by Randolph T. Holhut
the year since the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., we've seen our nation's schools transformed.
Armed police officers roaming the hallways. Kids wearing photo ID cards. Video surveillance cameras. Limiting public access to school buildings. And, most of all, a new set of "zero-tolerance" behavior policies that are creating a whole generation of kids afraid to speak, act, dress or think differently from the approved norm.
Kids are now being encouraged to turn in their classmates at the slightest sign of trouble. As a result, we're seeing things that were once considered no big deal be turned into suspendable, and even criminal, offenses. Even worse, we're also seeing corporations exploiting the fears of school administrators for profit.
A new anti-violence program started earlier this year in North Carolina is starting to make its way through our nation's public schools. It's called WAVE (Working Against Violence Everywhere). It was developed by Pinkerton Services Group, a division of Pinkerton's Inc., the international security company. And its main purpose is to teach kids how to rat out their friends and get rewards for doing so.
The motives behind WAVE were exposed late last month by three non-mainstream news sources: a Internet newspaper, WorldNetDaily; a computer site, slashdot.org and a muckraking newsletter, CounterPunch. It has yet to get much attention in the corporate press, but the details of this program will make you ill.
The centerpiece of WAVE is an anonymous toll-free tip number staffed by Pinkerton-trained personnel. Students, parents and teachers are encouraged to call in to report "dangerous" behavior. These tips are then passed on to the appropriate authorities.
But the definition of "dangerous" is a slippery one. Some of "warning signs" listed on the WAVE cards handed out to students are obvious -- such as "weapons at school," "detailed threats of lethal violence" or "severe rage for seemingly minor reasons."
But other "warning signs" listed on the card include "social withdrawal," "feelings of being picked on and made fun of," "low school interest and poor academic performance" and "expression of violence in writings and drawings." In other words, routine adolescent behavior.
You can quickly imagine how WAVE can be misused with criteria such as these. If you're a high schooler who doesn't like one of your classmates because he or she is geeky or different, one phone call to the WAVE hotline can take care of everything. And you'll even get a reward for doing it.
And if you are the poor soul who gets ratted on, heaven help you because no one else will. Since schools operate under the notion that students have no Constitutional rights, you will not be accorded the legal elements of due process that most adults take for granted. You will be automatically presumed guilty. You will have no right to know the charges lodged against you or who made them. You will have no right of appeal.
Worst of all, one of the largest private security companies in the world -- a company that routinely does background checks on prospective employees for many major corporations -- will have your name on an electronic database of alleged troublemakers.
Words like "Orwellian" and unconstitutional doesn't even begin to describe WAVE. This is a frightening program that exploits kids for a profit-making corporation selling its services to spineless and fearful adults. And it is totally unnecessary.
In all the hysteria over "youth violence" that we've seen and heard over the past year, a few important facts have been overlooked. Youth violence in the U.S., according to FBI statistics, is at its lowest level in more than 50 years. Less than one percent of all murders in this country occur on school property, and less than three percent of child murders are committed by other children. Children are far more likely to be killed at home by a parent or guardian than they are by other kids.
Despite the hard numbers that say "youth violence" is not an epidemic, it now is considered reasonable and necessary to suspend or force into psychiatric counseling any kid who is angry, depressed or alienated from a nation that talks about caring for kids while doing everything it can to criminalize adolescent behavior.
Worse still, it is considered reasonable and necessary to create an anonymous and secret surveillance network of schoolchildren that are being rewarded for snitch their peers. And in a society where accusations are considered proof of guilt, the lives of kids who committed no crime other than being different are going to be destroyed.
April 17, 2000 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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