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Monday, December 22, 2014

Degrees of Knowing

The Washington Post posted, "The Elf on the Shelf is preparing your child to live in a future police state, professor warns."

I have not yet read the book or the rules, but it doesn't sound too different from the 1934 song "Santa Claus is coming to town!"
You better watch out, 
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town! 
He's making a list,
And checking it twice,
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town!
He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're awake.
He knows when you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!
This, of course, is also a panopticon--albeit, a hidden one--which might be scarier in some ways as he's always there, out of sight.

But his aim is goodness. So 1) he's not out to trip people up. 2) Santa and the Elf do not actually see anything. They are not cameras or have eyes. 3) The point is, then, self-regulation. Some kids learn it better than others. 4) We all perform differently while being watched. Should we?

Might this doll create a sense that surveillance and loss of privacy is okay? Probably. But what are the actual scenarios: 1) Kid behaves well. Kid rewarded. Believes surveillance is good--possibly. 2) Kid behaves poorly. Kid rewarded. Believes surveillance is pointless--possibly. Or that he can get away with anything because there's not really anyone watching. 3) Kid behaves well. Kid is punished unfairly. Kid unfairly blames Elf who didn't do anything. Kid expected to be rewarded and/or protected but was not. He believes surveillance is bad unfairly--possibly. 4) Kid behaves poorly, believes he's justified in doing so. Kid is punished. a) Possibly hates surveillance because he should be able to behave as he sees fit. b) Possibly believes surveillance will help him behave better in the future.

Other scenarios are possible. What we see little of, though, is qualification. People make bold statements that might have validity under certain circumstances, without qualification--without the "might" or "possibly" necessary to inform the public. Or if we're given other possibilities, it is only to dismiss them, so that we only consider a narrow realm of possibility. Our world is skewed, especially if we only listen to those with whom we agree.

This is not to say that surveillance is good or bad. Rather, I speak to a larger issue--that of being better and more broadly informed. Honestly informed, with qualifications.

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