Back in 2012 I wrote about some surveys of 7-12th graders that ask deeply personal probing questions and noted that they had been around for a long time. The surveys all  promised anonymity and encouraged students to be “honest” with their answers because no one would know it was them responding.  That may have been true of the paper and pencil version of these surveys, but now that we have all gone digital, and every school is working towards or, proudly able to offer, one device per student, that anonymity is questionable. Theoretically, your child’s answers could be tracked back to their device. But that is not the focus of today’s post. Today’s post is about priorities and values.

The survey comes to the schools from various sources: local youth services departments, state departments of health and human services, and even the United Way. It’s origins, however, lie with the CDC and their “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.” Doesn’t that sound a little Big Brother-ish?

The goal of the survey is to “monitor six categories of priority health-risk behaviors among youth — behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence; tobacco use; alcohol and other drug use; sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection; unhealthy dietary behaviors; and physical inactivity — plus overweight.”

This is yet another example of federal dollars being handed over to an agency and then misdirected. The Center for Disease Control should have been studying infectious diseases. Instead we find out they have been funding things like sidewalks, street lights and getting local foods to market. Governor Jindhal wrote in Politico that the Community Transformation Grant program received three times as much funding as the Prevention Fund. They were busy transforming our communities instead of figuring out how to deal with communicable diseases. Boy don’t you wish they had had their priorities reversed?? The UN has warned us we have 60 days to contain the Ebola outbreak, or else the world faces an ‘unprecedented’ situation for which there is no plan.” Sure would have been nice if the CDC had some sort of plan right about now.

Instead they were spending money on developing and collecting prurient data on our kids through these surveys. This 12 page survey with 160 questions, most recently given to kids in the Cape Girardeau area asked questions like:

Which of the following best describes you?

  • Female
  • Male
  • Transgender, male-to-female
  • Transgender, female-to-male
  • Transgender, do not identify exclusively male or female
  • Not sure


How important is each of the following to you in your life?
Not Important Somewhat Important Not Sure Quite Important Extremely Important

  • Giving time or money to make life better for other people
  • Doing what I believe is right, even if my friends make fun of me 16. Standing up for what I believe, even when it’s unpopular to do so
  • Telling the truth, even when it’s not easy
  • Accepting responsibility for my actions when I make a mistake or get in trouble
  • Doing my best, even when I have to do a job I don’t like

I’d like to understand how knowing this information could in any way lead to improved methods of disease control.

The value of these surveys is questionable when you consider my childrens’ response to it. They took it as a joke and provided what they considered to be the worst responses possible. They said they were not alone. The CDC has been collecting this data for years and supposedly drafting policy based on it. One has to wonder what, if any, value the data on which they  were basing their policy recommendations had.

School districts have been regularly giving this survey to students and never questioning its value, its intrusiveness or even whether they had a right to give it without parental knowledge and consent. Back in 2012 I did note that in Arkansas the schools did provide parental notification and the opportunity to opt their child out of a similar survey called the Arkansas Needs Assessment Survey. Why isn’t every school district Required to do this for any survey that comes to the school from outside the school district itself? Short of that, parents need to be educating their children to reject such surveys with a polite but firm, “No thank you.” If parents are going to be required to follow the strict attendance policies of the schools “for the good of the children” then they should be demanding the school follow the strict education policies of the state and provide instruction in place of these time wasting surveys.

This survey attempts to quantify our children’s values. Aggregate reports are sent back to the district or local youth agency. Assuming the values of a given area are deemed out of sync with the desirable values, interventions could be required. If only the public could have given a values questionnaire to the CDC  to see how their values were prioritizing their spending, we might be much better prepared to deal with the impending Ebola crisis.  Unfortunately, it is only the government who gets to question our values, not the other way around.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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