A high school in CT recently made the news because they decided to conduct a full blown search for any and all drugs, with sniffing dogs, and the works. A few students were caught possessing drug or drug paraphernalia. A great many just watched as their lockers and cars were searched and their personal space was violated. Some parents were outraged at how the school decided to conduct the search. Others supported it wholeheartedly. Teachers were told that they could not speak to students about the incident before or after it took place. What made the situation particularly newsworthy was that this search took place not at an inner city, urban, security guards at the door type school. It took place in a rural turned suburban district.
The minute I heard this story I thought about something that may sound not at all related, but that none the less seemed to fit. I’ve been reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman, and in this book he talks about the major shift in security that took place at several U.S. consulates after 9/11. In particular he describes his amazement at the changes made to the consulate in Istanbul. What was once a very welcoming place at the center of the city, has become quite the opposite. It was moved out of town, built with fortified walls and guard towers, and made to look like a prison. In particular I like how he describes this new embassy, he writes, “All that was missing was a moat filled with alligators and a sign that said in big red letters: ATTENTION! You are now approaching the U.S. consulate in Istanbul. Any sudden movements and you will be shot without warning. ALL VISITORS WELCOME.” I found this sentence very funny, in fact I laughed out loud when I read it. How can you possibly feel welcome or safe going there?
And this is why I think these two seemingly opposite situations fit together. Schools are shifting focus the same way consulates are shifting focus. Though these may have, at one time, been places where people (students) felt welcomed, trusted, secure, and part of the overall community, those things have suddenly changed.
In terms of the school community, those parents and school administrators who were for the search mission noted that parents and students should now feel more secure knowing that drugs have been wiped out of the school, that students will be more hesitant to bring drugs to school, and that those who do bring drugs to school will face major consequences. Fine. In the process, here is the message to the many hundreds of innocent students who were searched. We do not trust students at this school. We will not ask for your input on the drug activity we have been noticing. We will violate your privacy if and when it is deemed convenient by us. You may not speak with the teachers and other adults in the building about what’s happened. Oh, and by the way, if you have a drug problem, as long as you don’t bring anything to school, you’re fine. It’s a matter of making sure that the building itself is safe and secure, not that the actual people in the building feel welcome and cared for.
So all that is missing is a sign at the door saying: Attention: you are entering the school building. Your privacy will be violated at our convenience. Your freedoms will be taken at the door. ALL STUDENTS ARE WELCOME. Who in the world would feel welcome or safe?