Resisting state coercion and corporate control of public education

Welcome to Surveillance Resistance Monthly, the Lab’s monthly newsletter that focuses on challenging the technologies that fuel state and corporate power. Alongside others, we seek to strengthen our collective analysis of these technologies of violence and control. We also aim to build, nurture and accumulate the power of organizing and resistance—locally and transnationally— against these technologies.

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This issue of Surveillance Resistance Monthly explores the Lab’s intervention in public education where we challenge how digital public infrastructures increase criminalization and undermine democracy. Similar to the centralized city databases explored in last month’s newsletter, public schools are adopting technologies in ways that are leading to increased state coercion and expanded corporate power, undermining democratic processes and community power. 

As schools increasingly adopt technologies after moments of crisis—austerity policies, school shootings, the COVID-19 pandemic—students, parents, and teachers are subject to more and more monitoring. This includes technologies used for physical security (e.g. CCTV cameras or vape detection systems), as well as others often grouped together under the ill-defined term “edtech” (i.e. educational technology) that serve a variety of purposes from administrative (i.e. student activity monitoring systems like Gaggle) to teaching (i.e. tools used for instructional, pedagogical, or classroom management such as Schoology).

Each category of technology leads to more carceral school environments. For example, districts are increasingly turning to vape detection technologies to identify and punish students for vaping rather than treating this behavior as a public health problem. During the COVID lockdown, districts turned to student activity monitoring programs, like Gaggle, to track student mental health only to have these tools be used to increase student contact with police at school or home or to “out” a student to school administration and their families after searching words like “lesbian” or “gay".

Companies market teaching and classroom management tools as innovative technologies designed to ease the growing burden on administrators and teachers while preparing students to thrive in the modern entrepreneurial economy through personalized learning. Corporate vendors have pushed “personalized learning” in order to extract massive datasets with little evidence of efficacy while eroding the role of the teacher in the classroom. In addition to treating students as tools for profit, these technologies can exacerbate existing structural racism and other structural inequities. 

To address this challenge, the Lab conducts research and cultivates relationships with students, parents, teachers, and organizers in specific cities towards building power to intervene in this troubling transformation of public education. As a member of the steering committee of the NOTICE Coalition, we are actively working in the Twin Cities, Chicago, and Houston to take back democratic governance over public education. 

We hope you enjoyed this issue! If you have feedback or resources to share, please do get in touch.

In solidarity,

The Surveillance Resistance Lab team



The No Tech Criminalization in Education (NOTICE) Coalition calling on  the Department of Education to the ban of AI and surveillance systems for predictive policing in public schools — On March 18, 2024 the NOTICE Coalition of 40+ organizations (including Surveillance Resistance Lab) sent a letter to the Department of Education (DoE) demanding that the agency “prohibit public schools from using AI and police surveillance technologies to abuse the civil and human rights of marginalized youth.” The letter details the rapid expansion of surveillance technologies in K-12 public schools. These technologies are being used to expand police presence in schools, exclusionary discipline, and school pushout. The coalition calls out these developments as ‘a dangerous new chapter in the school-to-prison pipeline’ and the mass criminalization of racialized and other marginalized young people. 

New York Book Launch of Resisting Borders and Technologies of Violence — This anthology offers analyses on how carceral border regimes are increasing racialized surveillance, control, and violence at borders, cities, and beyond. It also includes case studies on how people are fighting back against “smart” borders, digital IDs, “smart city” technologies, and more. On May 21, 2024 at 6.30pm EDT join us in person for a live book talk at the Peoples’ Forum with Mizue Aizeki [co-editor of the anthology, with Matt Mahmoudi and Coline Schupfer], and contributors including Miriam Ticktin, Fahd Ahmed, and Arun Kundnani. This event is free and open to the public. Register here or watch the livestream here. Order a copy of the book.


Abolition And/As Activism [Presented by the Center for Place, Culture and Politics] —  This Center for Place, Culture and Politics’ 2024 conference [taking place at the Peoples’ Forum on Friday May 3, 5.00 PM - 8.30 PM EDT, and Saturday May 4, 10.00am - 8.30pm EDT] intends to honor Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s contribution–in activism, politics, pedagogy, and theory—to an abolitionist agenda. It is an invitation to think with her work on the future of abolitionism and radical social transformation, and how this connects with anti-racism, anti-capitalism, and anti-colonialism.This event is free and open to the public. Register here

DATA 4 PUBLIC GOOD — The Twin Cities Innovation Alliance (TCIA), a NOTICE Coalition member, is hosting its fifth annual D4PG Conference on July 18th-19th, 2024 at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. This year’s theme is, Co-Powering an Emergent Horizon Part II: Reimagining Our Relationship with the Future, inspired by TCIA’s co-authored article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The Surveillance Resistance Lab plans to present our research on the role of technologies in expanding corporate control and state coercion in public education. 

D4PG is an innovative space exploring the impact of technology, data, and digitally-built environments from a people-first, justice-centered lens. The conference explores the impact and opportunities of technology in our everyday lives, in our communities, and spark the space for reimagining the healthy futures we want to see. Learn more about D4PG here.

Schools are continually introducing new corporate technologies onto school grounds, hallways, and classrooms.The Lab is working in partnership with students, teachers, and organizers to research and develop interventions against the broad array of technologies that further state violence and facilitate corporate control of public schools, whether the tool is used for physical security, student activity monitoring, or managing student data or for instructional purposes. Here we have collected some recent news, studies, articles and art that illustrate these harms and undermine public education as a public good:

  • Off Task: EdTech Threats to Student Privacy and Equity in the Age of AI — As described in this research report (also see Executive Summary) by Eilzabeth Laird, Madeliene Dwyer and Hugh Grant-Chapman, there is a growing backlash against edtech in schools. A growing majority of students and parents are expressing concerns about how use of these technologies affects student privacy, and comfort with student activity monitoring is dropping. This includes concerns about schools’ use of filtering and blocking software to restrict student access to online content. Students also reported that they or someone they know was “outed” as LGBTIQ+ because of this technology (19% of students at schools that use this technology). 
  • 'Loss after loss': Parents detail how Byju's pushed them into debt — This article by Annie Banerji documents how India’s largest startup, an edtech company named Byju, used deceptive and deceitful tactics to pressure families into subscribing to the country’s ubiquitous app. Byju is one of many edtech companies that operate in an open and unregulated industry in India which preys upon poor families and their desire for educational success for their children.
  • Tech Won’t Save Us podcast: Surveillance Won’t Protect Students — this 2022 episode where Chris Gilliard, Just Tech Fellow at the Social Science Research Council, is interviewed by host Paris Marx on the push to expand surveillance technologies in schools during the pandemic and in response to school shootings. It outlines why they are making life worse for students without addressing the problems they claim to solve.
  • Understanding LASAR (Los Angeles Schools Anonymous Reporting): a zine on youth surveillance in schools — This 2023 zine was created by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition in collaboration with students from Fairfax High School’s Peace and Social Justice Club in order to inform LAUSD students about the harms associated with the LASAR app (the most recent addition to the growing architecture of hi-tech surveillance in schools).
  • Unsettling Choice: Race, Rights, and the Partitioning of Public Education by Ujju Aggarwal (2023) — Drawing on ethnographic research in one New York City school district, Ujju Aggarwal traces the contestations that surfaced when, in the wake of the 2007–2009 Great Recession, public schools navigated austerity by expanding choice-based programs. Unsettling Choice argues that this strategy, positioned as “saving public schools,” instead ensured exclusion even as they were couched in language of equity, diversity, care, and rights.
  • Sexualization Not Safety: Black Girls, Trans, and Gender Nonconforming Youth’s Experiences of Police Presence in Schools —  This 2024 report (also see the report synopsis infographic) by Deana Lewis and Brendane Tynes from In Our Names Network, and Andrea J Ritchie from Interrupting Criminalization, documents the outcomes of a youth community story-telling project connected to member organizations in Columbia, South Carolina, New York City, and the Bay Area hosted by the In Our Names Network. It was focused around experiences of police presence in schools, including sexual harassment, assault, and violence by police stationed in and around schools.