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.
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.