I harbor a dated concept that schools should teach reading, writing, arithmetic, history and geography (now morphed into “social studies”), music, art and yes, even vocational education. There may be other subjects (dare I say “home economics?”) worthy of curriculum inclusion, but surely you get my point. Please notice I didn’t mention “behavior surveys.”
Question: So why am I bringing up this up in today’s blog? Answer: House Bill 207, entitled “An Act relating to Questionnaires and Surveys Administered in Public Schools,” came before a committee this week. I voted “Do Not Pass.”
According to the bill’s Sponsor Statement, HB 207 changes parental consent requirements for “anonymous” school surveys from an active to passive consent. That means an opt-out instead of opt-in for your parental permission to conduct an “Anonymous” School Surveys on your kid. And what survey does the bill contemplate? – I hear you cry. It’s the invasive 99 question “Anonymous” School Survey called “The Alaska Youth Risk Behavior Survey (hereinafter in the blog to be called AYBS).”
Currently the AYBS cannot be given to students without signed parental consent. Good. That means a consent form to the parent via the child, returned to the school by the child: that’s called “active consent.” Unfortunately, HB207 would change it so “consent” occurs if the school doesn’t receive back a non-consent form from the parent. Come on now . . . I can tell you, both as a parent and retired teacher, that notes don’t always make it home, and all notes from home don’t make it back to school. This isn't rocket science.
So what’s included in the 99 question invasive “Anonymous” Survey? If you want to see for yourself, check out www.asd.k12.ak.us/surveys/YRBS/2005/2005_YRBS.pdf. I don’t make this stuff up.
Let me report some of the more salacious questions (If I heard someone ask some of these questions to a kid selling lemonade from a sidewalk stand, I’d call the cops).
Question 1: How old are you? Response A is 12 years old or younger. Response F is 17 years old. Comment: If a child taking the survey wasn’t 12 years old or younger, pray tell what would be the purpose of Question 1?
Question 25: During the last 12 months, did you ever seriously consider attempting suicide?
Question 26: . . . did you make a plan about how you would attempt suicide?
Question 27: . . . how many times did you actually attempt suicide?
Possible answers are: 0, 1,2 or 3, 4 or 5, 6 or more times.
Comment: Well, if a kid hadn’t thought of suicide already, the survey takes care of that.
Question 47: Have you ever used marijuana? Answers range from 0 to 100 or more.
Questions 48 through 58 ask the same question about a plethora of other drugs the kids may not have even known about.
Comment: Hopefully, a kid who answers 0 on questions 47 to 58 doesn’t think of themselves an under-achiever. That would be bad for self-concept.
Now, the questions blog readers have been waiting for:
Question 60: Have you ever had sexual intercourse? Answer: Yes or No.
Question 61: How old were you when you had sexual intercourse for the first time? Answers: I have never had sexual intercourse, 11 years old or younger, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.
Question 62: . . . with how many people have you had sexual intercourse? Answers range from 0, to 6 or more.
Question 65: . . . did you or your partner use a condom?
Question 66: The last time you had sexual intercourse what method did you or your partner use to prevent pregnancy (select only one response) Answers: none, birth control pills, condoms, Depo-Provera, withdrawal, some other method, not sure.
Suggestion: How about adding a possible response to questions 60-66 of “None of your flipping (to use Governor Murkowski’s innocent word) business” after Yes or No?
Question 92: How often does one of your parents talk with you about what you’re doing in school? Comment: Here’s another opportunity for the answer “none of your flipping business.”
After taking this survey, it would be logical for a student to conclude that illegal and immoral conduct is normal and, if they answered with “low scores” on sexual activity, etc., think they are “abnormal,” or at least a nerd. No kid (or adult) wants to be abnormal. The ABYS is almost like peer pressure by survey.
It’s amazing to me that so many folks stridently call the Patriot Act and the Real ID Act “invasions of privacy,” but think nothing about assaults on privacy of our children and parents with surveys like the AYBS.
There are also other dangers to the ABYS. If parents refuse permission for the survey, what happens to the excused kids? Do they sit in a corner of the room, go to a study hall? Whatever, I’m sure kids who don't take the survey will be singled out. Knowing kids like I do, the excluded children will suffer cruel ridicule from the other kids. Shouldn’t happen. But it will.
The survey is supposed to be “anonymous.” Good. But anonmonity is easily subverted by anyone who would want to. If the survey is administered in a small class – maybe one to five – it’s even easier to discover identities.
Consider this: would you take a similar “anonymous” survey from your employer? Now here’s an interesting thought: would legislators submit themselves to an “anonymous” ABYS type "at risk" survey, if constituents approved?
Why do the schools want to give such surveys? Let’s be positive. Many good teachers and school administrators want to help “at risk” kids, and envision the ABYS survey as one way to do it. There’s probably no bad intent. They mean well, but they simply haven’t thought it through. Can some good come from such surveys? Sure. But, like most things, there can be both intended and unintended consequences. For me, the surveys are (as one commentator put it) “a sociological strip search” of children, and whatever good may result could be outweighed by the bad.
There’s also another reason schools want to change permission for the surveys from active to passive. Some state and federal grant programs require a certain percentage of surveys to be conducted to qualify. Grants can seduce districts into using surveys to interrogate students just to get the money. As we say in politics, “Follow the money.”
HB207 passed out of the committee today (but not with my vote), and continues its journey through the legislature. Win Some. Lose some.