How Parents Can Push Back Against Troubling Trends in Education

The trend lines in public education are troubling. 

The system is relentlessly remolded from liberal-arts education to narrow workforce training to benefit politically connected corporations. Teachers are marginalized in favor of machines, as curricula move online and students are relegated to screens instead of face-to-face instruction. Sophisticated software platforms compile mountains of intensely personal data on the operation of the child’s mind. Digital tools, magnanimously provided to schools by Google, Facebook, etc., suck each student into that corporate universe and provide a steady stream of data to keep the profitable engines humming. 

Children are subjected to intrusive “surveys” about sensitive topics that are manifestly none of the government’s business, and class time is spent more on probing personalities than instilling knowledge. Students play classroom video games that are designed to “nudge” them into government-approved mindsets.

All the resulting data is analyzed, sorted, and fed into proprietary algorithms that can influence or even determine the child’s future paths. It may be sold – even to China – for purposes unknown to the student’s parents. Or it may be combined with other data troves within the federal government so that the omniscient State can know everything there is to know about the citizen – or, by virtue of new algorithms created when his data has been shaken and stirred, even things he doesn’t know about himself.

Especially since parents tend to give their own local schools high grades even if they’re disturbed by developments nationally, the tendency is to quietly surrender and hope for the best. But for the sake of our children and our society, surrender is not an option.

So what can be done?

For decades the education establishment, federal and state, has operated with practically free rein. Despite mini-revolts when the train really veered off the tracks (for example, the pushback against Outcome-Based Education, now called Competency-Based Education, in some states), by and large the educrats have done what they wanted. This situation must change, and it must start at the local level.

A few practical suggestions for parents. These suggestions address primarily data and privacy issues. The list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good start.

Pay close attention to digital technology in your child’s classroom. Demand to know what data the software is collecting and what happens to it. Request to see the vendor’s contract with the school, and especially the privacy policy that governs the data. If you’re not satisfied with what you find, refuse to let your child use that platform. Ditto regarding the use of platforms that don’t offer a parent portal so you can see what your child sees. Demand that the school provide an identifying number so that your child doesn’t use his own name on any platform. And as a general rule, tell the school your child is not allowed to play video games. Period.

Don’t allow your child to use Google Apps for Education or any school-issued device (including “wearables,” such as Fitbit). Give the school limits on how much time it can put your child on a screen. For more specific tech-related suggestions, see those from Allison McDowell and Cheri Kiesecker, here.

Don’t give the school any data about your child unless you understand the need for it. No, the school doesn’t need your kindergartner’s dental records; don’t provide them. Don’t give social security numbers either. 

Read everything the school sends home with your child, especially handbooks and other information at the beginning of the semester. This may be where the information about objectionable surveys is buried. Opt your child out of every survey. Every one.

HT to radio host Shannon Joy in New York: Teach your child to notice his educational surroundings and report to you when something seems amiss. If a test includes unusual questions, he should tell you. If he’s stuck on a screen in class longer than you have permitted, he should tell you. If he’s told to take a survey, he should politely decline until he gets your permission. (Opting out of assessments is its own category, not covered here.)

The initial reaction of administrators to your instructions will probably be incredulity. After all, they have rarely if ever been challenged. They’ll probably insist you can’t set these boundaries. But you can. You are in charge here, and unless they can show you a state or federal statute requiring you to subject your child to the objectionable mandate (hint: there is rarely such a statute), stand your ground. Get other parents to join you. Maybe we can take back education, one child at a time.

7 thoughts on “How Parents Can Push Back Against Troubling Trends in Education

  1. Yeah…I did lot of these suggestions and was awarded with the “tin foil hat” award by teachers, admin and other parents. I wear it proudly!

    1. Me too, when my daughter was in public school. I now homeschool her, but still encourage parents to take ownership of they are still the parents, even when their children are in school. The government and the school system wants parents to think otherwise; however, they are paid by us, THE PARENTS, and work for us. And, most importantly, as parents, we bear the responsiblity, not anyone else, for everything in our children’s lives. Tin foil hat on and looking mighty fine!!

  2. For generations, parents & teachers have trusted others for ed content. Results have not been consistent & could not trust results.
    Now public is pushing back but to WHAT? Should understand reforms then focus on what grads need!! GRADS DESERVE YOUR PARTICIPATION, NOT just rejection!!

  3. There is always safety and strength in numbers. Parents need to organize over the summer and put a plan in place for making their demands at the end of the summer. If you can get a group of parents to agree on a list of demands then go present them (you are not asking for permission) you are telling them how it is going to be for your child. But we could make some real progress is many parents group together. Doing nothing can no longer be an option. If you think the school is going to do the right thing please think again. They do as they are told by the state and the state does what it is told by DC.

  4. Incisive and well written article. This or any other time is a great opportunity to abolish the bloated department of education, a monstrocity established during the carter administration that has done a good job of wrecking K-12.

  5. Okay, I’ve held my tongue long-enough, but I keep seeing comments like Marty’s and it’s driving me crazy. I don’t want to sound like some kind of know-it-all but the department of education is old, it goes back to the Civil War era, they’ve been bribing and establishing committees to control local education for a long time, and most schools were pretty uniform by the early 1900s. It’s gone through different name changes: Bureau of Education, Department of Health, Human Welfare, and Education, etc…the ESEA was passed before Carter. I found this out as I was trying to figure out when was the golden age of education and looked into the history of every subject in school, so we could make some education decisions. The New Math book that Dashell Parr held up? That was a real federal government funded thing during the 60s. I wish IT WAS a common core reference and we don’t have to dig much to find a quality education. The end of cursive first and phonics and quality history/civics education and the new focus on thought processes instead of how well you absorbed what matters goes many many decades back. Standardized tests have been around for a while too. There’s way more to undo here even if by some miracle common core is undone in a few years. Most private schools and homeschool curricula were formed after the 70s; even some of the best teachers/curriculum developers don’t know what a truly fed-influence-free education looks like. Sorry TIAE; I was biting my tongue hard when you shared a meme that said education was the same for thousands of years until some guy came along, it hasn’t, it’s been evolving through the federal government for a long time.

    1. You’re right Cambria, that the federal government has had their noses in the realm of public education for a very long time. Jimmy Carter just stream lined it. I think he did it with good intentions, but it has become nothing but one stop shopping for every huckster trying to make millions. As it stands, the USDOE should be abolished. There are a few departments that should be saved and absorbed into other agencies….other than that, USDoE is nothing but a giant money sucking vacuum.

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