A Look Back
June 1, 2019
Today Cold Iron rolls out its two-hundredth edition, a bit of sass that has appeared monthly, without fail, since 2002. I have enjoyed the support, and humbly received the occasional bit of snark, of readers over the years. That anyone would take the time to comment on such a modest venture as Cold Iron has always been hugely gratifying. If I've made you smile, laugh, growl, or kick your cat even once I count that as a success, and promise to keep on with those efforts for as long as my funky Muse keeps sitting my butt down at the keyboard. To you, the reader, however, I will say only one thing: Thank You!
Just for fun, what follows is a re-run of the very first Cold Iron.
October 23, 2002
"Never hit someone on the head with a hot iron. Wait until it cools
so you don't burn them."
Small Towns - 1
Yes, it's only a high school, not much different from most high schools. It was a cornfield at one time and now it isn't. Now it's a sort of goldish brick thing and it sprawls – a good fit for the sprawl within: high learning tinted with obfuscation and the occasional stroke of wisdom; teen angers, one supposes, along with idealism, passion, misunderstanding, and a whole range of "gotcha" diatribes against the established order.
Except for one that is strangely missing. You have to go into the parking lot to see it; really, an average parking lot – usually full (there are always complaints about the parking) – and certainly an average sign, red print on a white background, a standard bit of information mounted on a steel fencepost.
Surrender, all ye who enter here, your constitutional rights. Well, that's hyperbole – a printed shout. What the sign actually says is that anyone or any vehicle, simply by virtue of being in the parking lot, implicitly consents to a random search for any reason or no reason. That's not a quote, but it's very close. This, I might add, is in addition to rules permitting random drug testing, restricting clothing styles, pocket knives, scissors (sharp point or not), and free expression.
Here's the skinny on that parking lot. By simply driving (or walking) in, you announce to the world that you are voluntarily giving up your Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
You agree, in other words, to break the law, to announce that a certain part of the United States Constitution no longer applies to you. So – go ahead: strip me, feel me, touch me, examine me; search my bags, my wallet, my purse, my lunch, my car, my shoes.
Do we really have that right? I'm not raising the question of whether or not the school district has the right to such a policy or a right to post such a sign. School districts, like most governmental bodies, will do what they damn well please until someone – a lawyer, voters, a judge – tells them otherwise. All the school district is doing is laying out the doctrine of implied consent, a principle that traces its heritage at least as far back as some of the more troublesome notions of Socrates. In other words, when you join a club (or a company or a nation) you consent, whether explicitly – by vows, oaths, the drinking of a cup of llama blood – or implicitly – by simple presence – to whatever rules and strictures the polity wishes to lay down. You can disagree with them all you want, even fight against them, but if you stay at the dance the hand stamp stays on your hand.
The school district might reply that the Fourth Amendment forbids unreasonable searches and seizures and that, given the times we live in where school shootings, beatings, rapes, and drug use are hardly novel anymore in hardly any school, such searches are reasonable.
Are they? Is it reasonable (putting aside the question of good educational practice) to tell a student that, at any time, and not because we suspect you or think you strange or weird-looking or because you're a smart-ass; indeed, you may be a valedictorian dressed to the nines prior to an interview for a summer internship with a local legislator – to tell a student that you have no privacy in our (the school's) presence, no bodily or possessional autonomy, that you are not, strictly, a citizen and we will do whatever we please to you in order to protect you for some higher good?
I worry here not so much about the individual students as about a whole generation, one that has grown quiescent in the face of such violations, who accept the omni-present videocamera recording their every public move, and who accept the selling of personal information about themselves by anyone with a proper dollar.
[Ed. Note: This is Sycamore High School in Sycamore, Illinois]
G.K Wuori © 2019
Illustration by the author