All Kids Are Our Kids

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The Huntsville Times is working particularly this week on the student spying story that broke yesterday, and we should all say thank you. Today, there were about five new articles/opinions posted concerning Wardynski’s Big Brother fantasies. Each of them are well worth your time:

Big Brother is Teaching You: Huntsville Students Learn About Life in the Surveillance State: Opinion
Whitmire points out the lunacy of harassing students for posing with their guns when it is a requirement to get elected in this state to do so, and he also draws attention to the fact that, so far as we are currently aware, every student that has been targeted by the Orwellian named SAFe program, were black. More on this little tidbit in a moment.

Huntsville Student Explains Tweets that Led to Spying on Students
Auseel Yousefi tells Stephens that his tweets were the reason that the spying program was begun. It also raises yet more questions about Wardynski’s use of the NSA red-herring.

ACLU Inquired About Huntsville Schools Monitoring Students Online; Concerned Blacks Disproportionately Punished
Based on the race of every student that we know has been caught up in this spying operation, the ACLU is correct to be concerned.

Secret Program To Spy on Huntsville Students’ Social Media Should Be Shut Down: Opinion
The editorial board of The Huntsville Times after praising Wardynski’s computer folly last week, this week has decided that Wardynski has gone too far in this program.

Finally, there was Crystal Bonvillian’s interviews with the District Three school board candidates who will be involved in a run-off election on October 7th (there’s still time to cast an absentee ballot), Elisa Ferrell and Anson Knowles, “District 3 Board Candidates Elisa Ferrell, Anson Knowles Weigh in on Huntsville Schools’ Social Media Surveillance.”

SHOCKER: Ferrell Approves of Wardynski’s Spy Program

Continuing the tradition of Dr. Jennie Robinson whom she seeks to replace, Elisa Ferrell has yet to come across any program, any recommendation, any idea proposed by Dr. Wardynski that she didn’t find some way to love. Here’s what The Times shared that Ferrell had to say about the district hiring T&W Operations at an approximate cost of $1 million dollars to spy on children:

“What she learned [as she began to make calls about the SAFe program] reassured her that administrators are not ‘hunting down’ students.”

Do you notice her “hunting down” phrase? If not, you should. It is a classic example of the Reductio ad absurdum fallacy. Specifically, she’s trying to paint anyone who is concerned about Wardynski’s child-spying program as absurd for believing that the district is “hunting down” students. Her goal is to reduce any argument against her beloved superintendent to the level of absurdity so that it can be easily dismissed.

No, Mrs. Ferrell, those of us who are concerned that the district is spending extensive resources on a program to spy on children, and who knows who else, do not believe that the district is “hunting down” students.

It isn’t absurd to be concerned about spending a million dollars without a contract. It isn’t absurd to be concerned about a superintendent’s unchecked power. It isn’t absurd to be concerned that the only students targeted by this spying program seem to be black.

It is absurd that she finds it necessary to defend this program by saying, “Well, at least they’re not hunting children.”

Reassuring indeed.

She’s Nothing if Not Consistent

She continues her support of Wardynski’s unchecked power by claiming:

“They are specifically looking at kids who have been in trouble at school, students who have posted things on Facebook or Twitter. They are looking at those kids who are already causing problems.”

This is again intended to be reassuring to the public because clearly, “they” are only targeting those “bad kids,” or “evil-doers,” perhaps?

There’s a really dangerous precedent that Ferrell is attempting to establish here. Specifically, she’s attempting to claim that the only people who should be concerned about Wardynski paying adults to spy on children are the people who are doing bad things anyway. This is her, “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” argument.

No, Mrs. Ferrell, it is not true that the only people who desire privacy are criminals. Neither is it true that the only people who desire privacy for their children are the bad parents who have stuff they wish to hide.

I’m not being a “bad parent” for not wanting my school district to pay a bunch of middle-aged, white guys to sitting around in a darkened room stalking my daughter’s Facebook page.

Ferrell has consistently demonstrated that there is no action too extreme, no power too abused that Ferrell cannot find some way of supporting it.

Anyone unwilling to question power is unsuitable to be elected to the school board.

No Evidence Supporting Ferrell’s Claims

Do you, again, notice what else is missing from her claims here? Evidence.

Ferrell believes that the public should be “reassured” by a complete absence of details and evidence supporting her claims. Here are just a few of the questions that she has seemingly failed to either ask or offer answers for:

  • Who are the “they” or the “administrators” she spoke to?
  • How does she know that “they” are “specifically looking at kids who have been in trouble at school?” (This isn’t really supported by Wardynski’s claim yesterday that one of the kids caught in the sting was an “A student,” is it?)
  • What evidence does she have that the spying operation is only “looking at those kids who are already causing problems?”
  • What evidence does she have that the monitoring isn’t happening via the school laptops?
  • What evidence does she have that the program isn’t investigating parents?
  • What evidence does she have that the program isn’t investigating students’ siblings? (Wardynski claimed otherwise when he spoke of the “WolfPack gang” as being related to one another, yesterday.)

The answer is, none. She’s following in her mentor’s footsteps of making wildly unsubstantiated claims. Robinson must be beaming with pride somewhere. Interestingly though, Ferrell does not attempt to debunk the claim that I made yesterday that this spying program was being used to spy on teachers.

Anyone incapable of providing evidence supporting her claims is unsuitable to be elected to the school board.

Ferrell’s Claims Defy Logic

Ferrell wraps up her adoration of Wardynski’s spying program with the following claim:

“They are looking at those kids who are already causing problems.”

Let’s give Ferrell the benefit of the doubt here for a moment and assume that she does actually have clear, compelling evidence that this is actually true. Let’s assume that the only kids that Wardynski’s “SAFe” team are watching are the kids that they already known for “causing problems.”

If this is completely true and accurate, why, exactly, does the district find it necessary to pay these three and T&W Operations to watch children who are already being watched?

Her logic here, as often happens to those who seek to support positions they’ve already adopted as truth rather than seeking the truth, is fundamentally flawed. If they are only watching the children who are already being watched, then this expensive, invasive program is completely superfluous.

Anyone incapable of making a reasoned, logical argument is unsuitable to be elected to the school board.

All Kids Are Our Kids

Ferrell concludes her illogical defense of Wardynski by claiming:

“If they start looking at all of our kids, I would not agree with it.”

Excuse my frustration for a moment, but what the hell point is she trying to make with this statement? It has been well-established that the three of four kids who have been targeted by this spying program were black. And the fourth was of Yemen decent. Auseel Yousefi was the “straight A” student that Wardynski claims the NSA contacted him about.

So is Ferrell claiming that since “they” are only looking at black kids, or kids born to parents who are foreign nationals, that spying on “their” kids is justifiable?

I ask again, what the hell is her point here? Who, exactly, are “our kids” to her?

It’s a shame that Ferrell seems incapable of recognizing the simple truth that all of the kids (red, yellow, black and white as the song reminds us) in Huntsville City Schools, are our kids. Should she actually win her race for the district three seat, wouldn’t it be important for her to remember that all of the children in her district are actually worthy of the same level of concern? Are the “good” kids more important than the “bad?” Are the rich kids more important than the poor? Are Huntsville natives more important and transplanted families? Are kids at Grissom and Huntsville more important to her than those at Lee, Johnson and Butler? Are white kids more important than red, yellow or black?

One would hope that someone seeking to represent a section of a city as diverse in history, ethnicity, economy, and educational background as Huntsville, would be able to clearly claim that All Kids, despite their differences, are Our Kids.

Anyone incapable of seeing the children of our community, all of the children of our community, as our children is unsuitable to be elected to the school board.

"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.


  1. ““If they start looking at all of our kids, I would not agree with it.” Translation: If they start looking at white kids, I would not agree with it.

  2. From the financial standpoint of this, I have another take. This administration can go out and spend $1M on this spying program, yet parents are still “expected” to provide classrooms with paper towels, tissues, markers, printer paper, and other supplies. And oh, if you don’t want to donate supplies, “a check for $100 for the year will do.” Like I don’t pour enough money into this school system through fundraisers and other gimme gimme programs. Absolutely pathetic.

  3. One of the greatest challenges in winning an election is for the candidate to get his/her name and photo in public view enough that the citizens recognize and select that person on the ballot.

    We need to post Anson Knowles’s name and photo on every social media site and other publications as often as possible.

    Google Images has a great photo of Anson Knowles which I posted on my Facebook page today, along with links to Geek Palaver and the Huntsville Times article in which Ferrell says “If they start looking at all of our kids, I would not agree with it.”

    Ferrell has much more access to money and higher society backing.

    We will need to work really hard between now and election time to bring victory for Anson Knowles and our public education system.

  4. Regarding Mrs. Ferrell, you don’t have to follow the money very far to see who is backing her. You can’t blame the real estate association for wanting to buy a little influence. The Candidate, however, has a higher responsibility … a responsibility to avoid even the perception of corruption or potential conflict of interest. A Candidate who was really interested in education would ask the real estate association to give the money directly to a local school … not for her personal benefit. What does Mrs Ferrell really care about … education … or her political career?

  5. Dr. Wardynski can do whatever he wants to do. The school board is a rubber stamp, and everyone in the community is scared of him or incapable of doing anything to stop him. So, it makes sense that if he has no one overseeing anything he is doing that the natural progression would be for him to do whatever he wants and say whatever he wants (whether true or not.) Why should this issue be any different? Parents/students/teachers are under his complete control. Anything we need for our kids we go begging at his feet in hopes he decides to help. Should be called Ruler Wardynski or Warden Wardynski.

    When does his contract expire? Does anyone know? Didn’t the SB just renew his contract again? What does the State School Board say about this? Where is Mary Scott Hunter? She needs to quit being offended about bad jokes and get busy with our school system?

    It’s good for the voting public to see that Ferrell is inline with hiding spending from tax payers, civil rights violations, and circumventing the police in the investigation of crimes.

    Knowles needs change his campaign signs to say “Fire Warden Wardynski” – that’s what the voters want.

  6. Yes, the money that is being spent is absurd. No, I do not support Ferrell’s candidacy or her willingness to rubberstamp anything Wardynski does. Yes, her position, such as it is, on this spying business is poorly thought-out (there isn’t really much reason to think when you simply parrot whatever Dear Leader says).

    That said, I find your imputation of racism utterly reprehensible. There is no evidence to support that charge, and there is no indication that Ferrell is even aware of how many kids have been investigated or what their races were. Is it not the case that most school shootings have been perpetrated by white suburban kids? My assumption is that most of this spying stuff would be sniffing around trying to find the next Dylan Klebold.

    You discredit yourself and your arguments by making such reckless and unfounded charges.

    1. Ben,

      It’s been a while since you’ve told me I’m discrediting myself in a reprehensible way. I’ve kinda missed it. 🙂

      If you believe that my imputation is “reckless and unfounded,” perhaps you’d care to offer an interpretation of “If they start look at all of our kids, I would not agree with it” that explains what she meant to me?

      You need to particularly keep in mind that at the time she said this, there were exactly 4 people who had been “caught” in this spying program. Not one of whom was caucasian. If Ferrell wasn’t aware of what had been written in the paper the day before, and if she wasn’t aware that Wardynski himself shared the races of the four children “caught,” then again, how is she qualified to be a school board member? Does she not read the paper before being interviewed by the paper?

      She told the Times, “Ferrell said Thursday that she began making phone calls to sources in the school district, trying to learn more about the SAFe (Students Against Fear) Program, as soon as she heard about the controversy.” That would seem to indicate that she was aware of the information that had at that time been made public, and that she was likely aware of more information that hadn’t been made public.

      I’m sorry to say it, but your claim that she didn’t know the races of the four minors Wardynski had outed the day before seems to be the unfounded one.

      Thank your for sharing your opinion of me and the post. I do not share your opinion, and I stand behind what I have written.


      1. Regarding the racial identities of the students investigated so far, maybe she did know. I assumed she didn’t because I keep up with the news pretty closely, and I had not seen that particular story. But then, we were pretty busy with family stuff this week, and I obviously missed that bit of news.

        As for my “interpretation” of her comments… she is saying that if HCS is monitoring all social media activity by all students, she thinks that is a step too far (unless Wardynski says it isn’t, natch). But if the system is looking specifically at kids who fit certain behavioral profiles — such as having been suspended from school — then she is O.K. with it. Seems pretty straightforward to me — There’s no need to turn it into anything racial.

        Are you seriously suggesting that Ferrell would oppose the monitoring of the social media accounts of a white kid whose behavior raised certain red flags? Please. Given that her kids go to Mountain Gap and Grissom, eliminating the white kids from the program would almost certainly guarantee that it would be utterly ineffective in terms of protecting her own children.

        Sorry, but I will not rationalize away unfair mudslinging and character assassination just because it is being done against a candidate or official I do not support. And yes, such conduct does discredit those who resort to it. I am sorry that your passion on these school-related issues has once again led you to make such irresponsible and unsubstantiated claims.

        1. As I stated in the post’s title, all kids are our kids. She was the one drawing a distinction between some kids and “our” kids. Not me. It is not mudslinging nor character assassination to ask a question about whom and what she is talking about, which is what I did.

          “So is Ferrell claiming that since “they” are only looking at black kids, or kids born to parents who are foreign nationals, that spying on “their” kids is justifiable?

          I ask again, what the hell is her point here? Who, exactly, are “our kids” to her?”

          If you accept that she did know the race of the four kids mentioned in Wardynski’s story, and if you accept that she did actually say, “if they start looking at all of our kids,” then asking the question of what she means by “our” is a legitimate question. You, of course, are free to continue to disagree.

          There is, Ben, still racism in this world and in this town. And if a person running for school board makes what could be easily interpreted as a racist statement, asking a question to determine what distinction she is attempting to draw is neither irresponsible nor unsubstantiated. Not asking the question would be irresponsible.

          As always, thank you for sharing your opinion of me with me.

          Finally, you seem to be under the impression that this spying program exists to actually protect children. I disagree with that assessment, and as I called out Ferrell for her illogical position, I’ll call you out for it as well.

          If they are already aware of which kids’ “behavior raised certain red flags,” then why do they need the spying program at all?

          If a kid’s behavior is raising red flags, address it. Address it with the parents, teachers, and if necessary the Police.

          This program exists not to spy on kids, but rather to spy on teachers. It has come from the same person who is requiring teachers to sign “loyalty” statements that they will not speak ill of the digital conversion or the district. It has come from the same person who required the director of education technology not to send out an announcement letting people know that the network is down because it might make him look bad.

          Wardynski created this spying program so he could know who is talking about him online. He used kids to justify it.

          1. It seems pretty obvious to me that “our” kids referred to “Huntsville’s” kids. Because of your dislike for Ferrell and Wardynski, you seem determined to put the absolute worst spin possible on her words. The only people who could possibly interpret what she said as racist are those who are determined to see it that way. But who is the one actually injecting race into this discussion? Not Ferrell:

            “I’m not being a ‘bad parent’ for not wanting my school district to pay a bunch of middle-aged, white guys to sitting around in a darkened room stalking my daughter’s Facebook page.”

            How do you know who is looking at these sites? And what does their race, gender, or age have to do with anything? This kind of rhetoric is little more than a visceral left-wing tic.

            I’m not defending the scope of the SAFe program, because so much is still unknown. But what I have heard so far does not sound completely unreasonable, other than the cost.

            But then we come to the point where the train really leaves the tracks:

            “This program exists not to spy on kids, but rather to spy on teachers.”

            So this whole thing is just a big ruse to spy on teachers? And there is actual, specific evidence to support this charge? Occam’s razor pretty much fillets this theory and serves it for dinner.


            1. How do we know who is looking at these sites you ask?
              Here you go. The city system web site contains no operational information on SAFe, but displays a logo and lists three staff members. Those include two security officers and consultant Chris McRae.

            2. Ben,

              Thank you for sharing your opinion. It’s fairly clear that you haven’t read much of what has been written on the spying plan. You might want to do so.

              Furthermore, “our” kids cannot mean “Huntsville’s” kids. When she said it, the four kids who had been caught were all “Huntsville’s” kids, too. If Wardynski is to be believed when he says that they have caught 600 students in this spying program, a number that does not match up with his own claims that discipline issues are at an all time low, all 600 of those students were also “Huntsville’s” kids. Your interpretation of her statement isn’t logical.

              For evidence of spying on teachers, feel free to go speak with any of the teachers whom you support. Ask them if they work in an environment where they know they have to be careful about what they say online, on their own time. Ask Ms. Bender if she feels free to even do her job and provide an accurate assessment of the status of the network in the district? Ask them if they’ve been asked to sign a document specifically stating that they will not tell parents about issues in their classroom. If they trust you, they’ll still tell you that they did.

              Yes, I am a opposed to both Ferrell and Wardynski. I think that has been well established. I do not wish either of them ill, nor do I actually “dislike” either of them. I believe that they have been and will continue to be terrible for our schools and city, but this opinion is not based on my personal feelings about them as you claim. If you believe that they are, why are you still reading? (Or in this case, commenting without reading?)

              The race, age, and gender of the people involved in the SAFe Program has been well-established. While I doubt that one of them is quite middle-aged, all three are white males.

              And yes, I’m a liberal. Yes, I am sure that I have “visceral left-wing” tics. To tell you the truth, I’m proud of them. I do believe we should work together to help one another.

              If you are okay with having the school district spying on all our children, so long as the “cost” is contained, well then I think we’ve found one of your visceral right-wing tics, haven’t we?

              As always, it’s good talking with you. Thanks for commenting and sharing your opinion.

            3. Ben the race of the folks ‘monitoring’ these kids’ accounts is VERY important. A program like SAFe has to be operated by a group of diverse folks that have a good understand of all types of cultures and communities. They are making decisions based on a snapshot and/or a 140 character tweet…that type of profiling situation is terrible for our communities of color when all of the folks conducting the investigations are white.

              1. That is absurd in the extreme. Must we have every race, religion, and culture represented in leadership in order to avoid “misinterpretation” of what it means to brandish a weapon? The “requirement” that you describe is unwieldy and impractical. That’s like saying that my Caucasian child can’t learn from his black/Asian bi-racial teacher because of cultural differences — I’d be laughed out of the room if I tried to make that claim.

                And again, I maintain that observation of public speech is not spying. If a student puts information out for general consumption, how can they then feel offense when it is viewed?

                1. I agree that public speech is not spying. However, I also believe that children/minors deserve extra protection concerning our expectations of their understanding of public speech.

                  That’s where education can serve us best: not by spying or monitoring if you prefer, but by addressing the roots of the issues that are making some believe spying is necessary.

                  The monitoring of students creates an adversarial relationship which will perpetuate the issue rather than address the issue.

                  Furthermore since we have not received ANY clear information from the district concerning the program, we have no reason to believe that this monitoring is limited to public information.

                  1. Can we agree, however, that the PRIMARY source of protection for ALL of our kids ought to be their parent(s)? The mere fact that kids attend school shouldn’t supplant parents’ responsibility to educate and regulate their kids’ behavior!

                    Believe me when I say that I am FAR from digitally sophisticated, before anyone starts on the “but the parents don’t know what’s going on” mantra. Nonetheless, I have worked hard to educate my children about the value of keeping certain things private, and the way that an online presence robs you of the opportunity to EVER rein some information back into that sphere. Have I been entirely successful? Nope. The kids think I’m hyper-vigilant, if not paranoid. They don’t see the value in not sharing every. inane. thought. that they have. But that doesn’t mean that I have stopped trying to persuade them. Frankly, I hope that the knowledge that they could face discipline at school will help me make my point!

                    I am right there with you in a believing that the extent, the manner, and the cost of this surveillance ought to be laid out in the open. And I agree wholeheartedly that the primary purpose of educators ought to be to educate. But I’m also willing to admit I DON’T KNOW how to square that priority alongside the growing wave of anti-social behavior among students, the roots of which are often cultivated on social media, and the effects of which often manifest at school.

                    I think of the girls (YOUNG girls!) in WI who lured their classmate into the woods and stabbed her nearly to death as part of a scheme that was hatched online. I think of the grossly inappropriate young man in California who shot college students after clearly delineating his violent fantasies on YouTube. Even locally — do we know whether Hammad Memon made any online boasts before he shot and killed Todd Brown? What if he had? What if the schools had been able to identify these risks and act to prevent these harms through a monitoring/intervention program? I not prepared to say there isn’t value to that.

                    My field of research focuses on the First Amendment. I prize speech freedoms. But I also know that common notions of what speech is protected and what that protection means are way off the mark.

                    Perhaps if HCS had been more forthright in discussing what it was doing, if this didn’t look like another brick in the top-down authoritarian wall that our school system has become, I might be more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But it’s very, very hard to assume a benevolent (or even legitimate) motivation from this bunch.

                    1. Of course we can agree that the primary responsibility lies with the parent. I never meant to imply anything else. It is absolutely the parent’s responsibility to protect and monitor his or her child’s activity both online and off.

                      My hastily written point is simply that the school could easily and best assist parents in the job of education here.

        2. ” But if the system is looking specifically at kids who fit certain behavioral profiles — such as having been suspended from school — then she is O.K. with it. Seems pretty straightforward to me — There’s no need to turn it into anything racial. ” But is is racial. It’s also profiling.

          1. I think it undermines your argument that you have not taken issue with the fact that all of the disciplined students are male. You immediately go to race, because that seems to be the first thing you see. There has LITERALLY been zero mention of the gender of these students. The mere fact that a regulation disproportionately affects people of a particular class (be that race, gender, or age) does not necessarily indicate that a the regulation is motivated by racism, sexism, or ageism.

            As a point of fact, however, wasn’t there a white female student who was disciplined for having a gun at school — the one they said was making suicidal comments?

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