Eyes on the skies

by Yule Heibel on January 8, 2004

The Register‘s Andrew Orlowski posted this story today: Flight Sim enquiry raises terror alert. It’s about a mother trying to buy her 10-year old a Microsoft Flight Simulator at a Massachusetts Staples store. The ever-on-guard-against-terror American patriot who waited on the woman called the cops after she left, and they, searching for terrorists, in turn paid her an unexpected nighttime visit.

What’s of key interest to me here is that the woman, Julie Olearcek (incidentally a USAF Reserve pilot) homeschools her son. This incident grew, in other words, from the typical homeschooling impetus to let one’s child follow his or her passion: a flight simulator would be a great place from which to launch a homeschooler’s maths and physics and engineering curriculum, not to mention history of flight and science and technology, just the thing for an interested kid. But look what it got the parent under today’s Bush Administration: suspicion of terrorism and a police raid.

Ms. Olearcek tries, in the wake of this incident, to be the incarnation of apple pie itself, for she insists that vigilance is a good thing, and she probably would appreciate my commentary even less than the intervention of Staples’s staff in sending a State Trooper to her house. She is quoted extensively in the Greenfield Recorder by reporter Virginia Ray, and you can hear the acquiescence to conformism in her arguments, the belief in joining willingly and obediently in the communal task which the Administration has assigned to Americans:

“We all have to be aware,” she said, not really even wanting to speak of the incident on the record, but wanting to keep the record straight. “It’s not just the people in uniform who have to be looking after this country. So when people see something out the ordinary, they pay attention. Maybe by the way we worded the question – who knows? – it triggered the individual [at Staples who reported her]. Still, if they had done their homework (at Staples) they would see I home school my children and am a frequent customer and have a teacher’s ID on file.” [More…]

By the end of her remarks, a healthy disbelief shines through: I’m a regular customer, I applied for Staples’ homeschoolers’ discount, they have my local homeschoolers association membership card (the teacher’s ID) on file…! Disbelief, healthy or just stunned, might not be enough anymore to turn things around, though.

Finally, I find myself speculating further. I wonder to what extent this family — this child, specifically — had never been mapped onto any official data bases. If the child had been identified in a data base (a school’s, say), would the police have acted differently? Will schools become places of official data collection and filtering in a much bigger way, and might homeschoolers — who are usually not within that net or catchment — find themselves more frequently in tight spots, scrutinised for “terrorist activity”…?

And might schools themselves not become sources of information for police? It’s for your own good of course, protection from terror and all that. But you really have to wonder where terror starts and where it ends.

So the lesson, as any bright kid (homeschooled or not) can see, is: keep your head down, don’t step out of line, and toe the line. There goes innovation, there goes play…

{ 1 comment }

Bruce January 10, 2004 at 9:13 pm

Hey Yule. This is so depressing. The “terrorist threat to America” is such a joke. There’s so many more realistic things to worry about, IF you want to get into that frame of mind (and BushCo of course says, yes please do, let us help you). Are our descendents going to look back and say “this is when the wheels started to come off”?

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