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.”
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.