Do high schools manufacture students or prisoners? The Columbine High School
shootings in Littleton, Colorado pressed into the minds of Americans that the
presence of violence in our high schools is real, and if not dealt with
effectively, will continue to plague the secondary school system. As a
result, school administrators increased measures of safety at their
respective schools, mainly in urban areas. These measures include, but are
not limited to, metal detectors, surveillance cameras and security
School officials feel that safety measures such as these will reduce the
potential and fear of violence among high school students. ...view middle of the document...
Garfield High School in East Los Angeles is either the second or third
largest high school in the country; at any given time, the school population
is between 4,400 to 4,600 students. I visited Garfield High School to better
understand how safety measures are being implemented on high school campuses..
An analysis of this observation and theoretical perspectives from Pedro
Noguera, Michel Foucault and George Herbert Mead are used to interpret safety
measures, and make alternative suggestions for preventing violence.
It has always been a priority for educators to control students.
Historically, Noguera (1995) believes that educators, since the late
nineteenth century, have been agents of social control. However, when social
and cultural change in the 1960's transpired, the educator's role of control
agent began to change. Amidst this change was the acceptance that less
control would be in the best interest of educators and students alike. Over
the past 35 years, school officials have dealt with the problem of violence
in schools, but the criminal acts committed of late have stunned both school
officials and society, which has prompted school officials to take extreme
violence prevention measures. Is this a resurgence in the role of educators
from the late nineteenth century, "when public schools were profoundly
influenced by the prevailing conception of the asylum" (Noguera 1995)?
Foucault's theory of panopticism will shed some light on this resurgence of
control, and the effect it could have on students.
In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Michel Foucault describes
the workings of Jeremy Bentham's panopticon, an architectural design that
permits a centralized guard to monitor all of an institution's inmates.
Foucault explains that the ultimate goal is for an inmate to internalize the
mechanism of surveillance established by the building. As a laboratory,
"this machine can be used to carry out experiments, to alter behavior and to
train individuals" (Foucault, 1975). From an educational perspective, the
concept of panopticism defines power relations through prison-like mechanisms
used to prevent violence.
Post Columbine, high school administrations are exercising their power by
adjusting existing safety policies or developing new ones. Safety measures
like metal detectors, surveillance cameras and security personnel are
measures that, if school officials are not careful with their implementation,
might be misinterpreted by high school students. George Herbert Mead is a
social psychologist whose work describes language as communication through
"significant symbols." Significant symbols are a set of responses between
individuals about an idea or object, which initiate an action. That is, if a
metal detector or...