Changes I Can’t Believe In

Frequent America’s Right commenter Michelle Zhang has a unique perspective on the laptop-spying story, as she attended high school in the district where the secret webcam surveillance took place. In her first piece for America’s Right, Michelle discusses her reaction to the unfolding story. I speak for all of us here in welcoming Michelle to the AR family.  — Robert

I can remember a week ago turning on my computer, booting up Firefox, and instinctively clicking on my America’s Right feed. The top post on my feed read Lawsuit: PA School District Using School-Issued Laptop Webcams to Spy on Students”.

The first thought that came to my mind, knowing the area in which I grew up, was “what is the Philadelphia School District doing now?” Upon opening the post, however, my eyes moved directly to the picture. Then it dawned on me: Jeff was writing about my school district, and something inside me sank.

This was the school district that raised me up from the 3rd grade all the way up to my graduation from Lower Merion High School.

After a few minutes I began to wonder — how could a township so chock-full of rich kids with lawyer parents let such a thing happen? How come no one stopped to think that this may not have been a good idea in the first place, or that they simply went too far?

Thinking back, I remember in school when we would use the old iMac computers, and how teachers even then had the ability to hijack our mouse pointers remotely and close any programs they believed we weren’t supposed to be using. This happened regularly, too, whenever someone decided they wanted to play games instead of do their work. Back then, the teacher even had the power to remotely shut down the computer.

In 2005, my last year at Lower Merion High School, the school district started the new MacBook program. They had MacBooks in almost every classroom and we were expected to use them to do some of our assignments in class. The year after I graduated, they started to block off Web sites they deemed unacceptable. Then, finally, they rolled out the one-to-one laptop initiative, through which every student was issued a laptop.

According to some students, they are required to use these school-provided laptops; bringing in your own computer was against the rules and personal laptop computers were subject to confiscation. Year after year, the school sought to tighten its control on the students, a pattern of behavior which all lead up to the current allegations — that the school district was using these laptops to spy on students within their own homes.

Now, the school claims that it only uses the remote access to help find stolen or lost laptops, but allegedly it was used once to reprimand a student for alleged drug use. In my anger and in my curiosity, I wondered what my friends and what current students thought about the whole situation. So, I asked.

Naturally, most people were angry, if not shocked and annoyed. As my night went on I was going to conclude that no one liked the idea of the school spying on students, but then I came across one student defending the school. He told me that “the school has a right to monitor their property,” that “the laptops belonged to them,” and therefore school district officials “are allowed to do whatever they want with it, including putting surveillance on it.”

At that point, my own father–a very conservative man, mind you–said to me: “What are these people thinking?” Only, he wasn’t talking about district officials, but rather the student and his parents pursuing the school district in court.  Instead, it was: “What are these people thinking, going after the schools like that?” So, I decided to probe him a little. I asked him whether or not he thought the school had the right to monitor its students and, to that, he said that “the school has a right to catch a kid doing drugs.”

Norman Thomas, American Socialist

Immediately a famous quote, often attributed to American Socialist Norman Mattoon Thomas, came to my mind.

“The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism,” Thomas wrote. “But under the name of liberalism they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.”

Liberalism teaches us that we can’t be responsible to take care of ourselves. That just like a school spying on its students from outside the confines of the building, we need the government to watch us and dictate to us what we can and can not do.

And many of us let them.

Why? Because too many of us need them to make sure we are doing the right thing. To coddle us from cradle to grave. We cannot be expected to take care of ourselves. To learn from our mistakes. It’s like learning to ride a bike, except instead of gradually taking away the training wheels and letting go of our seats, the government believes we need to be further strapped in, have more wheels applied, and maintain a whole congress of people holding on to make sure we don’t fall, to make sure we don’t make a mistake, to ride the bike for us.

When will the government let us fall from that seat? When will it let us learn that sometimes a few scrapes and bumps and bruises and maybe even a trip to the hospital or two (or three) is sometimes needed in order for us to be able to take that bike out and ride it ourselves?

Are we going to stand up for our right to try and to fail and to learn and to prosper, or are we going to be complacent and allow our freedoms to be taken away bit by bit, just like the students and parents in the Lower Merion School District allowed the school administration do to them?

Michelle Ye Zhang is an almost 23-year-young Chinese-American whose first lesson in self-reliance happened at age three when she hopped on a plane from Beijing, China to New York, New York all alone, surrounded by strange people, with just a passport, a box of crackers, and two cans of Sprite.



  1. Gail B. says:

    The headline made me think this was going to be about The Cybersecurity Enhancement Act, H.R. 4061, which will give government control over the Internet and which will provide scholarships in the field for people to obligate themselves to work for the government.

    We have a lot of fighting to do between now and November!

    The words attributed to Norman Mattoon Thomas (which Michelle quoted) ring sickeningly true, both in her school district and across this nation that the Progressives want so badly to crush.

    After I finished up the pipe work yesterday, someone from high school asked me if I have a plumbing license. I don’t need one; I have water. The government doesn’t provide my water; the government doesn’t provide my pipes. So, what business is it of the government if I do my own plumbing? I did it according to Code.

    There are laws upon laws that regulate more and more of our lives, and I was really surprised at Michelle’s father’s comment, “the school has a right to catch a kid doing drugs.” If that is the case, then the schools have become law enforcement agencies off campus.

    There is an email going around saying that people receiving government checks and welfare benefits should have to subject themselves to a urine test in order to be eligible to receive them because the people working to provide those benefits have to pass a urine test in order to work.

    Come on, snow! Aim for D.C. again. You’re doing very well this winter by shutting Congress down!

    Michelle, that was a great piece, and you are a smart cookie!

  2. John Feeny says:

    Well done, Michelle. As a high school administrator who knows his place and right from wrong, I can honestly say that I wish we had more students (actually, a lot more) like you who could see more clearly the troubles into which they’re leading themselves.

    Go get ‘em.

  3. Michelle Zhang says:

    I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge what Thinking Meat has said and explain the quote I used.

    I knew from the beginning that this quote wasn’t verified and there’s no way to really verify it. I’m a fairly obsessive checker. I do know that it is largely attributed to Mr. Thomas and that is why I stated as such. I was going to explain a little more that this is indeed an unverified quote, however I felt that would distract from the overall piece.

    In the future I will try to be as clear and precise as possible.

  4. Boston Blackie says:

    Well done, Michelle. I can only hope and pray that my own daughter can soon see the government’s intrusion as you do. Thankfully, she is coming out of the dark and has buyer’s remorse for her vote for that empty suit residing at 1600 Penn Ave. You should be very proud of your first official contribution to AR. Sometime in the future I for one want to hear the story behind your first lesson in self-reliance. Most adults wouldn’t attempt that let alone a three year old!!
    Hey Gail -
    You go girl, Plumbing and everything, what next!!
    Here is mASSachusetts, the government DOES provide our water. Or at least that’s their excuse for billing me for water and sewer to the tune of over $200 per month. Another reason to get the heck out of this place soon.

  5. Jeff Schreiber says:

    It’s also my fault. In running through the piece before it was published, I broke up the quote into a separate paragraph and added a “…,’ Thomas wrote. ‘…” to it. My fault for not being more specific.

    As for Thinking Meat, if this is all he has to complain about this time, I guess we did nicely. Apparently, Meat is not concerned at all about the realities and possibilities of the Lower Merion issue. That’s okay, though — after all, it’s meat … and it thinks.

  6. Gail B. says:

    An attitude of gratitude:

    I assume that everyone here realizes how fortunate we are to have the America’s Right site available to us…? Okay.

    Do we also realize how fortunate we are that Jeff will shave off minutes of his valuable time to respond to our individual questions and concerns?

    The writers here at AR are absolutely brilliant–and even specialize in various fields and cover a range of perspectives by way of age differences in the writers.

    I’m grateful for the folks who leave comments, too. I learn a great deal from you guys and gals.

    And, Boston Blackie, now I laugh at the $160 water bill and thank the Lord for my $22.50/month! I spent most of the day washing clothes, dishes, bathrooms, and kitchen floor! I am grateful that the pipes don’t leak and that the water didn’t get muddy!

  7. Ian Thorpe says:

    America has a strange definition of Liberalism, Michelle. Liberals believe in individual freedom, self determination,free but firmly regulated markets to prevent the kind of liberty taking that brought down the financial system.

    The people who call themselves Liberals over there now are in fact authoritarians, what we call in Britain The Nanny State. They justify their control freakery and desire to manage the minutiae of our lives by a masque of being caring intellectuals.

    Unfortunately they are not very bright. If they were they’d have a better understanding of human nature and the ways our societies work.


  1. [...] It seems that Widdle Jeffie Schreiber, he of the unstainable “reputation”, has been giving lessons in being an ignorant tool. Behold Michelle Zhang, one of Schreiber’s groupies. Trying to support her thesis that the recent case of a school district spying on its students via laptop webcams must be an outgrowth of liberal philosophy, Zhang babbles: [...]

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