Childhood Obesity, George Orwell and You

By Danny Tyree

According to the “New York Post,” a school district in Bay Shore, New York has left a lot of observers cold, by joining other schools (in St. Louis and South Orange, New Jersey) in using Polar Active technology.

In the name of fighting childhood obesity, certain students are made to wear a watch-like device that counts heartbeats, detects motion and even tracks students’ sleeping habits. Teachers collect the data on a hand-held computer and transmit it to a password-protected website.

Educators have only the best intentions. They became fired up about student fitness when Whitney Houston was hired to sing “I believe the children are our future…” —to a cardiologists’ convention.

Little is revealed about the criteria for selecting students to wear the monitor, but it IS known that Armour is reworking its old hot dog jingle. (“Monitors…Polar monitors…What kind of kids wear Polar monitors? Fat kids…That’s all. Commercial is over.”)

Proponents of the technology insist that it is needed to impress upon students just how few calories they burn at certain times of the day. I can appreciate low-tech programs that have girls carry an egg or a sack of flour to simulate tending to a baby, but this is different. If the little Einsteins really think that six hours a day of playing World of Warcraft and scarfing Cheez Doodles is going to build ABS OF STEEL, maybe we should just leave them alone and let them take themselves out of the gene pool.

Many parents are concerned about unanswered questions, including whether parental notification/permission is required. I understand that school janitors have unanswered questions as well, including whether they’ll get overtime pay if the push to utilize neglected exercise opportunities leads to jumping jacks in the restroom.

Privacy advocates wonder about the blackmail value of data from the monitors. What if your readings indicate signs of bedwetting, a propensity to clap a little too loudly during Ron Paul’s speeches or just a little too much arousal while in the school shower? Don’t think that the data won’t become part of the dreaded Permanent Record, influencing insurance companies, prospective employers, potential in-laws and even funeral directors. (“Ethan Finklegruber? I ain’t embalming him until I’m sure that lazy 110-year-old bum isn’t just napping.”)

Some wags insist that teachers and administrators should be wearing the monitors. It really is a PR disaster when educators remark, “We came up with the idea of encouraging student cardiovascular health while in the teachers’ LOUNGE.” I’d really like to hook up the salesmen for Polar Active and analyze the cartwheels every time one of these gadgets sells for $90. (“Can you turn down the volume on this KA-CHING, KA-CHING, KA-CHING?”)

A spokesperson for the Bay Shore school district insists that the data is what drives how the schools create their curriculum. I can just imagine such a curriculum. Chemistry teachers would admonish, “Push back from the periodic table.” Math instruction would involve DIVIDING into shirts and skins. Literature class study of “Moby Dick” would require parental consent forms for use of a real harpoon. Don’t even get me started on American History and the study of the civil rights movement. (“I have a dream — but of course you already know about that from my monitor. Free at last…free at last…thank God Almighty, I’m gluten-free at last!”)

Danny Tyree
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