Research News

Surveillance doesn’t necessarily make schools safer; can negatively impact students

Many schools now have extensive surveillance, monitoring and discipline programs in place to protect students. But are students any safer as a result? What is the cost of these measures in terms of student well-being? These issues and more are the topic of a new book, Schools Under Surveillance: Cultures of Control in Public Education, released this month by Rutgers University Press.

“People tend to think of surveillance in terms of Big Brother, so they don’t necessarily see the many forms of monitoring, identification and control in our lives,” Torin Monahan, the book’s co-editor and associate professor of human and organizational development and medicine at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, said. “In this book, we are examining the many different manifestations of surveillance and issues of power and control in schools.”

Monahan’s co-editor is Rodolfo Torres, professor of political and urban studies at the University of California, Irvine.

Many schools have intensive surveillance and control systems, in the form of closed circuit televisions, metal detectors, gates, barbed wire and armed, uniformed police officers known as school resource officers. The book raises the question of whether such intensive security and monitoring are necessary, and the negative impact they may have on students.

“Any measures taken to protect children are seen as sacrosanct, but there is no discussion of the ramifications on students of being constantly surveilled; of, for example, waiting outside of their school for more than an hour to pass through a metal detector,” Monahan said. “One of the things that we found interesting is that schools are really some of the safest places for children to be – significantly safer than when they are on the streets or at home, and schools were safe long before the latest security programs were implemented.”

Topics discussed in the book include police and military recruiters on campus, testing and accountability regimes such as No Child Left Behind, and efforts by students and teachers to circumvent surveillance in public education.

For more information about Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, visit

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