by Beverly K. Eakman
Author, Educator and Executive Director
National Education Consortium
January 27, 2001
Between 1968-1975, standardized tests started looking more like opinion surveys than cognitive measures. Teachers like me were told essentially not to teach -not to put red marks on pupils’ papers, not to say anything that could even be construed as a negative comment about a youngster’s work, clothing, or speech.
Now, four consequences necessarily follow from this shift of emphasis;
First, both curriculum and testing center on passions.
Secondly, the group is put before individual students. Today’s "cooperative learning" concept is aimed at turning out "team players," not at supporting individual performance. That means peer pressure is heightened instead of alleviated.
Which brings us to consequence #3 Children flit from one activity to another, with no continuity between skill-bases, distracted and discouraged from the kind of study that results in the ability to make logical conclusions. Post-modern people, you see, are not supposed to be moved by reason, and given the events of the past eight years, obviously they’re not. So, the endless distractions create both an intellectual and emotional void.
Finally, because group-think and consensus are rewarded over independent thought, the old school cliques we knew have "morphed" into violent, "Lord of the Flies" -style, kiddy subcultures, like Littleton’s Trench-Coat Mafia, indulging in brutal territorial exercises. That’s "mob rule." So, in effect, children are being "warehoused," not educated. If you think back, you’ll find that this approach to education mirrors the childrearing advice that started being disseminated in books and magazines beginning in the mid-1950s. Parents who continued to transmit even innocuous virtues like propriety, tact, and modesty had the rug pulled out from under them.
By the mid-90s, it was "children have rights" -rights to sexual information and paraphernalia, rights to access porn on the Internet, rights to sue their parents for disciplining them. In fact, children had more rights than you! But when the fire hits the fan at Columbine, or Santana High, it’s parents who get blamed for not doing all those things the "experts" lobbied against.
Increasingly, parents were treated as "amateurs" -well-intentioned dummies without degrees in the social or behavioral sciences -unfit to make judgments concerning their children’s welfare, right down to everyday decisions about health. Then they launched the notion that kids would be better off in day care so they’d be socialized and "ready to learn."
Today, most education-related legislation is rooted in the presumption of parental incompetence. School staff is given license to circumvent parents. Legislative language allows children to refer themselves for "mental health services," for example, which can mean anything from psychotherapy to abortion counseling. Did you see the recent surgeon general’s report demanding universal mental health services for schoolchildren? Well, three states have just initiated legislation to that effect.
Beginning in the 1940s, the Mental Hygiene Movement, as it was called then, stepped up its efforts to first "re-interpret," then "eradicate," traditional concepts about right and wrong. For example, Dr. Brock Chisholm, the same guy who said parents were creating thousands of neurotics, referred to religion as "the world’s oldest and most parasitical growth." He told colleagues in an address to the World Federation of Mental Health - -
"The only psychological force capable of producing ... perversions is morality, the concept of right and wrong ... [T]his artificially imposed inferiority, guilt, and fear, commonly known as "sin". [he said] produces so much of the social maladjustment and unhappiness in the world ... If the race is to be freed of its crippling burden of good and evil, it must be psychiatrists who take the original responsibility."
The studies in thought disruption spawned the first peace-time high-stress, encounter-style behavioral modification techniques via a facility called the National Training Laboratory, which America’s National Education Association eventually took over. I found a waiver teachers had to sign absolving the NTL from any adverse psychological reactions. By the 1970s, this kind of "counseling," once confined to adults who had agreed, for one reason or another, to undergo such abuse had moved into the classroom and now is used with unsuspecting children who believe they are taking a test or playing a game. For example, the Michigan School Code, established in 1976, states that personality tests may be administered as part of a school program or project [R340.102]. Parents are supposed to be notified by mail, but you know they aren’t. The reason is because there are no penalties for failing to do so. Big loophole. But the larger issue is that the use of personality tests are considered a legitimate activity for the school to undertake.
So, what do we have today? For openers, we have educators and legislators who can’t tell a substantive, cognitive test question from a "loaded", subjective one. I embarrassed a state board member recently when I posed to him two math questions I found on an 8th grade test given in 1895 in Salina, Kansas:
What is the cost of 40 boards, 12 inches wide by 16 feet long at 20¢ per inch? Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. of coal at $6 per ton. The fellow, who had a bachelor’s degree, couldn’t figure the answer. So I tried a geography question Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific at the same latitude? Again, no response. I tried a spelling question, Give two rules for spelling words with a final ’e’. Nada. Okay, I said, how about naming an event associated with any one of the following dates 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865. Zilch.
Finally, I canned the 1895 test and tried something more recent -two 1995 8th grade test questions "Name 3 things we can do to save the earth"; and "List 5 strategies for eliminating contests, competitive games, and other win/lose activities."
I notice he didn’t suggest banning the Superbowl. Now that would have gotten the attention of our couch-potatoes. Can’t you see it? Thousands of angry male liberals converging on their local schools accusing the principal of being a Commie. But I digress.
But seriously, with this shift has come officials who are unable to differentiate between a pupil carrying aspirin and cocaine, between an innocent peck on the cheek by a 6-year-old and the gang rape of an 11-year-old; between a kid saying "bang-bang" as he aims a half-eaten chicken bone wing at a classmate in the lunch room, and one putting a 6-inch switchblade to somebody’s throat!
We have debutantes giving birth to babies in toilets on prom night, then sashaying back out on the dance floor; young couples throwing newborns in a motel dumpster; and 8-year olds playing sex instead of jump-rope. We have college professors reporting entire classes of university students who suddenly no longer view the atrocities committed in the Holocaust as "wrong"; rather, their pupils say these actions "must have fulfilled some basic need."
Schools today inundate pupils with psychological and demographic questions -a combination long known in the world of advertising as "psychographic data-gathering." Psychographics determines, among other things, the content of your junk mail. In education, personal information is collected and dumped into one of several recently consolidated electronic transfer systems -the most popular one being the SPEEDE/ExPRESS, linked to WORKLINK -where it’s analyzed by behavioral psychologists and picked up by curriculum and test developers, nearly all of whom hold degrees in -guess what? -behavioral psychology. School codes like Michigan’s specify that only those who have "earned doctorates in psychology, educational psychology, and related behavioral sciences" are qualified to "interpret" tests [R340.1105]. If the tests weren’t largely psychological, such caveats wouldn’t be necessary.
What education policy-makers have done is to take their cue from market research, which relies heavily on computer programmers and behavioral science analysts. To sell you something, advertisers have to find out what makes you tick -then see if you can be made to "tick" differently. First, they go after demographic, socio-economic, religious, and political blocs. By cross-matching magazine subscriptions; favorite movies, cars, and vacation spots; income sources; profession; hobbies; family structure, and so on, they can then fine-tune down to the individual.
Thanks to tremendous advances in computer technology, programmers inadvertently handed behaviorist educators the Holy Grail of Social Engineering. It’s called "predictive technology." When you cross-match enough psychographic data using both public and private records, it’s possible, using a mathematical model, to predict how a group, or even an individual, is likely to react to specific "stimuli," not just today, but 10 years or so down the road. That’s the Skinnerian "twist" I was talking about earlier.
The "stimuli" are advertising messages, both subtle and overt. If the controlling elite doesn’t like the predicted reaction, it sets about changing the future, by altering or "restructuring" the message. In the media, that translates to news, sitcoms, and movies. In education, it means curriculum. So, what I’m saying is that today’s curriculums function like advertising packages. Get it?
How does this work? Well, experts look for something called "psychological threshold." You can find the term in any psychology dictionary, but the first time I saw it was in a teacher’s guide to Pennsylvania’s "citizenship" curriculum. It defined threshold as "the severity of stimulus tolerated before a change of behavior occurs." When you test for threshold, stated the manual, "it is possible to assess not only the students’ predisposition [toward certain reactions] . . . but also to provide some measure of the intensity of that predisposition across a wide spectrum of situations." Now, that’s pretty sophisticated.
Inasmuch as any school program or project can incorporate these "tests", what happens is you get things like seventh-graders watching films of cuddly animals being burned alive-to garner support for saving the environment. That’s a threshold-level film. Or you get graphic AIDS education for kindergarten children. Or you get a sex-ed board game played with "sperm cards." Or you get trips to the morgue to see dead people. Or you get third-graders watching a movie that shows a disabled high-school boy trying to hang himself with a rope.
A third-grade boy saw this movie, Nobody Useless, put out by the trusted Encyclopedia Britannica. Impressed, he went home that afternoon and tried the rope trick. He succeeded. The teacher never previewed the film before showing it, because it was listed in the National Diffusion Network, or similar, regionally linked federal database of so-called "validated" programs -for teaching compassion. What teacher is going to screen something that’s already been screened? But the government-appointed board that is supposed to do that doesn’t bother with programs that have a trusted name attached to them, like Encyclopedia Britannica.
No longer are the values that undergirded the Declaration of Independence "givens" in our society. In fact, memorizing the Declaration is no longer considered appropriate -in part because it mentions a Creator, and because of slavery, which purportedly makes the document itself racist. Some legislators in New Jersey are trying to ban this founding document from the classroom. Moreover, under the cover of nonjudgmentalism, tolerance, flexibility, diversity, and Separation of Church and State, the State itself is now in a position to be able to dictate beliefs.
The emphasis on psychological proclivities and personality in schools has led not only to a turnabout in the nation’s principles, which we have seen played out on the nightly news the past eight years, it is fueling a morbid preoccupation with the peer group. The peer group has become the "controlling legal authority" in matters of conduct. When things go wrong, of course, all is reduced to a "mental disorder" instead of a moral disorder.
So, now that everyone’s resigned to kids blowing away their classmates, psychologists are calling for "mandatory, universal behavioral screening." With license to inspect every 5-year-old, they claim they can identify those "at risk" of becoming unstable, anti-social and even violent. And if they just intervene soon enough, without interference, they say they can turn these youngsters around.
Most parents take this to mean that out-of-control kids will be separated from their own children. Policymakers and the media like the prevention message.
In fact, nobody will be separated from anything, but a lot of good kids having a bad day will be stereotyped and labeled for life. Like everything else, mental health referrals go into an electronic portfolio, which follows the pupil wherever he goes. Even if there’s no substance to a referral, anyone who reads that file will always wonder.
As with the behavioral screening instruments, kids are inundated with clinical questionnaires, increasingly given to classroom teachers to disseminate to students. Where do you think pollsters get statistics concerning the percentage of 12-year-olds who are depressed, or who’ve tried marijuana, or whose parents drink wine? Well, they come from supposedly restricted fare like the Personality Assessment Inventory, the State -Straight Depression Adjective Checklist, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the Emotional Problems Scales, the Reynolds Child Depression Scale, the Defense Mechanisms Inventory, and so on. Questions run the gamut from "What does your urine smell like?" to "What do you hate most about your mother?" Obviously, mandatory tests would eliminate the necessity for parental consent. With the spate of copycat shootings, today’s dominating faction of the education establishment -behavioral psychologists -feel confident they can convince legislators to do away with pesky parental consent requirements and mandate their larger agenda universal testing, treatment, and tracking.
So the push is on for an alliance between schools and mental health agencies in every state and school district as a "solution" to violence, Attention Deficit Disorder, depression, teen pregnancy, and anything else you can slap a label on. President Bush’s just-passed education reform package includes a large grant to train teachers in psychological testing and screening techniques to prevent violence. Remember, "prevention" is the new buzz-term.
The "confidential" label is invariably taken by the layperson for anonymity. But confidential means "need-to-know." Most school codes make it clear that "specific responses and interpretation summaries may become part of published research findings and reports, with the identities of the individuals tested properly safeguarded." "Properly safeguarded" is a very loose term, because it’s up to anybody’s imagination what is "proper."
In a 1992 letter from Emerson Elliott, former head of the National Center for Education Statistics, 29 entities, including the Department of Defense, were listed as automatic recipients for "confidential" test results. Questionnaires already were routinely "tagged", or "slugged", for identification. I detail in my book various types of "embedded identifiers", some of which -for example, sticky-labeling -require complicated procedures to ensure kids won’t know somebody has their names.
The quantum leap in computer capability, coupled to an increasing demand for state-federal comparability and access, means opinion-oriented information is slowly making its way into the child’s future financial, credit, medical and other records. Loopholes in privacy laws make it difficult to stop your child’s file from eventually landing on the desktops of executives, security officers, credit bureaus, or anybody with an ax to grind.
Counseling also triggers what’s called an IEP (individual education plan), implying a "tailored" (individualized) curriculum. Parents believe their child’s education will be personalized, so they sign on the dotted line. What they’ve signed, however, is a permission slip giving the school authority to supersede parents. It also allows officials to track students on into adulthood.
Did you know that the label Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD) is being used as a genetic "marker" for adult schizophrenia? Even though there exists no organic anomaly identified as present in ADD-labeled individuals, this inability to focus and concentrate for protracted periods -which is what ADD is supposed to mean -was seized upon by Dr. Erlenmeyer-Kimling as an indicator of a far worse malady having an equally loosey-goosey definition. ADD is used as a justification, then, for increasing school-based psychological therapies passed off as real curriculum. These therapies are disseminated through Title X (Medical Assistance), which the US Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services jointly and aggressively pursue in the name of school-based health services nationwide.
Unsurprisingly, medical "markers" are being "pitched" successfully to business and industry. In 1999, for example, legislation was approved in the House that would make it even easier to cross-match records, including medical data. Keep in mind that medical records increasingly include mental and genetic information. A provision was embedded in a massive bill to overhaul the financial services industry to allow release of medical information by insurance companies -not only to determine charges for premiums, but to facilitate research projects, medical and nonmedical. So, for all the hoopla about medical records privacy (even if the bill fails this time around), a credit agency may one day find a diagnosis which says, in effect, "By the way, Joan Smith had a brain tumor; don’t lend her any money."
If you think that’s scary, imagine a diagnosis alleging that schoolgirl Joan Smith has an ADD "marker" and is thus at risk of schizophrenia.
Meanwhile, the loss of subject matter that generations before ours were expected to learn, practice, and commit to memory, is resulting in an ever-shrinking common body of cultural and cognitive knowledge. Subjects like logic and philosophy are now completely unknown in secondary schools, thereby greatly compromising our young people’s capability to see recent events in any historical, cultural or logical context.
Just what values are kids supposed to learn in our knowledge-challenged institutions? Let me enlighten you.
Here’s a seven-point list, faxed to me from an educator in North Carolina. She got it during an in-service training workshop at her school, and it turns out to be representative of the new value system being transmitted in most schools today:
• There is no right or wrong, only conditioned responses.
• The collective good is more important than the individual.
• Consensus is more important than principle.
• Flexibility is more important than accomplishment.
• Nothing is permanent except change.
• All ethics are situational; there are no moral absolutes.
• There are no perpetrators, only victims
The first phony-baloney test I saw was the State of Pennsylvania’s Educational Quality Assessment, or EQA. The EQA was given every two years and, for those of you who may not be familiar with today’s state tests, the questions on the EQA are fairly representative, such as:
I often wish I were someone else. [or] I get upset easily at home. The student checks
[a] Very true of me,
[b] Mostly true of me,
[c] Mostly untrue of me,
[d] Very untrue of me.
You are asked to dinner at the home of a classmate having a religion much different from yours. In this situation I would feel.
[a] Very comfortable,
[c] Slightly uncomfortable,
[d] Very uncomfortable.
There is a secret club at school called the Midnight Artists. They go out late at night and paint funny sayings and pictures on buildings. I would JOIN THE CLUB when I knew . . .
[a] my best friend had asked me to join;
[b] Most of the popular students in school were in the club;
[c] my parents would ground me if they found out I joined.
This last question is a "fishing probe" It assumes that the child will join the club under some circumstance, including the desire to provoke parents. Now think about this. What are psychologists really asking here? Aren’t they asking "What do we have to do get this kid to commit vandalism?"
The EQA had 375 questions covering attitudes, worldviews and opinions. Most involved hypothetical situations and self-reports. There were also 30 questions on math and another 30 covering verbal analogies. Just enough academic questions to appear credible.
The next shocker was the scoring mechanism. It revealed points given for what was called a "minimum positive attitude." For example, on the "Midnight Artists" question, the preferred response was "b-Most of the popular students in school were in the club." Why "b"?
The Interpretive Literature, which is off limits to the layperson, tells us why. The EQA’s creators were testing for the child’s "locus of control"; his "willingness to receive stimuli"; his "amenability to change"; and his inclination to "conform to group goals." In English this means Where’s the child coming from? Is he easily influenced? Are his views firm or easy to change? Will he submit to group-think and "go along to get along"? Answer "b" to the Midnight Artists question is preferred because it reflects a willingness to conform to group goals. Got it?
Take 5 so-called science questions for 5th-graders on universal child fingerprinting -a transparent probe to see how much resistance there might be to the idea. Terms like "mandatory," of course, are never used, because of the negative connotations. But there’s no mistaking the intent. The multiple choice answers, even the "incorrect" ones, actually drum up support "fingerprinting doesn’t hurt," "lost children can be identified," etc. Not a single "down side" is offered. The student is carefully led to select the politically expedient choice, as the alternatives are so patently ridiculous that no child who can read would ever pick them.
In his State of the Union message, President George W. Bush made the observation that if teachers are "teaching to the test," then that means they’re teaching things kids need to know-reading, math, science. Right?
Has he seen "history" questions like the one leading to an essay on women in combat. Task I was "Interpreting the Information." While the Data Section from which the children are supposed to draw for their responses mentions -and only in passing -that the data are "hypothetical," the age group being tested will probably not even know what that means. Here’s how every section of the test is prefaced "Directions - Read the following hypothetical information about a public policy issue. Use it with what you already know to complete the tasks that follow [i.e., answer the questions]."
The only interpretation one can make from the data given is that women should be in combat. Despite the implication in the instructions to the essay section that a student’s views per se don’t matter, it’s clear that any view not supported by those imaginary "facts" in the Data Section will be judged insufficient to warrant a top grade. In fact, in the sample the testers start the paragraph for the child "I think that women members of the military should definitely be allowed to participate ...."
The most fascinating thing about these tests is that regardless of whether the section in question is called science, geography, or reading, all the questions are social studies. There’s no topography in the geography sections (the Michigan assessment covered only "global issues" like overpopulation, colonial victimization, and redistribution of resources to Third World countries). Even the writing sample was about "coping with change."
Little wonder we have a more troubling issue facing us psychiatric drugging -schools that tell parents to put their kids on psychiatric drugs, or else. Since psychologists have convinced gullible policymakers, and many medical doctors as well, that personal behavior is largely a matter of chemistry, psychotropic drugs are increasingly being prescribed for naughty, shy, daydreaming, and bored schoolchildren, doing untold damage to their developing brain structure, while the psychologized education I’ve been describing systematically undermines what children really need -intellectual stimulation, spiritual belief and family.
Researchers around the country are now reporting horrifying side-effects. For example, kids on antidepressants frequently don’t enter deep, Stage 4 sleep. Severe sleep deprivation results in -guess what? - heightened irritability, impaired judgment, uncontrollable rage and, if it goes on long enough, psychotic breaks. As for Ritalin, X-rays are showing what appears to be atrophy of brain tissue after extended use.
Another tobacco settlement anyone?
In the meantime, you as parents will have to learn, then teach your children, how to avoid getting roped into group-think. How are kids supposed to recognize when they’re being indoctrinated? Well, there are basically seven giveaways.
You’ll have to learn things you would have learned in school 50 years ago-but not in the last 35 years-like:
• how to shut down manipulative consensus strategies like Delphi and Tavistock techniques;
• how to influence others without giving away the store;
• how to recognize and rebuff professional manipulators in a task force, curriculum committee, or advisory board;
• and how to get the real scoop on who is funding or promoting controversial programs.
In other words, we’re all going to have to learn how to be psychological resistance fighters, and we’re going to have to stop trying to win wars armed only with the rules of etiquette.
The perfect crime,
Ladies and Gentlemen, isn’t getting away with something after you’re caught red-handed.
The perfect crime is the one nobody knows was committed.
by Beverly K. Eakman
Author, Educator and Executive Director
National Education Consortium
January 27, 2001