For 30 years, elementary and secondary education has been taking on a new orientation, away from substantive subject matter toward a mental health agenda. Personality development—i.e., the “whole child” concept of education—has become the primary focus of schooling. Collection of psychological data on minors, and its storage in nonsecure, cross-referenecable facilities, without the prior notification much less the consent of parent or guardians, has launched a new era in the debate over privacy rights, while undermining traditional parental prerogatives in directing the education and moral development of their children. An ever-increasing nationalization of policy and management structure has further weakened involvement in education through such outlets as community associations and school boards.

In short, public education today is directing the bulk of its energies toward such pursuits as “self-esteem,” “intervention,” condom distribution, and social services rather than developing proficiency, literacy, or the tools for financial independence. Eventually, even the most dedicated parents tire of the battle and decline to participate further in the education process.

On an unprecedented scale, education policymakers at the national and state levels are infusing subject-oriented curricula with materials referred to in the vernacular as “strands.” These are intended to mold the opinions of young people. If unsuccessful, corrective strategies (some of them bordering on the subliminal) are brought in to “remediate” viewpoints considered “inappropriate,” or otherwise undesirable, by a vastly overrated behavioral science community.

Testing companies, which are staffed primarily with behavioral scientists rather than educators, are bringing into the classroom massive quantities of tests and surveys, under the fraudulent labels “achievement,” “aptitude,” and “assessment testing,” which are explicitly designed to elicit and predict the viewpoints and proclivities of youngsters and their parents. Selected “strands,” or mini-courses, are then supposed to “modify” students’ opinions and behaviors. The scope of this activity in public education is particularly troubling, as it threatens on a nationwide scale student individuality and the constitutionally protected right to conscience.

When combined with the current level of sophistication in record-keeping, this deceptive testing-programming-remediating scheme portends a dossier-building capability which, in the hands of political opportunists, is leading us all unknowingly to the breakdown of the democratic process. Even many who initially applauded these innovations are beginning to wonder what would happen if the political winds shifted and a different political faction ruled the roost—with another 10 years of computer technology under its belt.

Meanwhile, education buzzwords are crafted so as to project an image far different from what they mean. “World-Class Standards,” “Core Curriculum,” “Education/Goals 2000,” “Life-Role Competencies,” “Higher Order Thinking Skills”: none of these refers to academics, substantive knowledge, or even literacy. All are part of prepackaged advertising campaigns, designed by national task forces (not by local communities) to bring a positive response from legislators just long enough for some coveted initiative to be passed into law, or at least to become institutionalized if not exactly legal. Should a term elicit too much negative public reaction, then professional manipulators, called “facilitators,” are brought in from outside the community for damage control, and the terminology is changed to buy time to deflect the criticism. Thus did “global education” become “multiculturalism”; “school reform” was born again as “restructuring”; and “situation ethics” has been reintroduced as “ethical judgment.” The substance of such programs, however, never changes, regardless of which political party is in power or what local communities want.

National “restructuring”—which includes “outcome-based” and “performance-based” education, “results-based monitoring,” etc.—means just one thing; indefinite, nonacademic, touchy-feely objectives tied to a computer technology with the capability to monitor and track individual reactions and responses over time. These are stored as electronic files, for sale to any “researcher” who can pay. Personal identifiers permit these records to be linked with still other computerized data on individuals and demographic groups so that information brokers can link up to various public and private information, from census to income tax records, losing the compiled data, slick campaigns and “messages” can be targeted to specific subpopulations, neighborhoods, even to individual students sitting in the classroom, via computer terminal.

Parents—indeed, the public in general—must understand that, in education, they are not dealing simply with teachers who want to help their children learn, but with behavioral scientists whose starting point is that professionals know better than parents how to raise children. These pseudoscientists view education as socialization, pure and simple. Parents are seen as impediments because of some supposed, exponentially growing generation gap. The answer, they say, is to remove the child as early as possible from the offending parental environment.

Most people think this wisdom refers only to children of incompetent, negligent, and irresponsible parents. But in the end, all parents are viewed as wanting, and new policies are applied across the board. Such warped fanaticism is not going to be easily countered with specious arguments, open forums, and parent-teacher conferences. It can only be addressed through the force of law.

Some folks apparently have gotten that message. In April 1993, more than 10,000 parents opted out of Texas’s state assessment, the Norm-Referenced Assessment Program. In November of that year, a thousand parents gathered in protest outside Pennsylvania’s state capitol building in Harrisburg, with 150 of their legislators’ blessings. Then, a little monthly newspaper began circulating out of Iowa, The Free World Research Report, publicizing to a now-nationwide readership the status of copycat education legislation in various states, buzz phrases that emerge out of nowhere and are institutionalized, and information ranging from state-regional-federal computer networks to the “whole language” approach to reading instruction.

Moreover, there is a growing resistance movement that refuses to be relegated to serving cookies and punch at the PTA, while their representatives rubber-stamp directives from On High. Thousands of maverick citizens groups and parents who, just five years ago, were told they were the only “oddballs” questioning their schools (and getting the runaround), are no longer “home alone.” Today, they are networking, too—on Prodigy, CompuServe, and even on the Internet. They are demanding to sec copies of standardized tests and insisting on signoff prior to any psychological probing or programming. They are saying “good riddance” to bogus child management theories of the 60’s and electing school boards with backbone to represent parental interests.

But the going is tough. Pervasive data trafficking and privacy rights violations are presenting significant challenges over which parents have already lost any meaningful control. Let us hope there is still time to rescue our schools.