FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Teaching Suspicions

by DAVID PRICE

At a PTA meeting two weeks ago I learned that all parent-volunteers at my daughter’s primary school are now required to submit to a criminal background check which includes a (thus far) “voluntary” request for the parent’s thumbprint. My school district in Olympia, Washington is not alone in adopting such measures, other school districts in the state and across the county have recently adopted similar policies, and other districts are considering similar procedures in the name of increasing “school safety”–this despite a lack of evidence that such measures will make our children any safer.

As a civil libertarian who has been an active classroom volunteer for the past seven years, I object to my school district’s demand that I subject myself to a criminal background check and to “voluntarily” submit my thumbprint so that I can accompany my child on a fieldtrip or help with classroom chores. It is a minor thing, but I have long been disappointed that my children will never be taught by even one teacher in the public schools who is the type of civil libertarian that would refuse to submit to being fingerprinted as a condition of employment. These new policies now guarantee that school children will not have classroom contact with civil libertarian parents or other citizens who will not submit to such invasive background checks. While this might make John Ashcroft breath easier, this doesn’t make me feel better about the safety of school children.

But my worries about these new policies reach beyond my civil liberty concerns (and because school districts care little about civil liberties and are not likely to be moved by such arguments, it makes sense for parents and concerned citizens to focus their protests in another direction): I am worried about the predictable negative impact of this policy on the academic development of children already at risk of academic failure. It is surprising to find our standardized-test-obsessed-schools not worrying about the significant but unintended negative consequence of these policies as they stand to further alienate low-income parents who will become even more frightened of meaningfully entering their children’s schools.

I know from my years working with families participating in a low-income family literacy program on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula (a region with extraordinarily high poverty rates due to declines in the timber industry) that just asking parents for fingerprints and permission for a police background check will frighten away many low-income parents with records for nonviolent offences from any participation–regardless of the fact that these forms state that such past infringements will not disqualify a parent from volunteering. These parents are already fearful of the schools, and because they do not want to risk revealing their past legal problems they will bypass opportunities to be active supportive educational partners. Several years ago I interviewed a father who told me that he had planed to attend a Cub Scout camping trip with his son’s troop, but when he had been asked to submit to a criminal history background check authorization form he quietly withdrew as he did not want anyone to know about a long-previous non-violent clash with the law (a not uncommon experience for Americans living in poverty). I told this father that his past troubles would likely not matter to the Scouts and I encouraged him to reconsider his decision, but he did not want his past investigated so he did not attend the outing and an important opportunity for a supportive father-son experience was lost. This was not an isolated incident and other impoverished parents I interviewed recounted similar fears.

School policy makers know there is a vast literature on early childhood education establishing that visible parental involvement in classroom education significantly strengthens young students’ academic interests, commitments and outcomes. In fact, parental support and interest in school work is one of the strongest predictors of later academic success. These new policies authorizing police background checks stand to alienate an entire class of parents-arguably the class of parents whose presence as volunteers could make the most significant impact.

Some state PTA’s have opposed policies mandating police background checks of parents for just these reasons. The Nevada PTA took an official stance opposing the police background checks of parents; it instead advocates the commonsense practice of adopting policies for supervising parent volunteers. The Nevada PTA views parental background checks as being antithetical to their mission of getting parents more involved in student classroom activities. Nevada PTA President D.J. Stutz argues that “In Nevada, there has not yet been a reported incident of a volunteer molesting or assaulting a child at school, while teachers, who are required to be fingerprinted and do have to have background checks, cannot make the same claim.” Indeed, in my own community this past week a former teacher who passed a thorough police background check has been charged with murder and child rape.

There will no doubt be legal challenges to this new affront to civil liberties, as schools place parents in a double-bind wherein their children are required by law to attend schools that parents may not meaningfully enter unless they surrender their privacy rights. Perhaps the courts will need to remind schools (to paraphrase Justice Brennan) that children are not the only ones who do not shed their constitutional rights when they enter the school house door. But we all know that the current chill on civil liberties creates a climate in which fear trumps rational concerns. As civil rights are increasingly seen as “civil privileges,” our hopes for the courts to defend our rights are likewise reduced.

Parents and non-parents alike need to speak-out to their school boards, local and state PTAs and state Education Departments to challenge this affront to civil liberties and to demand that schools take responsibility for further alienating families with students at risk.

DAVID PRICE is an Associate Professor of anthropology at St. Martin’s College. He is a card carrying member of the PTA, his book Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists will be published this spring by Duke University Press. He can be reached at: dprice@stmartin.edu

 

David Price a professor of anthropology at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. He is the author of Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State published by CounterPunch Books.

May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail