The Government’s Latest Education Experiments Are Truly Scary

February 24, 2017

by Karen R. Effrem, MD


The nanny-state-sponsored, womb-to-tomb effort to manage, assess and track everything about your young children — including their attitudes, values, and beliefs — is moving ahead at break-neck speed. Here is more news from that broad front.

Turning Teachers Into Pyschologists

On the federal level, there has been a huge push to impose social emotional learning (SEL) standards in K through 12. This is being worked through ESSA that encourages the use of mindsets and other SEL parameters in mandated accountability plans and the 2017 administration of the NAEP that also plans to survey mindsets and via a national commission. And, the Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA) was ready to federally fund social emotional research. It was a testament to the tenacity of grassroots parent groups across the country that that legislation, initially considered so non-controversial that it was scheduled to be passed without a recorded vote in early 2015, was blocked for an entire two-year session of Congress.

Before this recent big SEL push in K-12, preschool has been the only educational level in which it was considered proper to teach and assess vague, invasive, controversial social emotional learning (SEL) parameters on children and families. Examples include whether a harried and underpaid preschool teacher renders a psychologically unqualified opinion that Johnny is “empathetic” enough (one of Head Start’s SEL standards) not to be permanently labeled as a potential bully, deranged criminal, or candidate for ineffective or dangerous psychotropic medications. Never mind that children change so rapidly during that period, that experts — including psychiatrists — cannot even agree on criteria or diagnoses. An effort to label French three year olds as future felons from a few years ago, predictably, was a miserable failure.

Advancing the LGBT Agenda Through Education

As we have previously documented, these SEL standards from Head Start and other early childhood organizations also support the LGBT agenda. Florida is a perfect example on the state level of both the SEL agenda and efforts to data mine young children. In a 2002 constitutional amendment strongly supported by then Governor Jeb Bush, the state government is now in charge of the “…emotional, social, regulatory and moral capacities through education in basic skills and such other skills as the Legislature may determine to be appropriate.”

The Florida Early Learning Standards document defines a family as “A group of individuals living together” and directs parent and providers to:

Make sure your three year-old has access to books and other materials that show diversity in family composition

A Failed Preschool Policy in Florida

Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future and Foundation for Excellence in Education, very much involved in the nanny state and data mining efforts, are pushing a Florida pre-K bill to ostensibly improve early literacy which, according to one of the authors, has “flat- lined” by fourth grade. This has many problems.

First, what the bill authors and Bush’s groups do not realize or will not so far admit, is that these new efforts are not at all likely to work because a plethora of studies and expert opinion show that, at best, pre-K does not work and causes academic and emotional harm. The damage done to children’s natural curiosity includes harm to reading achievement.

Secondly, with a constitutional mandate plus the strong suggestion from the state early learning standards and definitions quoted above, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to separate reading curriculum from indoctrination.

Thirdly, the bill also imposes a state ID number for three- and four-year-old children that will comprise the cradle part of the cradle-to-grave SLDS. Even if the assessments for the reading program do not yet officially assess any social emotional parameters, given that the programs are required to teach SEL, subjective SEL data mining will eventually occur.

What they need to learn and admit are the efforts that really do work:

  • Two-parent families that could be encouraged via welfare and divorce law reform and religious involvement — which the government should not provide — that eliminate the achievement gap;
  • Intensive systematic phonics in grades K-3 shown in thousands of studies to have a very concrete, positive effect on reading achievement;
  • Authentic — not government controlled — parental involvement;
  • And, if any preschool program is used, it should be developmentally appropriate and play-based, not “school for babies” (this is what Finland has employed in not starting formal academic schooling until age 7, perhaps contributing to that nation’s better-than-the-U.S. performance on the PISA international comparison test).

Feds to Turn Over Student Data to International Agencies?

On the international level, the Federal Register was taking comments about the International Early Learning Study (IELS) that seeks to gather data, including extensive social emotional and sensitive family data for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on American children and those from multiple other countries. OECD sponsors the PISA test and is a major player in the global workforce development movement that sees children as widgets instead of individuals with their own dreams and aspirations. Education Liberty Watch’s comments on this terrible idea can be summarized as follows:

There are already dozens of studies showing that preschool is minimally effective, that beneficial effects fade with time or is academically and emotionally harmful. Social emotional assessment, especially for young children, is extraordinarily subjective and unreliable, violates parental autonomy, and the private right of conscience of free American citizens. This is especially true when data security within the U.S. Department of Education is so poor.

Resistance is also reported by “more than 130 child-development researchers and educators in 20 countries…[that] signed a statement in the December International Critical Childhood Policies journal urging caution on the IELS” due to concerns about the developmental inappropriateness of academically assessing young children. Let us hope all of this opposition is heard.

Although it feels as though the onslaught of these nanny-state data-grabbers never stops, parents and grassroots groups should feel encouraged that we are making progress. We need to keep up this work because the hearts, minds and futures of our children and the future of the nation depend on it.


Dr. Karen Effrem is trained as a pediatrician and serves as president of Education Liberty Watch and the executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition.

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