John Whitehead's Commentary
The Final Nail in the Coffin: The Death of Freedom in Our Schools
“Men fight for liberty and win it with hard knocks. Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools. And their grandchildren are once more slaves.”―D.H. Lawrence
No matter what your perspective on the showdown between locals and law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri, there can be no disputing the fact that “local” police should not be looking or acting like branches of the military.
Unfortunately, in the police state that is America today, we’re going to find ourselves revisiting Ferguson over and over again. Every time an unarmed citizen gets shot by a police officer who is armed to the hilt, or inclined to shoot first and ask questions later, or so concerned about their own safety, to the exclusion of all else, that everything becomes a potential threat, we’ll find ourselves back in Ferguson territory again.
Here’s the thing, though: whether or not it ever gets reported, whether it incites any protests or marches or showdowns of epic proportions, whether it elicits any outrage on the part of the citizenry, Ferguson is already happening over and over again, all around us.
It’s happening in small towns and big cities alike every time a citizen gets stopped and frisked for no better reason than they “look” suspicious. It’s happening on the nation’s highways and byways, where corporate greed disguised as road safety is making a hefty profit off of drivers who have the misfortune of passing a red light camera or a speed camera or a license plate reader. It’s happening in the privately run jails, which are teeming with prisoners doing time for nonviolent crimes that should have landed them with a slap on the wrist and a fine instead of hard time and forced labor.
It’s happening in our airports and train stations and shopping malls, where menacing squads of black-garbed, jack-booted, up-armored soldiers disguised as law enforcement officials are subjecting Americans to roving security checkpoints, allegedly in the pursuit of terrorists. And it’s happening in the schools, where the school-to-prison pipeline is fully operational and busy churning out newly minted citizens of the American police state who have been taught the hard way what it means to comply and march in lockstep with the government’s dictates.
Young Alex Stone didn’t even make it past the first week of school before he became a victim of the police state. Directed by his teacher to do a creative writing assignment involving a series of fictional Facebook statuses, Stone wrote, “I killed my neighbor's pet dinosaur. I bought the gun to take care of the business.” Despite the fact that dinosaurs are extinct, the status fabricated, and the South Carolina student was merely following orders, his teacher reported him to school administrators, who in turn called the police.
What followed is par for the course in schools today: students were locked down in their classrooms while armed police searched the 16-year-old’s locker and bookbag, handcuffed him, charged him with disorderly conduct disturbing the school, arrested him, detained him, and then he was suspended from school. Stone’s mother was never alerted to the school’s concerns about her son’s creative writing assignment or his subsequent interrogation and arrest.
Keshana Wilson, a 14-year-old student at a Pennsylvania high school, was tasered in the groin by a police officer working as a school resource officer, allegedly because she resisted arrest for cursing, inciting a crowd of students, and walking on the highway. One might be hard pressed to find a teenager not guilty of one or the other at any given time. Nevertheless, the tasering came after the officer grabbed the teenager from behind and pushed her up against a car, without identifying himself as a police officer. “The teenager had to be taken to hospital to have the taser probes removed before she was arrested and charged with aggravated assault on the officer, simple assault, riot, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, failure to disperse and walking on the highway,” noted one reporter.
Rounding out the lesson in compliance, police officers who patrol schools in Compton, Calif., are now authorized to buy semi-automatic AR-15 rifles and carry them in their patrol car trunks while on duty—a practice that is becoming increasingly common, according to Joe Grubbs, president of the California Association of School Resource Officers. A few states away, in Missouri, a new state law actually requires that all school districts participate in live-action school shooting drills, including realistic gunfire, students covered in fake blood, and bodies strewn throughout the hallways.
Now these incidents may seem light years away from the all-too-grim reality of the events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri, but they are, in fact, mere stops along the way to the American police state, and parents with kids returning to school would do well to consider these incidents fair warning, because today’s public schools have become 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, senseless arrests, jail time, 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.
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.
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 not only create a generation of test-takers capable of little else, but it will also constitute massive data collection on virtually every aspect of our children’s lives which will be accessed by government agents and their corporate allies.
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.
As problematic as all of these programs are, however, what’s really unnerving are the similarities between the American system of public education and that of totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany, with their overt campaigns of educational indoctrination. And while those who run America’s schools may not be deliberately attempting to raise up a generation of Hitler Youth, they 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.’”
In the face of such a mechanized, bureaucratic school system that demands conformity, indoctrinating and enslaving their minds while punishing anyone who dares step out of line, American school children are indeed powerless. And they will remain helpless, powerless and in bondage to the police state unless “we the people” take the steps to set them free.