Monday, 22 September 2014


Future historians may very well label this the Era of Fear. Our fears are multi-dimensional. We are afraid of terrorists. We are afraid of crazies shooting up people in malls. We are especially afraid of young people.

Fear is a driver for people in authority. Government offices are in a permanent state of lock down with multiple guard points keeping out the dangerous public. Schools are increasingly taking on the appearance of a prison.

Into this comes "risk assessment". School administrators - an especially paranoic set of bureaucrats - have taken up risk assessment with a vengeance. Consider the Threat Assessment Protocol of the Langley School District, a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Part of it reads "3. Worrisome Behaviours. Worrisome behaviours are those that cause concern for members of the school system and which may indicate that a student is moving toward a greater risk of violent behaviour. This would include instances where a student may be engaging in behaviours such as drawing pictures, writing stories in class, or making vague statements that do not, of themselves, constitute "uttering threats" as defined by law but are causing concern for some members of the school community because of their violent content. The majority of threat-related behaviour, from Kindergarten to Grade 12, falls into this category. All worrisome behaviours will be communicated to the school principal."

You know what results from this kind of protocol. A five year old draws a picture of a gun and all hell breaks loose. In fact that has happened a number of times in paranoic school districts in North America. The parents of an eight year old boy at Scottsdale Country Day School were called to a meeting last week. The principal told them that their child was a danger to other children and threatened to expel him over three drawings which depict a soldier, a ninja and a Star Wars character. Each was carrying a weapon and all were ideas the boy had for his Halloween costume. The principal apparently was "acting" in accordance with Scottsdale County Day School policy which makes the drawings of weapons grounds for expulsion. Elsewhere a drawing of a gun by a four-year-old resulted in the arrest of her father when he came to pick her up from school. The father was detained by police and strip-searched and his children were questioned by social services. The gun depicted was a plastic toy that belonged to his kids. There have been numerous other such incidents.

If not expelled, thousands of students will be identified as "worrisome" and will be made subject to a formal assessment. The formal assessment will become part of the student’s file. It will follow them through their entire time in the education system and into the career world. 

Formal assessments are a form of policing. In fact, in many cases fear stricken principals will pass the formal assessments onto the police. The police in turn are increasingly maintaining (and passing on) material above and beyond criminal convictions.

The next big movement in risk assessment will be the utilization of Big Data. Governments in the U.K., the U.S. and Canada have pretty much unlimited access to people’s internet usage. Big Data identifies persons who are constantly doing internet searches on topics of violence or other controversial topics. It will be a valuable tool for government to identify political outliers left and right such as environmentalists, anarchists, survivalists and socialists. In particular it will identify people who are seen as having "disruptive" attitudes.

Disruptive behaviour is another categorization favoured by the Grand Nannies that now seem so omnipresent in the administrations of North American universities. Texas Woman's University provides a procedure for the referral, evaluation, and appropriate disposition of students displaying so-called disruptive behaviour. There is the typically broad definition namely "Disruptive behaviours are overt actions, omissions to act, or verbal or written statements that would not be consistent with the actions or statements of a reasonable, prudent person under similar circumstances." The University further explains "Disruptive behaviour typically refers to directly observable behaviour. But, it may also include a student’s behaviour by electronic means (e.g. e-mail, social networking sights, postings to electronic classrooms, etc.) as well." The Associate Vice President for Student Life must be notified by faculty, staff, or students of any instance where a student demonstrates disruptive behaviour. The next step is to have the Orwellian named Behavioural Assessment Team (BAT) spring into action - the consequence to the student may be the university’s favorite big stick - expulsion.

The University of Minnesota Duluth claims in a direction to faculty and staff that "Disruptive, disrespectful, and even violent student behaviour has become a national trend at universities." That is surprising only if one does not consider what the University’s baby sitters describe as "disruptive behaviour". The directive states that "Students are responsible for conducting themselves in a manner that is respectful of the instructor and other students in the classroom, is civil in language, tone and behaviour, and is receptive to ideas and other points of view." In other words do not disagree too vigorously with your professor and other students. Avoid any sarcasm, hyperbole, irony, overt criticism, etc. If you don’t, your professor is instructed that "it is essential that you take appropriate and immediate steps to curtail this behaviour" So students beware - do not express any strong views and modify your comments so that they fit in with the consensus opinions of your fellow students and professor. As per the old Japanese saying "`the nail that sticks out gets hammered down". 


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