On the record, forever

We live in an age where the walls of privacy are quickly crumbling. Today, everything we say or do is up for grabs. A racy comment made in English class often becomes the subject of a tweet by end of the day.

Once isolated incidents, embarrassing moments are now crystallized in the form of a Facebook “Mobile Upload” in a matter of minutes.

Overall, this trend has made many of us more cautious. We’ve become more careful about what we say or do out of a fear that those words or actions will be disseminated on the Internet for all of our friends and family to see.

While behaving cautiously is not necessarily a bad formula for living life, overly cautious behavior in a school setting threatens a fundamental principle upon which education is grounded. Fear that our words will reappear on the Internet, hinders the ability of teachers and students to take intellectual risks and share controversial views in the classroom.

Recently, a new note-taking device that provides students with an inconspicuous way to record class lectures has hit the market. In the guise of an ordinary pen, the “smart pen” is a marker that simultaneously records lectures and handwritten class notes. LiveScribe, the company behind the pen, claims that this feature allows students to go back through their notes and fill in words that they may have missed during class.

While there are obvious benefits to this device, we foresee several negative repercussions that could result from the use of the “smart pen” in class. First, if teachers knew that they were being recorded during class, they would be more likely to self-censor their lectures.

As a result, vibrant and engaging, discussions would be made dryer and duller, something that would come at a great cost to students. Especially in humanities classes, exposure to unconventional ideas and different opinions is an important part of our intellectual growth. Teachers will, without a doubt, be less inclined to share these views if they are afraid that what they say could be used against them later.

Moreover, allowing recording devices in the classroom would also discourage students from taking intellectual risks. Students would be more cautious in presenting controversial ideas or opinions, thus weakening the class discussion for everyone.

Some might argue that the pen is a note-taking tool that, as advertised, will allow students to “never miss a word.” However, is it really necessary to copy down every single word of a class discussion? Shouldn’t we be more interested in learning the themes than obsessively making sure that we have every adjective and adverb scribbled down in our notes?

The administration should ban the use of these pens from the classroom. In the end, they threaten an open learning environment and in doing so, diminish the academic experience provided at Harvard-Westlake.