There is currently a row about RFID student ID cards amongst religions types and civil libertarians. They claim that this is a violation of a student’s “right of privacy” in the schools because the schools are “tracking students” using these cards.
There is only one problem with such a claim: there is no right of privacy in a school. It is a public place, and inherently non-private, with the exception of toilet stalls and administrators’ offices and the student records contained therein. Furthermore, schools have a duty, under law, to act in loco parentis when it comes to making sure that students are behaving appropriately, aren’t wandering off, and aren’t exposed to non-students coming onto campus and conducting illegal activities. If a student is harmed due to school personnel not keeping track of who is where doing what, then the school will be sued under those laws for not performing its in loco parentis duties with respect to the student.
Furthermore, the fact of the matter is that schools have tracked their students’ location since the time of the Pilgrims. Except that schools back then were small, so teachers knew all the students by sight, so they could keep track of the students simply by knowing who they were and where they were supposed to be. But Americans apparently don’t want to pay for small schools like that. They keep cutting back on education, forcing school districts to glop students into larger and larger schools that are cheaper to operate on a per-pupil basis, and so today’s schools are so huge that teachers can’t possibly know every student that attends them. Thus the RFID cards, which are just a technological extension of teachers’ memories in those old small schools, not something new under the sun.
The reality is that RFID cards simply don’t do anything that wasn’t done 50 years ago by the simple expedient of having schools with 400 students rather than 4,000 students. A student arrives at the lunch line, waves his RFID card at the cash register, and his lunch account is debited (or the free lunch count is incremented), in much the same way that 50 years ago the lunch lady knew who was paid up for the month and who was free lunch. Except now the RFID card is substituting for the lunch lady’s memory because there’s 4,000 students rather than 400 students. A student walks up to the front door and walks through a metal-detector-like contraption, waving his RFID card at it as the principal looks on, and the contraption beeps green saying he’s a student and isn’t suspended or expelled. Well, 50 years ago, the principal knew every student and if a non-student tried to come on campus or if a suspended or expelled student tried to come on campus, he would stop them. But that was when schools had 400 students and he could memorize every student. With 4,000 students? Forget it.
So what’s the difference between the RFID card in the school with 4,000 students, and the principal’s memory in the school with 400 students? None. Zero. All that the RFID card does is provide computer enhancement for feeble human memory… which is hardly the sort of dystopian “OMFG they’re tracking us everywhere!” silliness that the civil libertarian and religious nutcakes insist is happening.
But hey, I’m speaking common sense about the realities of managing schools with 4,000 students, instead of behaving like a knee-jerk zealot. So clearly I must be daft or something, right? Right?!
– Badtux the Snarky Penguin