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.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail