When Your Son Invents A Panopticon

My son asked me to teach him how to code today. Why? Because he wants to hack his MacBook into a robot that will automatically keep a public tally of every person’s good and bad actions. It will plug into a big box that has a list of all the actions a person might do so we can see if a person is good or not.

I generalized the ethics of the requirements he gave me, and I think I talked him out of it.

My son’s school uses an app called ClassDojo to micromanage student behavior. I get multiple updates daily on how my kid is doing. Each student gets points added for good behavioral choices and points removed for poor ones. At first I thought this was cool, but now I think it is terrible.

  1. It makes children think it is just fine for someone to monitor their every action.
  2. It makes children think it is just fine for their every action to be assigned a positive or negative value.
  3. It makes children think it is just fine for others to be able to see a list of the merits and demerits they’ve received.
  4. It encourages confirmation bias.
  5. It treats subjectivity as objective data.

I started to micromanage him and ask him about his demerits. I want him to succeed — so I want to help. To error-​correct. I’d praise for merits too, but the time spent on praise was not equitable. No one needs to micromanage a second-​grader. Elementary school children shouldn’t think that it’s okay for their every error or success to be recorded and distributed. They’re young, but they’re not too young to feel resentment to a system that seems arbitrary and unfair.

And then, decide to retaliate by inventing their own panopticon.