As you may know, the Mississippi legislature has been in session since early this month. With the state in optimal financial position relative to past years, you’d think the senators and congressmen alike would have their hands’ full divvying up the $3.9 billion surplus.
In true politician fashion, valuable time has been wasted with the introduction of vanity bills. Bills that serve little to no practical purpose. Bills that would do much more harm than good. The one that really caught my attention was house bill 278. HB-278 proposes installing cameras and surveillance equipment in Mississippi classrooms. Perhaps, the law could be justified for safety purposes. For various reasons (guns), classrooms have become increasingly dangerous. Instead, the listed reasoning for the bill is for districts “to monitor classroom instruction, to monitor classroom interactions, and teacher observation.” A red flag shoots up.
My question is why. Why do classroom lectures need to be recorded and potentially reviewed? Why do classrooms need twenty-four-hour real-time observation? That sounds like a nightmare for teachers, students, and districts. Surveillance would make students hyper-aware of what they’re saying, which isn’t exactly ideal for a learning environment. Not because high school students are spewing dangerous rhetoric, but because they are self-conscious kids who don’t want to be embarrassed. If anything at all, this would silence what should be an empowering setting. It’s important to mention that the verbiage in the bill makes it difficult to access the footage. With that being said, the physical presence of a surveillance camera will undoubtedly alter classroom behavior.
For teachers, I’d be concerned about saying the wrong thing and potentially facing punishment. Even though the bill does not list repercussions, it does suggest that in appropriate contexts insubordination will be viewed and dealt with on a district level. Then, each district will have to define insubordination because the bill does not. This differing and vague definition could suppress teachers’ personalities, and makes classrooms less like a think-tank and more like a prison cell.
For districts, I’d be stressed. The bill states that districts are tasked with contracting companies to install and maintain the surveillance system, and district staff will be responsible for reviewing the footage.
For taxpayers, I’d be confused. There are a million things that have precedence over this pseudo-issue: the water crisis, the lack of hospitals, the struggling healthcare system and the education overhaul, to name a few.
Monitored education is something we usually liken to Russia, China or North Korea. It’s a totalitarian policy that seems foreign through our red, white, and blue tinted glasses. Evidently, it’s much closer to home than we think.
The thing is, HB-278 has gained little to no traction and wasn’t a pressing topic to begin with. Undeniably, it would increase safety and deter bad behavior. It’s expensive, impractical, and unnecessary, though. Honestly, I believe it was introduced primarily for the image. Image politics is probably the defining issue in American policy-making. How much is being done to address legitimate problems versus how much is being done to secure re-election and win twitter points?
Justice Rose is the opinion editor. He is a sophomore journalism major from Madison, Miss.