Many people are concerned about the problems that face our nation today, and the good folks at the Missouri Department of Education are no exception. In an attempt to reverse the decline in enrollment and the high dropout rate, and to win back parental favor for the public school system, Missouri launched an experimental parenting program in 1981. It was then called New Parents as First Teachers, but has since been simplified to Parents as Teachers, or PAT.
Dr. Burton White’s Harvard Preschool Project paved the way for the PAT program. “Sending a new parent home with a six-day-old baby as we now do in this country is insane,” he asserted at a 1982 education conference. He predicted that future community involvement in his “very unusual project” would reach 80 percent.
In Missouri PAT began as a voluntary pilot project in four school districts at a cost of only $30,000 each. State legislators believed it would help disadvantaged children by screening them for “developmental delays.” In 1985 the Missouri Legislature mandated the Parents as Teachers program for all schools and all children. The cost rose to over 9 million dollars and involved 53,000 families.
This program now covers 100,000 children at a cost of fifteen million dollars in tax money, and the January 1990 issue of Parents as Teachers News, PAT’s monthly bulletin, reports that PAT will be fully implemented “by 1995 or so.” Since 1981 PAT has been introduced in 40 states and at least eight foreign countries, and in 1987, the Education Commission of the States announced eight spinoff programs with different names and similar goals. Edward Ziegler, director of the Yale University Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy, predicts the future price tag will be from seventy-five to one hundred billion dollars for the total child care package. All that money will go to pay for a program that is revolutionary in its approach to child development and parent involvement.
Much of the strategy behind PAT was laid out at a Governor’s Conference on Education held in Kansas in 1989 called “Schools, Goals and the 1990’s.” At the Kansas Governor’s Conference two years earlier Dr. Ziegler stated that “the child care system must become part of the very structure of our society. It must be tied to a known major societal institution.” During the 1989 conference Lamar Alexander, president of the University of Tennessee, called for “a brand new American school.” These schools are to be open year round for children from birth, and a team of teachers will be assigned to a child from the day that child arrives at the school all the way through college.
Dr. Shirley McCune added definition to what she called the “strategic direction” for American schools. “It seems to me that far too much of our efforts have been focused on the issue of let’s find a short term fix and fix up these schools and taking care of them, rather than the issue of understanding that what we’re into is a total restructuring of the society. What is happening in America today and what is happening in Kansas and the Great Plains is not simply a chance situation and the usual winds of change. What it amounts to is a total transformation of our society. We have moved into a new era.”
Dr. Frank Newman, who is with the Education Commission of the States (and on the national advisory board of PAT), agreed. “We cannot expect these systems to change unless we change the basic policies that surround them. That means for example that new teachers entering the profession must come in from higher education and teacher education programs as change agents.”
To the Missouri taxpayer, the goals of PAT may be more obscure.
The process begins when a “parent educator,” through home visits and school visits, bonds herself to a family. The January 1990 issue of Parents as Teachers News reports that the “purpose of these visits is to help the parents feel more comfortable about leaving their child at the center. Because the parent-teacher relationship begins in the home, parents see the teacher and the center as more responsive to their needs and to the needs of their baby.”
Once that bond between parent educator and the biological parent is established, the children and parents are eased into school programs that deliver a battery of services. First, under the guise of education screening, parents and children are evaluated, the child is given a personal computer code number, and a computer record is initiated that will enable Missouri to track each child-for the rest of his life. All of the twelve computer code definitions label the children “at risk.” If children don’t fit in the first eleven “at risk” categories, they automatically fall into the twelfth category PAT calls “Other—That Wonderful Catch All.” There is no code for normal.
The next step of the PAT program is to change and usurp the relationships parents have with their children. The change agent, the “significant other,” will be working with the children in a “mentoring program” or perhaps as a “certified parent educator.” This new “certified parent educator” delivers free medical care, free nutrition counseling, free mental health services, and free food—all things formerly provided by the parents.
As time goes on children spend more time at school than at home. Services are increased. The parents discover that the schools will provide free daycare, free overnight care, and free camps, as well as free education.
All these free services come, however, at the price of sometimes significant interference in family life. One young mother, Gabrielle Copp, reports that she was outraged at the arrogance of the “state certified parent,” who told her husband he could not spank their children. When her husband would not agree the parent educator tried to get Gabby to side with her against him. The Copps are withdrawing from the PAT program.
Family advice is strongly discouraged not only by the parent educators but by a PAT-distributed booklet entitled What Now? A Practical Guide for Parents with Young Children by M.S. Linebarger and R.N. Bonebrake. “Ignoring information offered by a grandparent or relative is sometimes difficult,” they write. “Family members often have the parent and child’s best interest at heart, but too many suggestions can make the new parent feel incompetent or even feel like a failure. The new parent needs to learn to make decisions independently and not depend on others for advice.”
As Nida Clayton writes (she is a mother of five who has recently left the PAT program), “In light of these statements I find it very interesting that [Linebarger and Bonebrake] go on for the next three paragraphs to advise new parents to read parenting manuals . . . and books on child rearing and participate in educational programs provided by mental health centers, health departments, the Division of Family Services, and their local Parents as First Teachers.” The goal is, clearly, not to encourage the parents to make independent decisions, because they might make wrong decisions (such as the decision to spank their children). The goal is to undercut the extended as well as immediate family, so that the parents depend on the state support system, whose experts know so much better what it is children need.
Some parents may object to the new goals of the change agents in the school. However, the parent educator isn’t responsible to the parent but’ to the state. In the state of Missouri PAT is also called a child abuse prevention program, and the parent educator is also a child abuse investigator, one of whose jobs is to create abuse statistics. Missouri law (and similar laws are in effect throughout the United States) requires that “mandated reporters” report to the child abuse hotline anything they “suspect” might be abuse or neglect. Since the definition of child abuse or neglect is very broad, any subjective determination made by the “mandated reporter”—here the “parent educator”—must be reported to the hotline. Failure to do so is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a $1,000 fine and one year in jail. As a home visitor, PAT’S parent educator carries a big club.
For instance, if a child isn’t happy at school or acts up, talks too much, or otherwise misbehaves, the “certified parent educator” may prescribe mental health services or perhaps a drug like Ritalin. A booklet distributed widely by the Missouri Division of Family Services states that one reason for a child abuse hotline call is “refusal to take recommended services.” If the parent refuses the recommended services, the state can remove the child from the home, place it in a residential treatment center, and force the parent to take psychological counseling for an indefinite period. “Failure to provide” is, even now, a frequent reason for putting children in state approved facilities. Even if the child is allowed to return home, the state may choose to retain legal custody and control.
A couple of years ago I visited 17 DFS offices around the state to question some “mandated reporters” who are child abuse investigators. One of my questions was this: “Just what is child abuse and neglect and how do you define it?” Some officials gave me xeroxed pages from their notebooks and checklists. Each set was different and often conflicted.
One man listed as a risk factor families who are part of a subculture. He couldn’t define a subculture. Another said, “We don’t have checklists or anything like that.” Another gave me a copy of her checklist of “indicators.” One said, “I would never tell a parent not to use a belt.” Another said, “Whether or not to use a belt is ‘a judgment call.'” Still another said, “Any instrument other than the hand is a weapon and that is child abuse.”
“There is a state-approved standard of living,” said another. But he couldn’t tell me what it was, although he said it was “higher now than it used to be.” “Having a dirty house or diaper rash is neglect,” said another. “Being late for school is an indicator.” “Yelling at a child is emotional abuse.”
All this attention has a financial motive. Head counts in public schools are essential, because the number of children served determines the funding level. There is a bounty on all living, breathing children. If the Parents as Teachers social workers can get one child into the system and keep him there, funding increases. So adding to the school population becomes a task of primary importance. At the 1982 Missouri Education Conference on the Young Years, Ed Pino, an educator from Denver, declared, “The five to eighteen-year-old market is dead. We should have learned that a long time ago. Basically, we’re in the two to five-year-old market. . . . The sooner we latch onto that market, the sooner we won’t have to pink-slip teachers, the sooner we won’t have to close up any schools because of declining enrollment, and the sooner we will be getting the kids when we need to be getting them.” (At this same conference Ritalin-drugged children were put on display. The children were bused to the conference and made to sit on mats on the floor, except when batting beach balls suspended from the ceiling by strings. Attention was called to their sluggish physical and intellectual responses that changed as the drugs wore off and new doses were administered.)
The Parents as Teachers program doesn’t wait until a child is two years old. PAT initiates children and parents into the system before a child is born by recruiting pregnant women in prenatal clinics and private doctors’ offices. If PAT doesn’t capture them there, the Department of Education in Missouri shows a videotape advertising the program to new parents in the hospital before they take their baby home. In a 1990 St. Louis Dispatch article, Mildred Winter of the Parents as Teachers National Center at the University of Missouri at St. Louis said, “Some of our parent educators follow expectant women around the supermarket so they can ask them whether they know about the program.”
The federal government isn’t the only source of funds. Some of the supporters of the Parents as Teachers program include but are not limited to The Ford Foundation, The Carnegie Foundation, The Danforth Foundation, New World Foundation, Edna McConnell-Clark Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the Pet Corporation. There are also The A.P. Green Foundation, The Kansas City Association of Trusts and Foundations, Maritz, Inc., The Monsanto Fund, Don Orscheln, The Powell Family Foundation, and The Speas’ Foundation. In Missouri we check off a little box when filing income tax directing money to The Children’s Trust Fund, another means of funding.
Other federal monies come through the Handicap Law, also known as P.L. 94-142. It may be in the interest of a “certified parent educator” to identify a normal child with the “newspeak” label “developmentally delayed” to initiate the flow of these funds. So should we be shocked that teachers admit the fact that certain tests are rigged to show that up to 75 percent of the normal population of children are abnormal? (Davis Gillam, a teacher who ran the “handicapped” education program in Potosi, Missouri, for many years, left the system last year because her conscience would not allow her to continue to brand normal children as “developmentally delayed.”) Or that a Missouri Department of Education publication reveals that social workers may choose to “rate selected aspects of the child’s social development” without any public accountability for the results?
Parents as Teachers won’t be fully implemented until 1995. Until then, the Parents as Teachers program is using “nice grandmothers from local churches”—as Missouri Secretary of State Roy Blunt put it—for home visits and screening, while certified educator parents are being trained at the Danforth Foundation’s Teachers Preservice Institute. The Institute is recruiting people already working in child care centers to accredit them as “certified parent educators,” who will soon take over the program. They will also assume for many families the primary parenting role. As Carolyn Warner, the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, told the Arizona Herald in 1975, “Those who educate are more to be honored than those who bear the children. The latter gave them only life, the former teach them the art of living.”
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