Privacy, surveillance and coercion in health and physical education: some examples from the future

Year: 2015

Author: Gard, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

How far does the responsibility for teachers to shape the health of students extend? This philosophically-minded presentation will begin anecdotally with some accounts of, and reactions to, the humble lunch inspection that appears now to be in fairly widespread used in schools and child-care centres across the English-speaking Western world. I then link this with what appears to be a growing paternalism in the area of anti-obesity public policy. Drawing mainly from the academic literature I describe a range of public policy measures either being trialed or advocated for by researchers determined to wage on obesity both inside and outside of schools. The picture I describe here is one in which the rhetoric of “desperate times needing desperate measures” is reshaping people’s views about how far professionals can and should go to protect people from themselves.
In the second half of this presentation I connect this discussion of growing paternalism to developments in digital technology. In particular, given that quite intimate data about how each of us leads our life will be increasingly easy and cheap to collect, how much of this data could and should be available to teachers and schools? If inspecting the lunch boxes of students can be seen as the appropriate business of teachers, where will the line between legitimate and illegitimate surveillance be drawn in the digital future?
I conclude by describing some of the new health-related digital surveillance technologies that are currently being developed and marketed to young people, schools and teachers. In short, my question is not so much whether ever-increasing invasion of the personal lives of students and parents is the remit of schools and teachers, although this will remain an important issue. Rather, there may be greater value in imagining what new forms of surveillance are likely to be possible so that we might at least begin to organise our thinking about them.