school administrators exhibit such poor judgment and common sense, especially when it comes to their zealous misapplication of misguided zero tolerance policies. However, what makes this case stand out from the rest is that this latest victim of zero tolerance policies run amok happens to be a veteran school teacher.

Doug Bartlett teaches second graders at Washington Irving Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois. On August 8, 2011, Bartlett displayed several garden-variety tools he used around the classroom, including wrenches, screwdrivers, a box cutter, a 2.25” pocketknife, and pliers, as visual aids for a “tool discussion” which is required by the teaching curriculum. It is common for teachers to use such visual aids to help students retain their lessons. As he displayed the box cutter and pocketknife in particular, Bartlett specifically described the proper uses of these tools. None of the tools were made accessible to the students. When not in use, the tools were secured in a toolbox on a high shelf out of reach of the students.

On August 19, 2011, Bartlett received notice that he was under investigation for, among other things, “possessing, carrying, storing, or using a weapon,” and for negligently supervising children.  Bartlett subsequently received a four-day suspension without pay.

In coming to Bartlett’s defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys filed a civil rights lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality of such disciplinary action against Bartlett as a direct violation of Bartlett’s Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. Institute attorneys also point out that Bartlett had no intent to use the tools as weapons, nor did he ever receive notice that using such tools in an educational manner could even be construed as using a weapon.

Random, suspicionless lockdown raids against children teach our children a horrific lesson—one that goes against every fundamental principle this country was founded upon—that we have no rights at all against the police state. Americans should be outraged over the fact that school officials are not only defending such clearly unconstitutional practices but are actually going so far as to insist that these raids are a “standard drill” that will continue. Making matters worse, the courts are actually affirming this dangerous mindset.

For example, in a ruling issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Burlison vSpringfield Public Schools, the court deemed a Missouri school district’s policy of imposing a “lockdown” of the school for the purpose of allowing the local sheriff’s department, aided by drug-sniffing dogs, to perform mass inspections of students’ belongings to be a “reasonable procedure to maintain the safety and security of students at the school,” and not a violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of students.

Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute had challenged the school district’s practice of conducting random lockdowns and mass searches of students. Institute attorneys had asked the appeals court to reverse a federal district court’s January 2012 ruling that Springfield Public Schools and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office did not violate the Fourth Amendment rights of students when they executed the April 2010 lockdown at Central High School.

On April 22, 2010, the principal of Central High School announced over the public address system that the school was going into “lockdown” and that students were prohibited from leaving their classrooms. School officials and agents of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department thereafter ordered students to leave all personal belongings behind and exit the classrooms. Dogs were also brought in to assist in the raid. Upon re-entering the classrooms, students allegedly discovered that their belongings had been rummaged through. Mellony and Doug Burlison, who had two children attending Central High School, complained to school officials that the lockdown and search were a violation of their children’s rights. School officials allegedly responded by insisting that the search was a “standard drill” and policy of the school district which would continue.

Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute sued the school district in September 2010 on behalf of the Burlisons and their two children, asking the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri to declare that the practice of effecting a lockdown of the school and conducting random, suspicionless seizures and searches violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the similar provision of the Missouri Constitution. In its January 2012 decision, the district court declared that the random lockdown and mass searches did not violate students’ rights. In its ruling issued March 4, 2013, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, holding that the school’s interest in combatting drug use outweighed the privacy rights of students.

More info on Burlison vSpringfield Public Schools at The Rutherford Institute’s website.

We are now five years out from the worst financial crisis in modern history, and still the yoke around the neck of the average American seems to tighten with every new tax, fine, fee and law adopted by our so-called representatives. Meanwhile, the three branches of government (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) and the agencies under their command—Defense, Commerce, Education, Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury, etc.—have switched their allegiance to the Corporate State with its unassailable pursuit of profit at all costs and by any means possible.

As a result, we are now ruled by a government consumed with squeezing every last penny out of the population and seemingly unconcerned if essential freedoms are trampled in the process. This profits-over-people mindset has taken various forms in recent years, ranging from the rise of privatized, for-profit prisons which require the states to keep their jails full to capacity to the overcriminalization phenomenon which has subjected Americans to a slew of inane laws that outlaw such innocuous activities as making and selling unpasteurized goat cheese, cultivating certain types of orchids, and feeding a whale. Included in the mix are the preponderance of red light cameras, sold to communities as a means of minimizing traffic accidents at intersections but in fact are just a vehicle for levying nuisance fines against drivers often guilty of little more than making a right-hand turn on a red light.

The most recent ploy to separate taxpayers from their hard-earned dollars and render them criminals comes in the form of school truancy laws. Disguised as well-meaning attempts to resolve attendance issues in the schools, these truancy laws are nothing less than stealth maneuvers aimed at enriching school districts and court systems alike through excessive fines and jail sentences, while the ones being singled out for punishment—more often than not from middle- to low-income families—are the very ones who can least afford it.

Instead of giving students detention or some other in-school punishment for “unauthorized” absences, schools are now opting to fine parents and force them or their kids to serve jail time.

Under this increasingly popular system of truancy enforcement, instead of giving students detention or some other in-school punishment for “unauthorized” absences, schools are now opting to fine parents and force them or their kids to serve jail time. (“Unauthorized” is the key word here, of course, since schools retain the right to determine whether an absence sanctioned by a parent or even a doctor is acceptable.)

For example, California students are ticketed for missing or being late to school. One ticket for tardiness can cost a family $250. Tardiness is a particular problem in Los Angeles, where the city’s poor transit infrastructure and overcrowded buses often leave student passengers stranded at the bus stops. According to the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union, 12,000 students received tickets for truancy in Los Angeles in 2008. Of those students, about 80% received tickets simply for being late to school. In order to avoid a $250 ticket, some parents from low-income households go so far as to keep their children home from school if there is any chance they will be late. As Barbara Ehrenreich, writing for the New York Times, points out, “it’s an ingenious anti-truancy policy that discourages parents from sending their youngsters to school.”

In 2011, more than 400 parents in Baltimore City were brought up on truancy charges because their children had missed more than 15 days of school, while a dozen parents were sentenced to jail. One mother of four school-aged children, Barbara Gaskins, was jailed for 10 days (served on five consecutive weekends) after her son allegedly missed 103 out of 130 days of school. Her son insists he was in school but wasn’t marked present.

Parents in Florida can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor and face up to two months in jail if their kids have 15 or more unexcused absences from school over the course of three months. Truancy laws in Alabama, Texas, and North Carolina, among other states, have also resulted in parents doing jail time for their kids’ absenteeism.

As problematic as it may be for states to levy excessive fines and jail time on families that, in many cases, are already struggling to make ends meet and stay together, it’s the motives behind these programs that are particularly troubling. Much like the profit incentives behind privatized prisons and red light traffic cameras, there are also profit motives driving most of the states that are pushing for stricter truancy laws and establishing truancy courts for those parents and students unlucky enough to run afoul of them. Those profit motives range from state funding in exchange for proof of higher school attendance (a clear factor behind the rapid adoption of RFID tracking badges in certain Houston schools), to increased revenue from fines and more bodies in the jails.

Consider, for example, the case of Diane Tran, a 17-year-old honor student. She was sent to jail for 24 hours and forced to pay a $100 fine for breaking Texas’ truancy laws, which define truancy as “missing three full or partial days in a four-week period, or 10 days in six months.” Tran, who had been helping support her family by working two jobs on top of her strenuous schoolwork, was shown no mercy by the court. Unfortunately, Tran’s case is standard operating procedure throughout the United States as more and more states and localities make truancy enforcement a high priority.

In Texas, where schools have taken truancy enforcement to extreme lengths in an effort to qualify for state funds based upon having the highest attendance rates possible, truancy cases ballooned from 85,000 incidents to 120,000 between 2005 and 2009. More truancy cases mean increased profits for truancy courts, which function much like traffic court, and hefty profits for the state. Dallas courts, for example, pull in roughly $2 million from prosecuting 35,000 truancy cases per year. As Deborah Fowler, deputy director of the legal advocacy group Texas Appleseed, has noted, “They’ve developed a whole system in Dallas that has to feed itself to justify its existence.” The targets, of course, are school children and their families.

Unfortunately, these money rackets posing as courts of law are not unique to any one state. In Lebanon, Pennsylvania, the school district filed 8,000 truancy violations between 2005 and 2010, collecting $1.3 million in fines. The district is currently facing a class-action lawsuit from parents subjected to fines far in excess of the $300 limit set out by state law. One plaintiff, single parent Omary Rodriguez-Fuentes, received 29 truancy tickets over three years, totaling almost $7,000. Incredibly, in an attempt to pay off the fines, Rodriguez-Fuentes had to resort to using revenue from his monthly disability checks.

As illustrated by Rodriguez-Fuentes’ case, truancy laws tend to be applied most vigorously against the most defenseless members of society, punishing those who need the most help in continuing their education with little regard for the root causes of absenteeism, which tend to be family problems, financial issues, mental illness, and simply being sick. For example, a judge in Rhode Island threatened a 13-year-old student suffering from sickle-cell anemia and his mother with arrest and jail time. The student had been missing school due to extreme bouts of pain. In fact, he was ordered to attend school on a particular day in February 2010. Once there, however, the school had to call an ambulance because of his critical condition.

Truancy laws have gotten so absurd that adults are even being put in detention facilities for skipping school when they were children. For example, Francisco de Luna, an 18-year-old who racked up $11,000 in truancy fines over the course of five years, was sentenced to 132 days in jail. De Luna’s truancy was related to the death of his father at age 13, at which point his family’s finances and his own mental health faced a steep decline and he ended up dropping out of school.

Elizabeth Diaz, also 18 years old, received 18 days in jail for failure to pay $1,600 in fines imposed on her when she was 14 years old. Diaz’s past truancy was related to health problems—bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia. Diaz was set to graduate on time until she was jailed, at which point the school withdrew her enrollment, causing her to miss exams she was required to take before graduation.

Despite outcry from parents and activist groups alike, strident truancy laws are still being proposed and strengthened in cities across the country. Officials in Washington, DC, are currently debating proposals that would allow Child and Family Services Agency officials to investigate cases of truancy for minors up to the age of 17, a significant expansion of the city’s already extant authority to punish parents and children with fines and jail time.

Living under the threat of zero tolerance policies, tagged and tracked with surveillance devices, and facing exorbitant fines and jail time in cases of truancy, America’s youth are now finding themselves in a protracted battle brought about by those whom they are supposed to trust: teachers, police officers, and courts of law. Tasked with protecting young people, these once-trusted figures and institutions are instead serving the interests of the state, which is less concerned about educating the next generation, and more concerned with encouraging obedience and extracting wealth.

All the while, America continues to find itself ranking the lowest among developed nations in terms of quality of public education. Despite an array of standardized tests meant to boost student performance, young people are not taught higher-level thinking skills, putting them at a distinct disadvantage upon entering college or the workforce. It’s a dire situation made worse by the profit-over-people, total-security mindset that has overtaken our governing institutions and undermined our freedoms. — John W. Whitehead

What we are witnessing, thanks in large part to zero tolerance policies that were intended to make schools safer by discouraging the use of actual drugs and weapons by students, is the criminalization of childish behavior. Most recently, for example, two 6-year-old students at White Marsh Elementary School in Maryland were suspended for using their fingers as imaginary guns in a schoolyard game of  cops and robbers.

The age-old game of cops and robbers is one I played as a child. “I’m gonna get you, robber,” one kid yells, chasing his friend across the playground. The other boy turns and points his finger before racing away. The cops are in hot pursuit. “Bang, bang, you’re dead,” one shouts. “No! Bang, bang, you’re dead!” the other cries, before both melodramatically fall to the ground. Thus goes a game played by boys from time immemorial.

In a new wrinkle on this old game, however, it’s not the cop who gets the bad guy. Now, the game ends when school officials summon real cops–who arrest the kindergartners for engaging in juvenile crime. That happened at a New Jersey school, from which four little boys were suspended for pretending their fingers were guns. At another school, an 8-year-old boy was arrested and charged with terrorism for pointing a paper gun at classmates and announcing, “I’m going to kill you all.” Officials at a California elementary school called police when a little boy was caught playing cops and robbers at recess. The principal told the child’s parents their child was a terrorist. Unwittingly, the principal was right on target: These are acts of terrorism. The culprits here, though, are not overactive schoolchildren; those guilty of terrorizing young children and parents nationwide are school officials who–in an effort to enforce zero tolerance policies against violence, weapons and drugs–have moved our schools into a lockdown mentality.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents, nor are they limited to episodes of cops and robbers.

Nine-year-old Patrick Timoney was sent to the principal’s office and threatened with suspension after school officials discovered that one of his LEGOs was holding a 2-inch toy gun. That particular LEGO, a policeman, was Patrick’s favorite because his father is a retired police officer. David Morales, an 8-year-old Rhode Island student, ran afoul of his school’s zero tolerance policies after he wore a hat to school decorated with an American flag and tiny plastic Army figures in honor of American troops. School officials declared the hat out of bounds because the toy soldiers were carrying miniature guns. A 7-year-old New Jersey boy, described by school officials as “a nice kid” and “a good student,” was reported to the police and charged with possessing an imitation firearm after he brought a toy Nerf-style gun to school. The gun shoots soft ping pong-type balls.

Things have gotten so bad that it doesn’t even take a toy gun to raise the ire of school officials. A high school sophomore was suspended for violating the school’s no-cell-phone policy after he took a call from his father, a master sergeant in the U.S. Army who was serving in Iraq at the time. A 12-year-old New York student was hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. In Houston, an 8th grader was suspended for wearing rosary beads to school in memory of her grandmother (the school has a zero tolerance policy against the rosary, which the school insists can be interpreted as a sign of gang involvement). Six-year-old Cub Scout Zachary Christie was sentenced to 45 days in reform school after bringing a camping utensil to school that can serve as a fork, knife or spoon. And in Oklahoma, school officials suspended a first grader simply for using his hand to simulate a gun.

What these incidents, all the result of overzealous school officials and inflexible zero tolerance policies, make clear is that we have moved into a new paradigm in America where young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike.

Adopted in the wake of Congress’ passage of the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act, which required a one-year expulsion for any child bringing a firearm or bomb to school, school zero tolerance policies were initially intended to address and prevent serious problems involving weapons, violence and drug and alcohol use in the schools. However, since the Columbine school shootings, nervous legislators and school boards have tightened their zero tolerance policies to such an extent that school officials are now empowered to punish all offenses severely, no matter how minor. Hence, an elementary school student is punished in the same way that an adult high school senior is punished. And a student who actually intends to harm others is treated the same as one who breaks the rules accidentally–or is perceived as breaking the rules.

For instance, after students at a Texas school were assigned to write a “scary” Halloween story, one 13-year-old chose to write about shooting up a school. Although he received a passing grade on the story, school officials reported him to the police, resulting in his spending six days in jail before it was determined that no crime had been committed. Equally outrageous was the case in New Jersey where several kindergartners were suspended from school for three days for playing a make-believe game of “cops and robbers” during recess and using their fingers as guns.

With the distinctions between student offenses erased, and all offenses expellable, we now find ourselves in the midst of what Time magazine described as a “national crackdown on Alka-Seltzer.” Indeed, at least 20 children in four states have been suspended from school for possession of the fizzy tablets in violation of zero tolerance drug policies. In some jurisdictions, carrying cough drops, wearing black lipstick or dying your hair blue are actually expellable offenses. Students have also been penalized for such inane “crimes” as bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades. A 13-year-old boy in Manassas, Virginia, who accepted a Certs breath mint from a classmate, was actually suspended and required to attend drug-awareness classes, while a 12-year-old boy who said he brought powdered sugar to school for a science project was charged with a felony for possessing a look-alike drug. Another 12-year-old was handcuffed and jailed after he stomped in a puddle, splashing classmates.

There’s an old axiom that what children learn in school today will be the philosophy of government tomorrow. As surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs and strip searches become the norm in elementary, middle and high schools across the nation, America is on a fast track to raising up an Orwellian generation–one populated by compliant citizens accustomed to living in a police state and who march in lockstep to the dictates of the government. In other words, the schools are teaching our young people how to be obedient subjects in a totalitarian society. — John W. Whitehead