I read of this particular school-administered survey the other morning on one of the news websites which form my morning reading, in lieu of the local newspaper – which I gave up some years ago upon realizing two things; practically every non-local story they printed I had already read on-line through various sources some days before appearing on the (rapidly diminishing) pages of the San Antonio Express News, and when it came to opinion columnists and cartoonists, most of the local offerings were … pathetic. Seriously – when I could read the best and most incisive opinion bloggers like Wretchard at Belmont Club and Victor Davis Hanson – why would I bother to read a dead-tree version of whatever lame establishment national columnist had offered a cheap rate to the SA Express-News?
Anyway, I read about this survey of schoolchildren – an optional survey, according to the linked local story – and completely understand why the parents who are incensed about it all are so incensed. There was once a military-ordained survey touching on similar issues which went around sometime between 1985 and 1990 which excited almost the same degree of distrust and simmering anger. I was stationed at a base in Spain at the time – and while I was not one of those selected by some arcane method to be one of the respondents to the survey, some of my coworkers were – and they were every bit as outraged by the intrusive nature of the questions asked in the survey. If I remember correctly, the survey was intended to pinpoint needs in addressing problems of substance abuse and family violence – but as one of our troops pointed out, honest answers on certain questions meant essentially confessing to an act punishable under the UCMJ. And they did not for a moment believe any promises of confidentiality regarding such answers.
Cynical about the military? Yep, you bet: it was a common saying that the Air Force would take care of you, so never turn your back on it for an instant. Even in the late 1980s we were very aware of how surveys like that one – ostensibly for a benign, even helpful service – could be used to data-mine more than just an idea of trends and needs for social intervention programs. No, we did not trust any promises of confidentiality, and I don’t think we found the stated rationale for the survey to be particularly convincing, either. We were essentially a captive audience for just about any social science researcher with a pet project who could talk a good game to the DOD and ensure cooperation. If memory serves – there was such a ruckus kicked up about this survey that respondents were allowed to skip over the questions they objected to the most.
I’m not the least surprised that parents in Indiana are furious with this survey – especially now that it is sort-of-common knowledge how easily stuff can be deduced about your life from simple things like grocery store receipts. Given the nature of some questions on this present survey, and knowing how intrusive local and federal authorities have become lately when they perceive an action to be in the best interests of society as a whole, I’d reject having anyone in my family participating in this survey.
(Crossposted at The Daily Brief)