If you touch a Chattanoogan on the forearm, you will feel heat. Blood runs through his veins. But the blood is cool. Its vigor is less than his forebears’ in 1861. There’s a bit of a pallor on the man’s face. He doesn’t speak loudly any more. He is rarely excited. He’s overweight.
Chattanoogans are members of a once-free people of Tennessee, the volunteer state. They retain in their memory wisps of their old independence. If it is actionable, they express it in the vigorous use of dollar bills to buy high-calorie snacks, of ink pens to sign mortgages for new cars and of plastic to propel the lunch tab into the next billing cycle.
Their general assembly is meeting in Nashville to secure the bodily safety of people in state school classrooms who daily face the post-modern menace of the hateless, methodical massacre such as that at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Best solution to moral crisis: Red tape
Apart from the political din against the rights of citizens to own firearms, there proceeds against this free people another phenomenon. It is a tide of security procedure that is a partial solution to the massacre threat, but soullessly administrative and deadening. A bill has been offered to extend grants of authority for teachers to be armed on the job.
One evil effect: it inspires further alienation, in the breast of the angry, publicly narcotized youth — hostility. In the souls of the innocent, harmless classmate, another iffy effect: subservience.
Police and surveillance already are routine. School Resource Officers, hired to stop a bloodbath, serve to teach children that police are part of daily life. An SRO’s investigatory remarks or questions to a pupil are not to be warded off by any claim under the constitution’s ban of unreasonable search and seizure. The citizen is too young to know of such rights and to be circumspect. Cooperation is the name of the game. Open-faced cheerfulness. Complicity. With such officers, search and seizure are unending operations, and the student is required to cooperate. One is friendly, never stands on one’s rights. Is an incriminating statement on the tip of the tongue? Out it goes. On the roadside under the flashed blue lights or in the cheerfully decorated school hallway, the dropped remark always gives “probable cause” for detention and a vehicle search. No oath-based written warrant from a judge because one’s own lips have testified against one’s self, creating the necessary pretext for search and seizure.
“Starting Monday, parents at Griffith Elementary must display special passes on their windshields to drop off or pick up students in cars,” according to a newspaper report. “Without a placard, parents will have to go inside the building and show credentials to pick up their children. The school also no longer will allow parents beyond the front lobby without prior approval.” In Sequatchie County, school bosses want to add an armed guard and redesign entrances to impose barriers between the front office and lobby area and the rest of the school. All around the state school systems have entered an arms race with no end in sight to obtain security.
What happens to the souls?
Parents who patronize the state school start by accepting the most trivial form of school security — the daily roll call. Beyond that, they subject sons and daughters to “the domestication of individuality,” as Burkhardt (in 1943) puts it. How deep does this caressing by the state go?
Cindy Rollins, a homeschooling mother who runs a noted blog on education, tells me about the peril to the soul of the regimented world of school. She says the educational factory damages its inmates’ spirits. We have become a heedless people, she says; we need a hovering form of supervision.
“You get kind of a police state, really, where you get more and more restrictions on behavior, and more and more outside oversight because you don’t have any kind of internal oversight going on.” American parents’ dilemma is spiritual, and no amount of security will solve the underlying problem, says Mrs. Rollins, who with her husband, Tim, has raised eight sons and a daughter.
As a people, we are unable to “go back four or five steps to what the real problem is, which is, there is no moral absolute in our society — and there is no God.”
Is surveillance injurious to students? “Definitely. You have to ask what it makes them think about personal responsibility. Does it say to them, ‘I don’t have to worry about myself because somebody else is always there to take care of me’? Or is it making them say, ‘I can’t do a bad thing because there is always somebody watching me’? Either one of those things would be damaging because neither of them include any self-government, where there is a reason to do good, and it’s not an outward reason, it’s an inward reason. It’s the moral code of God.”
Mrs. Rollins says hedges of external control do nothing “to promote from the inside good behavior” that now is “extracted” by regulation. Of the children in the Times Free Press Page 1 photo, there is no “flourishing of the human spirit, but the death of the human spirit.”
I propose that in eternal lockdown there is nothing relational about the people’s lives in a given facility. All is administration; all is rule. You’re the teacher, you’re the SRO, you’re the student: Here are the rules. To get home you have to follow these protocols as outlined in the official safety plan. There is an exchange of custody. The mom has the proper certificate, and she presents it; she obtains her property according to legal chain of custody rules. Law is a wonderful thing. But law enforcement is also a deadening thing. Law enforcement is against poetry, it’s against literature, its against genius, it’s against the divine wit that some people have which means that they cannot be in a school without going insane. Administration is against deviation, humor, against practical jokes. It is intolerant of variation or hand-made solutions. It is against invention and fieldcraft.
We know the indominatable human spirit that survives the public school, even prospers in it. Many smart people emerge from it annoyed, but not fundamentally injured. But what about the common person, the average person — like me? How badly have I been damaged by the education-industrial complex? What about that boy of yours? That girl?
Do we have an alternative?
“Schools beefing up security[;] Some adding armed officers; Sequatchie also redesigning entrances, modifying policies,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, Jan. 6, 2013
J. Burkhardt, Force and Freedom (New York: Pantheon Books, 1943), p. 149.