The Pinkerton Detective Agency has cut a bloody swath through American
history. Pinkerton agents were union-busters and kidnappers, and
even shot and killed striking workers. Now there's a new addition
to the Pinkertons' résumé: high school guidance counselor.
In 1999, the Pinkerton Service Group, in conjunction with the Center
for the Prevention of School Violence, initiated the "Working Against
Violence Everywhere America" program in North Carolina, and is now
looking to expand it across the country. WAVE America combines a
public awareness campaign, "student-led" initiatives (designed by
the Pinkertons) and an anonymous tip line for students to tattle
on each other, all to combat school violence.
WAVE America was established through the recommendation of former
North Carolina Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt's Task Force on Youth Violence
and School Safety. Anyone can call in and report on a student they
suspect may be violent, or even simply capable of becoming violent.
Pinkerton employees interview the caller and determine whether to
send the report to the school district. "More than 400 calls were
received during the first year of operation," says Joanne McDaniel,
acting director of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence.
"No guns or plans were revealed, but concerns about bullying, verbal
abuse and fighting were reported."
WAVE doesn't track the history of the tips it collects and distributes;
school districts contact WAVE if the tip leads to a peaceful resolution.
School districts have only reported back to WAVE about 35 percent
of the time to say that the information gained by the tip led to
some sort of peaceful resolution, though many other cases may have
been resolved without the district contacting WAVE.
The Pinkertons already operate corporate snitch lines. Their AlertLine
800 number encourages employees to rat one another out over theft,
threats of violence and other ethical concerns. AlertLine services
more than 800 companies, and is accessible to more than 6 million
employees worldwide, according to the Pinkerton Web site. AlertLine
tips are passed along to management and are also funneled into Esteem
Information Services. Esteem is Pinkerton's database of criminal
records and other information on employees who may have been dismissed
for theft or other violations without ever being legally charged.
WAVE America tips are also not checked for veracity, outside of
the discretion of the communication specialists working the tip
line. What are the guarantees that WAVE tips won't end up in a Pinkerton
dossier several years later? McDaniel says that the reports are
kept only on paper and destroyed within 90 days, but the Pinkertons
themselves are less forthcoming. Asked about the possibility that
WAVE information could find its way into Esteem, spokeswoman Tamara
Park would only say, "The WAVE America program is designed solely
to help reduce incidences of school violence."
McDaniel says that WAVE's protocols are based on the Department
of Education's report on school violence, "Early Warning/Timely
Response." When a student is prone toward violence, he or she often
gives off multiple signals--"not just wearing a trenchcoat," McDaniel
says. The Department of Education considers "social withdrawal,"
"excessive feelings of rejection," "feelings of being picked on
and persecuted," "expressions of violence in writing and drawings"
and even "being a victim of violence" to be warning signs of violence.
But they are also warning signs that one is simply a teen-ager.
Bestselling horror novelist and former high school misfit Poppy
Z. Brite says she "would have been expelled 20 times over" were
she in a North Carolina high school today. Brite, who attended Jordan
High School in Durham in the '80s, spent those years slammed against
walls by rednecks (victim of violence, check), being a disaffected
outsider (social withdrawal, check) and writing horror fiction (expressions
of violence in writing, check). She would have been vulnerable to
the WAVE America snitch line and its criteria for a potentially
Brite "acted out" not through violence, but by publishing the underground
school paper, The Glass Goblin. Brite's teachers loved the
Goblin even though administrators didn't, and she managed to avoid
heavy-handed counseling. Brite went on to a career as the author
of Lost Souls and Exquisite Corpse. She explains,
"I don't know any successful creative types who weren't freaks and
outsiders in high school." "It's ludicrous," says Herbert Gintis,
co-author of Schooling In Capitalist America. Gintis isn't
surprised that the Pinkertons got into counseling. School exists
in the long shadow of work, and reflects the needs of capital. Gintis
sees WAVE as "an alternative form of discipline" for schools that,
he says, have "under-stressed discipline and responsibility."
Since Pinkerton policies are a major feature in thousands of workplaces,
kids need to get used to them now. But like the workplace, the conventional
educational system--where children are trained to compete and are
tracked into different learning environments--just isn't fulfilling
for many students. It isn't surprising that some kids are snapping
under the pressure.