Broken Bell Education in Israel - Eye Spy

Broken bell classroom
Broken bell classroom

You know your teacher is possessed by Beelzebub when his or her head rotates 360 degrees at the blackboard.  But is this what it takes to effectively keep watch over a classroom while a teacher unveils a frontal lesson?  All adults who work with kids instinctively understand that they love to deny their mischievous behavior when the teacher isn't looking.  It's one of the hallmarks of adolescent classroom acuity.  Lest you grow eyes in the back of your head, educators are in a significantly vulnerable position.  So how does one fight back? Let's say that you detect a grievous offense while writing on the board. Imagine pirouetting and confronting your suspect, say… young Moshe: "stop talking and pay attention during the lesson" or, "don't throw anything at your classmates, stop fooling around."  Moshe predictably tows the party line: "I wasn’t talking" or, "I didn't do anything."  Now with a wry smile you reply: "let's go to the video tape and check it out."  Suddenly, Moshe turns a noticeable shade paler because he is quite cognizant of the fact that the jig is up.  Is the use of instant replay fair game to combat our most challenging youngsters?

I have always been an advocate of videotape use in the classroom.  Coming from a social work background, where clinical training mandates taped sessions for supervision, I learned a great deal about how I function on the job by seeing myself in action.  Many health and mental health professions incorporate video use into training to improve overall assessment and treatment with clients.  Is there a similar trend in classroom education in the name of improving our instruction and discipline with students?

Current debate exists over the use of cameras in the classroom.  As the public perception of school violence grows, so too does the debate. While the historic Columbine shootings and subsequent copycat killings in other U.S. states and in Europe have infused the debate, Israel is thankfully coping with a less overt type of violence in our schools: discipline problems.

Can surveillance cameras discourage young "Moshe" and his cohorts from acting the class clown?  Most people today are willing to forgo the rights of the individual for the greater good, as long as those rights aren't a clear invasion of privacy. Surveillance in the classroom is there to assist the quality teacher struggling with unruly students, not to mention the students who get up every morning and expect a net return on their sweat and tears for coming to school.

I came across a fascinating article in the Herald Tribune ("Surveillance Society", 5/8/08) that adds an interesting bent to the problem.  Olivia Johnson, a contributing columnist for the New York Times (The Wild Side at, describes a bio-social phenomenon in nature where-by people respond to pictures of eyes, by altering their behavior in subtle ways.  For example, scientists at a university in the north of England did an experiment where people are supposed to pay for coffee by putting money into a box – an honor system.  Above the notice the scientists put a picture of eyes during some weeks and a picture of flowers in other weeks.  In the weeks with eyes, people paid more often than they did in the weeks with flowers.

People constantly respond to things in everyday life that the conscious brain is unaware of; a built-in subliminal effect in nature.  Advertising has long been aware of the influential power of embedding subliminal images in their media, dabbing products with cloistered scents and systematically activating the five human senses to their financial gain.  Now it seems that when it comes to eyes, humans are especially sensitive.

Johnson explains that your eyes have a large "white."  This makes it easy to see where someone is looking.  A number of researchers believe that the human brain is intentionally wired to perceive eyes and the direction they're looking. Certain animals change their behavior and avoid predation when they are being observed. As highly social species, humans may have also developed a sensitivity to alter their behavior by the way they are perceived.

Anyone familiar with the classic social psychological experiment in the 1970's knows that a bystander to a crime is more likely to help when they are in the presence of others; more specifically, when they are being observed by others.  Observation of a controlled experiment in a large, urban housing complex repeatedly revealed that when an injured victim was discovered by a lone bystander (who believed no-one was watching them), they more often refused to help and left the injured party unaided.  Conversely when other bystanders where present, the victim was aided.  The experiment came on the heals of an actual incident where neighbors in the complex secretly observed, unnoticed from upper level windows, that the lone bystanders left the scene without helping the victim.

Can a camera in the classroom positively influence students' behavior like nature's eyes?  Perhaps we should fashion cameras to look like a pair of eyes to best trigger our children's biological circuitry and get them behaving more properly?  Or should we post pictures with faces and leering eyes to infuse consciousness and discourage acts of moral turpitude in the classroom?

In this current Israeli television broadcast season, the reality t.v. show, "Big Brother" is attracting more viewers than most shows and racking up big ratings for the network (interesting to note that the program icon is a camera lens).  Think about it.  Cameras are at work directly influencing participants in artificial surroundings with the promise of raking in mounds of shekels.  You will change your ways under observation, and the network is banking their profits on this premise.

How are we going to re-vitalize real learning in our schools when we are waging battle with a media campaign designed to shift our youth's morals toward instant gratification and materialism?

This week a survey on cheating covering 3,500 students in 2005 appeared in Haaretz, published by the head of the University of Haifa's education department.  The study revealed that in Tel Aviv cheating (among other factors such as truancy and vandalism) is significantly on the rise.  Most of us who have worked in education in Israel are not thrown by this finding. I have long ceased being amazed by the number of students who I catch cheating, having no remorse or embarrassment, whatsoever.  These particular types are character flawed and hard pressed to be ameliorated.  But the other genuinely intact souls, who may be negatively influenced by these trends, are slowly being pervaded by our schools and need our immediate care.  Even with the advent of technology, it is still up to parents and teachers. But we clearly we need additional tools.

Cameras in the classrooms will provide students and teachers undeniable feedback in the quest to improve classroom ambiance and functioning. Ms. Johnson reminds us that on coral reefs, fish that clean other fish for a living are more likely to do a good job at removing parasites, and less likely to take a bite of their customer, when other fish are watching.

Imagine those students who are teetering on the adolescent fence (do I do good job or a bad job?). These kids may make the spiritually healthier choice to become more caring of their classmates, cooperative and honest, if they feel a greater power is on the look-out for their minds and souls .

3 comment

Tom Balazs4 year, 12 month ago

I am opposed to this use of technology as an attempt to solve a social failure. A recent Haaretz article pointed out that teachers have been moved to the margins of society; that is why teachers get no respect. (This problem is aggravated by other factors such as the breakdown of parental authority.) Under these conditions the videotape is more likely to be used against the teacher. (How many teachers can say they feel 100% backed up by their principal.) While I get excited about technology we should always beware of its darker side. A "TimesOnline" article about teachers' reactions to classroom cameras reported that, "teachers are ... alarmed at the emergence of a 'big brother' culture in schools, claiming that closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are being installed in classrooms to spy on them." (

David Siegel4 year, 12 month ago

Tom how do you think students themselves would view the use of videotape in the classroom? If it is presented as a tool to improve both instruction and behavior, do you think they would go for it? I think it's a shame that principals are not behind their teachers. There is a tendency to fear parental and administration reprisals. Why do teachers need to live in fear? Thanks for the comment and hope to see you soon. David

Glenn4 year, 11 month ago

The flip side to the video coin is that good honest students may feel intimidated by the camera for fear of giving a wrong answer and being corrected on camera.The class may fall silent...Plus the idea that the video my be archived and their mistakes forever captured for others to see later may not be too appealing. I've tried the camera as a tool to teach English and found more camera shy folks who clam up than "hams" who work with the camera. I personally also have the big brother fear.We might end up relying too much on cameras and there is always the chance that a teacher supplying the camera may find her/himself out of a job because of a recorded lack of teaching skills.