Discipline and Punish, the Panopticon and The War on Kids

In the past few decades certain types of mainstream media outlets have increasingly taken to giving lots of airtimes to intellectuals and politicians who complain incessantly about the rapid degeneration of the social order. One of the claims of these people with respect to the alleged worsening state of the society is that youngsters teenagers and children, are increasingly out of control. It has become increasingly common in the media to refer to youngsters by such epithets as feral children and vermin.

This campaign of malignment of children by rightwing politicians and the media has resulted in ever stricter school regimens for children

The documentary The War on Kids is a look at how public schools have been invested with the task of controlling children through prison-like security measures, increasing use of police, invasive measures such as the installation of hidden cameras, metal detectors and drug sweeps. Children are increasingly been given psychoactive drugs to control them (Soling, 2009).

Precious school resources, which are needed for educational purposes, have been redirected toward the measures to secure the schools and to discipline the students. Education is now no longer the top priority for schools, instead the main focus of schools is to discipline children. Instead of giving children an education, schools are like junior prisons, intended to graduate minor criminals to take their place in adult Prison Industrial Complex. This is especially true in the case of schools in areas where minority groups such as African-Americans are the majority (Monahan  Torres, 2010).

In one of his most influential works Discipline and Punish, Foucault gives a dark view on modern society. Foucault asserts that since the 1830s the dominant paradigm for control and punishment in the society has come from the Panopticon Jeremy Benthams design for a prison where the supervisors have full visibility of the prisoners. The Panopticon has a central tower housing the supervisor and a ringed building consisting of the cells of prisoners. The inner side of the ringed building, the side that faces the tower, is to consist of wide windows affording the supervisor, full visibility into the prisoners cells. Through a combination of architectural design, backlighting and venetian blinds, the prisoners are unable to see the supervisor they are also shut off from each other, each prisoner housed in a solitary cell. The result of this arrangement is that the prisoners never know whether they are being watched or not, but the fear of instant punishment makes them assume that they are being watched. After some time the discipline the prison authorities wish to impose on the prisoners becomes internalized such that even if there is no supervisor, the prisoners continue to behave in ways that they are required to behave in (Foucault, 1995).

Foucault accepts the design of the Panopticon was in itself not widely popular, but adopts it as a symbol of a new hegemonic type of authority. The paradigm of panopticism is the internalization of discipline, people are no longer punished for acts that they commit, after they commit them, rather the regime in place serves to make the prisoners reject the very thought of rebellion against the rules and regulations as futile (Hilfer, 2003 Gane, 1986).

This paradigm is increasingly being applied to todays children. Invasion of childrens privacy with such things as hidden cameras, drug checks, locker searches, backpack searches and body searches offer obvious similarities with the world of the prison (Giroux, 2009). These searches are often challenged as being violations of childrens rights to privacy as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the constitution which states that

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized (U. S. Constitution) (Stimson, 2004)

However in the media charged, hysterically anti-children political atmosphere of today, courts rulings on the issue suggest that children should expect to have no right to privacy whatsoever. In 1984, two fourteen year old girls were caught smoking in the school lavatory. They were then taken to the Assistant vice principals office where in a search, the marijuana and marijuana related paraphernalia, a considerable amount of money and a list of students along with the amount of money they owed, was discovered. These and other things were used to implicate the student in a marijuana dealing charge in juvenile court. The defense rested on the initial search being unlawful since it was undertaken without warrant, but the court upheld the right of school administrators to undertake searches of the students belongings without a warrant and based merely upon a reasonable suspicion (New Jersey v. T. L. O., 1985).

Aside from the basic issue of the lack of privacy, the Panopticon paradigm is employed in even more insidious ways in the education system. The Panopticons purpose of instilling discipline in the inmates and extending the prison authorities control to the very minds of the prisoners is being accomplished in a slightly different manner by todays schools. Doctors have regularly been prescribing children psychoactive medication to children for mild behavioral problems that in the past would have warranted no more than a couple of spanks and being sent off to bed without supper. In many states, the influential pharmaceutical industry has managed to make it a crime for parents not to give their children psychoactive medication In the words of congressional representative Dr. Ron Paul (R - TX)
Psychotropic drugs are increasingly prescribed for children who show nothing more than childrens typical rambunctious behavior. Many children have suffered harmful effects from these drugs yet some parents have been charged with child abuse for refusing to drug their children (Cooper, 2006).

Children are increasingly being medicated with psychoactive medication and monitored with hidden cameras and metal detectors in schools. Today, schools resemble prisons more than ever this represents a type of hegemonic thinking on the part of authorities that started in the early 19th century.


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