Imagine, if you can, thousands of parents last January insisting that the Fairfax County, Virginia, school board distribute a 169-question sex survey to their 13-, 15-, and 17-year-olds. Envision legions of taxpayers falling all over themselves to divert $60,000 earmarked for educational purposes to ask students about oral sex, number of sexual partners, depression, and suicide.
Children behaving badly isn’t news, of course. The question here is, Who—and, more importantly, how many—are those promoting tell-all polls in the classroom?
A close examination of news accounts reveals the answer: special interests, especially social “service” agencies and other organized causes feasting on greenbacks from federal, state, and local governments. Every foundation, association, and Center-for-Whatever—from the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) to Planned Parenthood—is hot to get its pet nonacademic program into the schools, particularly if it focuses on sex, race, the failures of parents, or mental illness.
Powerful incentives exist to goad as many children as possible into “confessing” antisocial and unhealthy attitudes. Kevin P. Dwyer, president of the National Association of School Psychologists, defends psychological pop quizzes, explaining that this “valuable information [is] almost impossible to obtain from any other source . . . ” He worries that a negative court ruling might prompt legislators to nix all questionnaires.
Fairfax’s survey is only the latest flap. The furor of 2002, for example, was over Ridgewood (New Jersey) High School’s 156-question survey: “Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors.” This brainchild of the Minneapolis-based Search Institute received, not coincidentally, major funding for “prevention” projects from several government agencies.
A Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ task force, the Youth Survey Working Group, launched the Virginia survey. Committee members knew perfectly well that asking minors to divulge information of an intimate, political, or unlawful nature without parental knowledge or consent is unethical and usually illegal and that repeating questions in various formats to ensure that the information compromises the respondents is tantamount to entrapment. In any case, most school officials are aware that students’ responses are not really anonymous but “confidential”—i.e., that responses are typically “slugged” (pre-identified) and disclosed on a need-to-know basis.
Parents are deemed nuisances to be circumvented, not cooperating partners. Dr. Karen Effrem, parent and pediatrician with the Maple River Education Coalition in St. Paul, Minnesota, testified at a recent hearing before her state legislature that the No Child Left Behind Act threatens parental authority.
“If parents are really cooperative,” stated Dr. Effrem, “federal and state government will allow them to participate in the educational decisions regarding their own children.” This is the key issue: The state and the education establishment, in collusion with the hydra-headed mental-health industry, have decided that most parents are unwilling or unable to provide meaningful guidance to their children.
No sooner had Dr. Effrem presented her testimony than officials in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, announced they would become a pilot district for a new initiative—to disseminate parent report cards. Parents in the 4,200-student district would earn grades based on attendance at parent-teacher conferences, returning papers with the required signatures, and seeing that their youngsters come to school healthy—all admirable goals, no doubt, but insulting to parents who routinely fulfill their responsibilities. Might a parent receive a low mark for, say, objecting to the sex questionnaire in Virginia or for promoting “intolerant” attitudes about single parenthood and “alternative lifestyles”?
Coercive personal surveys permeate today’s classrooms, from health to history classes. Nearly all carry political overtones and affect curricula. Some questionnaires include items asking what newspapers and magazines are found in students’ homes and solicit information on parents’ health or finances. The formats typically are a mixture of true/false, “what-would-you-do-if,” and “how-do-you-feel-when” queries. That is why newspapers are able to report that “16 percent of 12-year-olds say they have” done this or that in the past month.
Not only is such information frequently individually identifiable, but much of it is cross-referenceable with other computerized data. With the increasing interoperability of local, state, and federal computer systems—under the mandate of information-sharing—comes the specter of citizen dossiers.
Is such extensive record-keeping already underway?
That depends on who needs it. Electronic cross-matching (a.k.a. “data-trafficking” and “data-mining”) is expensive and time-consuming. Should an individual sufficiently irritate someone important, aspire to public office, or become a whistle-blower, however, all kinds of data, including political and social views, are trotted out. As info-matching services become more lucrative and national-ID proposals take on new urgency in the name of security, the sheer frequency and volume of data collection is potentially evolving into a political litmus test.
Today’s questionnaires and screening instruments amount to psychological profiling. The presumption is that, if people have nothing to hide, they will comply. The term voluntary suggests the freedom to opt out. In practice, there are implied repercussions for refusing. Thus, most school surveys do not make the headlines. Consent forms, if any exist, usually find their way home after the fact. Invasive questionnaires may even be incorporated in an academic test or appear as part of a curriculum or school activity.
In one Philadelphia-area Christian school, pupils were asked questions similar to those on the Fairfax survey. The school, while private, received some tax support, which was all it took to launch the survey—to compile government-mandated health statistics. Many times, questions are formulated by contractors with ties to such organizations as SIECUS and Planned Parenthood, which favor graphic sex curricula, aggressive mental-health interventions, and extremist political causes.
Pennsylvania has been awash in phony testing and survey scandals since 1973, when the American Civil Liberties Union first took the state education agency’s Division of Testing to task for asking personal questions on standardized tests without parental knowledge or consent. The suit was dropped when the state agreed to provide written notice. By 1984, however, unauthorized fishing expeditions into students’ private lives were again a source of controversy. The state was caught red-handed tying curriculum and federal dollars to the “test” questions. Today the practice is ubiquitous, and another survey is headed for Pennsylvania’s public schools (see “Survey Will Ask Students about Private Family Matters,” www.pennlive.com/news/patriotnews). Alison Delsite, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Crime and Delinquency Commission, told the Patriot News that “[t]he questionnaire is designed to find out how many young people are at risk for drug abuse, violence and other problems. The information is used to target state and local money and prevention efforts.”
Why is state and local money being funneled into prevention efforts in schools? Because the federal dollars received by each state’s Department of Education are tied to “violence prevention.” These monies are passed on to local school districts through such entities as Pennsylvania’s Crime and Delinquency Commission.
Who is behind the Pennsylvania survey? The “Channing Bete Company, a Massachusetts firm that markets Communities That Care, a youth violence prevention effort.” The organization was paid by the federal government to develop a survey and receive even more money for administering it. (A version of the survey can be viewed at www.pccd.state.pa.us/Stats/docs/PAYS2001.)
In response to a legal challenge by parents, Fairfax County attorney David Bobzien determined in February that the survey asking high-school students about their sexual experiences does not violate Chapter 31, Title 20, Section 1232h of the U.S. Code, which states that
no student shall be required, as part of any applicable program, to submit to a survey, analysis, or evaluation that reveals information concerning . . . sex behavior and attitudes . . . without the prior consent of the parent.
The survey, argued Bobzien, was a local initiative and did not involve federal funds.
This is a typical response to lawsuits from parent groups. The burden—financial and otherwise—falls to parents to uncover the federal funding behind such surveys, resulting in huge legal fees for discovery. Attorneys usually can pursue the money trail far enough to locate the “incentives” and “technical assistance” that federal agencies and their subgrantees provide. It can be a long, daunting process, however.
There is an even more subtle disincentive to take on the system. Beginning in their youngsters’ elementary-school years, parents are urged to “get involved”—serve on curriculum committees, task forces, in the PTA. The illusion is that their views really matter. Parents soon discover, however, that, unless their values conform to the predetermined “consensus,” they are ostracized. The “approved opinions” always seem to emanate from well-heeled special interests—like SIECUS.
So just how did those nasty little questionnaires get into the Fairfax and Ridgewood schools? The answer is consensus-building.
Such methods as the Delphi Technique, among others, originated years ago as a means of moving contentious business meetings along. Gradually, these strategies evolved into something more manipulative.
Special interests know that only those controversial initiatives judged to be “in the interest of the state” and to have community support will survive. For example, the federal government is prohibited by law from becoming involved in determining curricula—unless some subject is deemed “in the interest of the state.” Teen pregnancy, school violence, sexually transmitted diseases, and a whole range of social objectives fall into that category—but not such basic subjects as spelling, math, or geography. Initiatives likely to be rejected by the public require careful nurturing. But by creating an impression of voter support, legislators and school officials can be convinced to implement projects that most parents dislike, even abhor.
Parents who balk are “Delphi-ed” out. Posing as unbiased moderators of a discussion, trained “facilitators” representing the special interest are sent to communities to engineer a phony consensus. After ascertaining the various factions within the target group, the facilitator deftly pits one against the other until only the preapproved view is left standing. Alternative opinions are rejected as backward, extreme, or reactionary—by “consensus.” Principle is dumped in favor of group-think, which is the adult form of “peer pressure.”
Consider what are characterized today as majority views on sex and cohabitation. The special-interest groups would have us believe that most people accept illegitimacy and sex outside of marriage and that modern birth-control methods have made abstinence and monogamy obsolete. According to Zogby International, however, by a 2.4 to 1 margin, parents disapprove of comprehensive sex education. Even more condemn the “safe-sex” curricula promoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two thirds of parents disapprove of telling children aged five to eight details of sexual intercourse or self-arousal, of telling youngsters between the ages of nine and 12 that homosexual relationships are satisfying, and of teaching 12- to 15-year-olds that cohabitation is as good as marriage. Parents feel strongly that “sexual or physical intimacy should occur between two people involved in a lifelong, mutually faithful marriage commitment.” They approve teaching abstinence as a primary response to epidemic STD’s, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and abortions.
For years, groups such as SIECUS, Planned Parenthood, the Alan Guttma-cher Institute, the National Education Association, the CDC, and Advocates for Youth, among others, have claimed that between 80 and 90 percent of parents support “comprehensive” sex-education programs for young children. How did these groups achieve such a misrepresentation of public opinion? By conducting manipulative focus groups and disseminating surveys that describe explicit sex education in vague, even compassionate, language.
Most people do not realize that self-determination is removed in the process of consensus-building. Those who oppose coercive surveys could shut down the process, take back the discussion, and reframe the debate—if they knew how. The less time our schools actually spend teaching, however, the less graduates can hold on to, or argue for, their personal beliefs—a self-perpetuating problem that becomes deadly for representative democracy.
This is the real tragedy of our declining schools—where “consensus” is sold as “empowerment.”