Gone to the Dogs

The principal of McKinley High School wants to bring drug-sniffing dogs on campus, but is running into roadblocks in the state Department of Education’s discipline and privacy policies. Says principal Ron Okamua, in The Honolulu Advertiser, “I’m concerned about how do we make our campuses safe and secure. I am all for student rights and privacy rights, but we do have this problem coming onto campus.”

A problem big enough to justify bringing in the hounds? Hard to tell. The Advertiser piece paraphrases Okamura as saying that the school has averaged about 15 to 20 incidents of “illicit drugs” since 2004, but doesn’t provide an interval. Is that 20 incidents a day? A semester? A year? Twenty since 2004?

Also worth noting, Okamura includes cigarettes in his stats, and says, “For me, just one violation is too much. The kids are there to learn.” So, there’s the background philosophy: a zero-tolerance approach that treats cigarettes and meth as if they were functional equivalents.

If Okamura gets his dogs, I have a feeling the students will learn something, but maybe not the lesson he has in mind given something else he said: “I compare it to homeland security. We don’t object to having our luggage searched, our jackets searched … but yet, when you look at a student locker there’s objection.”

As a matter of fact, people do object to getting searched every time they fly. We do object to squeezing shampoo into 3-ounce bottles, to showing up two hours early, to taking off our shoes. It’s useless security theater, performance art meant to make us feel as though the authorities were doing something to protect us from evil in the world. Read Jeffrey Goldberg’s “The Things He Carried” for a thorough look at the problem—Goldberg routinely boarded planes while toting everything from box cutters to T-shirts that read “Osama Bin Laden, Hero of Islam.” 

Here’s what adult citizens have learned from all this: We object to the homeland security rigmarole, but we comply, because we know our objections don’t matter. The searches aren’t going away. Ever. This will be the experience of travel for the rest of our lives. We also know the security gestures are empty and meaningless, but we make the motions and play along anyway. As a result, we’ve learned passivity and cynicism.

There is one difference between dogs in airports and dogs in schools. Travel is voluntary.  School is not.  What other state-run facilities house captive populations who are subject to random searches for contraband? 

That’s something else the students will learn from this: “Wow, the authorities can treat us all like prisoners, even though most of us aren’t doing anything wrong!”

Get used to it, kids.