Lower Merion High School (class of 56) is my alma mater. I was shocked to see it in the news and on the BBC (education). It was reported that the school gave teenage pupils computers with secretly installed cameras to spy on them in their bedrooms. The rationale seems to be that they were looking for stolen computers, pornography, and drug dealing. I’m many decades removed from LM but I remember the ethos of the school.
My shock on reading this came on two levels. First, LM is a middle class suburban school outside Philadelphia that for some reason always comes out high in the ‘got in college’ scores. I suspect this is because the students get tutored for SAT’s as we did in the old days. What got me was the fact that all these students were given free computers to take home. I bet they were second computers, having had their first for Xmas or birthdays. Do all the children in Philadelphia get computers at school? I bet not. I live in London, so I might not be up to date on this.
Then, the second surprise came. The school turned cameras built into the computers onto the kids at home. What were they thinking? This has to be the most litigious group of parents you could find and everyone is on tender hooks these days about ‘getting into college’. These parents are not going to let their offsprings’ names be darkened by allegations of indecency, drug selling or computer stealing right before college interviews. Lower Merion hasn’t changed that much I can assure you. The parents will see the administration through every court in the land and they should. What a waste of the school’s, and parent’s resources! What administrator made such stupid decisions?
The school has a proud history but also a lot to be ashamed about. When I went to school, there was a vocational school, next door where they taught the ‘trades’. This was another way of saying ‘segregated classes’. We never had black children in our school. They went to the vocational school. So LM came top of the league in the number of college bound seniors but at the expense of the vocational students next door.
A lawsuit being carried out right now shows that in the Lower Merion School District the issues remain the same as they were in the 50’s except that parents’ are allowed their say in court.
The plaintiffs, whose parents are black, contend that the redistricting plan, which requires that some students living in Ardmore, Narberth and Penn Valley be bused to the new Harriton High School, in Rosemont, is racially discriminatory.
All of the plaintiffs live in Ardmore, which is near where the existing Lower Merion High School.
Having sent the black population to the vocational school, Lower Merion high school segregated itself on religious grounds. No Jewish cheerleaders ever made the squad for example. I once gave a ‘sweet sixteen’ party at my apartment house which broke out into a religious riot. Someone played Jewish music on the record player and was punched in the face ten minutes after the party started. Police came.
While teachers and administrators complain they are overworked with responsibilities it seems strange that they have to find the time to get more involved in the personal life of students . When do they do the teaching and adminstrating? Aare they expected to sit around voyeuristically inspecting children’s bedrooms?
I’m glad they didn’t do that to us. I learned quickly how to go to school, sign the attendance forms stuck in the window of the classrooms and leave again. We went downtown, museums, and coffee houses, whatever, and generally had a good time. I’m sure we attended most of the time but I’m also sure that my attention was focussed on being popular and having fun. Towards the end of High School, I wasn’t at my moral best and would not have wanted a camera following my ‘Chevy’ around downtown Philadelphia. The one saving grace was that most of my immoral behavior occurred outside the home. I don’t think teenagers flaunt their bad behavior at home, alone in their bedrooms. Maybe I’m out of touch but it seems the worse behavior still occurs outside the home, in groups of friends. I guess other cameras follow them round town.
Lower Merion as always, loves its so-called ‘reputation’ and will do anything to keep it. I don’t think spying on their students will get them anywhere except in long lawsuits, which the administration (never having any real power) will lose. The students might learn something about their civil rights, no bad thing and put that on their college statements. I must be a real curmudgeon. I still haven’t understood why privileged children need to be presented with computers in the first place. I also read that when the LM students study languages they are given free Ipods.
Thanks to a “School of the Future” grant, each student in Spanish 4 honors or AP French receives an iPod for the duration of the school year. On these iPods, students listen to Spanish or French music, podcasts, and watch TV shows.
Wikipedia Lower Merion
Between the legal costs of defending this case, the cost of the computers, the time spent on spying, my bet is the school could have invested the same effort, money and time in teaching core subjects. In that way the parent’s could relax a bit on out of school tutoring for SAT’s, and use the money to buy their children their own computers and Ipods when they, the parents, feel it’s appropriate. It’s the parent’s authority that has been underminded by the school’s spying system and the teenagers’ civil liberties. I hope the parents and students are successful in the courts.
Lower Merion High School - 1950’s