Big Brother goes to college

Shane Wade
Opinion Editor

Imagine if Michael Rao was watching you Instagram the overpriced Starbucks you brought with you to your “Energy!” class.

In an interview last week with Campus Reform, a conservative website for college students, Grover Norquist expressed an opinion in favor of such a program. In the interview, he endorsed placing cameras in classrooms to watch and record teachers and students.

For reference, Norquist is the current president of taxpayer advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform and the virulent anti-tax proponent that got more than 1,000 state legislators, 39 Senators and 219 House members to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a commitment to oppose any attempt to raise federal taxes.

The idea isn’t completely unheard of; in October 2012, Indiana University’s School of Business installed security cameras in classrooms in order to catch and deter cheating on exams.

It’s a compelling argument for a conservative figurehead, particularly when discussing state institutions. State residents pay into state education, so it’s not entirely unreasonable that they should receive some benefits from that payout. Teachers would conduct classes in a more stringent manner if they thought they were being evaluated by unseen arbiters. Students would, likewise, be more attentive to their work and less inclined to deviate.

But the idea’s also wracked with problems.

For one, there’s the high operational cost of installing and maintaining the cameras, as well as personnel to operate the equipment. A quick Google search shows basic surveillance camera systems costing anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000. Such a plan might also violate some of the guidelines in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or other privacy laws.

Monitoring students, whether it be in K-12 education or university classes, is incompatible with the philosophical standards we hold about education. This kind of oversight, particularly from an unseen viewer, doesn’t help facilitate a healthy, open learning environment.

In introducing a larger population to effectively spy on a classroom, we risk encouraging students that are already stifled with constant contact with people, whether it be through social media or other forms of media, to be more restrictive and censored in their expression. The freedom of expression that built this country is hindered by lurking watchers.

While it may seem that, on principal, taxpayers should obtain some benefits from the public institutions they’re funding, there’s a number of indirect ways taxpayers reap those benefits, including institutional research and minor economic bonuses. It’s troublesome, but not every public resource you pay into has practical applications.

I hope this idea is not indicative of the conservative ethos when it comes to public education or education reform.

Besides being a government overreach and a cost venture, it doesn’t address any of the critical issues we’re currently facing.

The fact that a hardline conservative like Norquist is making Orwellian policy suggestions that clearly violatew civil liberties should alarm citizens to the state of our politics and the extent of our systemic desperation.

Unfortunately, America’s education crisis will continually go underreported by the conservative media outlets, who instead focus on the perceived liberal bias in education and decreasing the Department of Education’s power over school systems.

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