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Friday, September 18, 2015

Dear Principal: Stop Turning Our Schools into Prisons

We don't need cops and security cameras in school


Here is a letter I wrote to principal of my son’s high school:

Dear Principal _____,

Thank you for requesting feedback about the installation of interior cameras at the high school. I am against the use of cameras.

I visited the school recently to pick up my son and it was like visiting a prison. A police car often sits outside the school and upon entry a security guard directs visitors to the main office where the visitor’s drivers license is scanned and information including date of birth is collected (is this information checked against other records and kept in a database for future reference? It’s unclear).

The visitor is then photographed and issued a photo pass. I found the experience oppressive. Adding cameras will only add to the prison-like atmosphere. The response, of course, will be that these measures are necessary for “safety.” As with security measures at the airports, I doubt that these measures increase actual safety, instead they are security theater, a play that we put on that looks like security but really is not.

Moreover, the truth is that American children have never been safer than they are today. Overall youth mortality (ages 5-14) has fallen from 60 per 100,000 in 1950 to 13.1 per 100,000 today (CDC, Vital Statistics).

Yet we hide in gated communities, homes and schools as never before.

When we surround our students with security we are implicitly telling them that the world is dangerous; we are whispering in their ear, “be afraid, do not venture out, take no risks.”

When going to school requires police, security guards, and cameras, how can I encourage my child to travel to foreign countries, to seek new experiences, to meet people of different faiths, beliefs and backgrounds? When my child leaves school how will the atmosphere of fear that he has grown up in affect his view of the world and the choices he will make as a citizen in our democracy?

School teaches more than words in books.

Yours sincerely,

Alex Tabarrok

This letter was published at Marginal Revolution.


  • Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen.