Gatto (1992, p. 10) describes the students in the classroom as constantly surveilled. There are several means that the schools achieve this constant surveillance. Firstly, according to Gatto (1992), they remove all private spaces. Children are prevented from fraternising in the halls because the class changes are too short, and, the playground monitoring by teachers ensures there is no guarantee of privacy.
Secondly, Gatto (1992) argues that the school expects all family members to snitch on each other.
Students are encouraged to tattle on each other or even to tattle on their own parents. Of course, I encourage parents to file reports about their own child’s waywardness too. A family trained to snitch on itself isn’t likely to conceal any dangerous secrets.
(Gatto, 1992, p. 10).
To reinforce the surveillance on the home, the third aspect of the schools’ surveillance technologies is homework.
I assign a type of extended schooling called “homework” so that the effects of surveillance, if not the surveillance itself, travels into private households, where students might otherwise learn something unauthorised from a father or mother, by exploration or by apprenticing to some wise person in the neighbourhood. Disloyalty to the idea of schooling is a devil always ready to find work for idle hands.
(Gatto, 1992, p. 10)
As I’ve noted in a previous post, the design of prisons and the design of the classroom can be seen as evidence of what Jeremy Bentham termed the panoptic device. Foucault (cf. 1995) used the theory of the panopticon as a metaphor for the disciplinary society in which, he argued, we all live. For Foucault (cf. 1995), the panopticon introduces a permanent visibility, as Gatto (1992) notes, a lack of private space, so that power remains in the hands of the few to be exercised at arbitrary times, it also ensures that the subject disciplines themselves because they are unable to know when they are being watched. Foucault (1995, p. 196) states that inspection functions ceaselessly. The gaze is alert everywhere.
Gatto (1992) argues that this surveillance teaches children that privacy is not legitimate, and that nobody can be trusted. This lack of trust in people is the same message delivered by the panopticon. It allows tyranny to be expressed by a few over many. Again, Foucault (1995, p. 199) states:
This enclosed, segmented space, observed at every point, in which the individuals are inserted in a fixed place, in which the slightest movements are supervised, in which all events are recorded … in which power is exercised without division, according to a continuous hierarchical figure, in which each individual is constantly located, examined and distributed among the living beings … all this constitutes a compact model of the disciplinary mechanism.
Foucault (1995) argues that the panopticon is central to modern, democratic societies because, just as all citizens are free to decide on, and make demands of the state, so the state is free to know its citizens. Institutions as diverse as jails, hospitals, schools and factories all resemble each other because each classifies and thus, knows, its inmates, its patients, its students and its workers. The goal of these institutions, according to Foucault, is normalisation, and the nature of their exercise of power is the amount of time people spend in at least one of these institutions. He states:
They are different projects, then, but not incompatible ones … project the subtle segmentations of discipline onto the confused space of internment, combine it with the methods of analytical distribution proper to power, individualize the excluded, but use procedures of individualization to mark exclusion — this is what was operated regularly by disciplinary power from the beginning of the nineteenth century in the psychiatric asylum, the penitentiary, the reformatory, the approved school and, to some extent, the hospital. Generally speaking, all the authorities exercising individual control function according to a double mode; that of binary division and branding … The constant division between the normal and the abnormal, to which every individual is subjected, brings us back to our own time … the existence of a whole set of techniques and institutions for measuring, supervising and correcting the abnormal brings into play the disciplinary mechanisms … all the mechanisms of power which, even today, are disposed around the abnormal individual, to brand him and to alter him, are composed of those two forms from which they distantly derive.
(Foucault, 1995, p. 228).
Thus, Foucault (1995) and Gatto (1992) both argue that the schools’ surveillance of students has the effect of attempting to align them to an arbitrary normal position. Those students who fall outside the normal will be exposed to a series of technologies whose sole purpose is to discipline the student back to a normal.