Educating Activists

What can one parent or person DO? That question is answered by what one person DID: One person invented the light bulb, wrote a beloved symphony, and warned the colonists, “The Redcoats are coming. . . .”

It was one person who leaked the pilot test for the Goals 2000 system to Parents Involved in Education (PIE), which started the war on bogus testing; and it was one Indiana mom who sued her state for violating her parental rights, an action that stopped Indiana’s “I-PASS” test.

Arm yourself with information about your rights (both state and federal), the issues, the hidden agendas, and the history of how education reforms have been perpetrated and justified. Fortunately, to become an activist you don’t have to start from scratch. The information you need is available from organizations such as PIE and other groups that inform parents and citizens about current education issues. The most powerful ammunition against watered-down curricula comes from the education reformers’ own publications and documents. Make it your Number One goal to get the truth about what is taught in the classroom and then disseminate your findings to as many people as possible.

Don’t get “Chicken Little-itis.” That is, running around with a “the-sky-is-falling” whine. An education activist should remain calm, keeping emotional overtones and unnecessary editorializing to a bare minimum and focusing on the target. Use your talents to define your message: clean, clear, simple. The facts behind those unsuccessful and experimental education programs will speak for themselves.

Protect yourself. Obtain and keep all evidence, documents, and originals. When making duplications of school materials, clearly stamp: “Copied for Research” on every reproduction. The federal government has on the statutes what is commonly known as The Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552), which allows citizens to monitor their government by means of obtaining information from federal agencies. Most states have their own versions of FOI for their own agencies and operations. Education activists can and should obtain copies of questionable classroom materials and teachers’ manuals for the mere cost of duplication. Also national copyright laws state that, “Anything which has been in multiple use in a classroom is open for discussion and examination and may be reproduced if the copy is not for profit.”

Get organized. As you begin to inform others, your helpers will come. Don’t believe the myth that parents don’t care. We assure you, when horror stories about the new reforms such as assessments, curricula, or invasive surveys come to light, the grass roots will ignite grass fires for a change.

There’s safety in numbers. Never confront controversial issues with administrators or teachers alone. Always bring a witness and whenever permissible, tape-record the meeting or event. Never address school issues in a confrontational manner, but rather as the expert you have become: well-groomed, self-controlled, and very positive. It’s not uncommon to discover you know more than the professionals.

Every state has built-in legal protections. If you know your rights, you won’t lose them as has happened in so many states already. (On January 1, 1995, California legislation to protect parental rights in education expired. It took PIE parents one year of arduous lobbying to reinstate them.)

Use proven tools. We have found a successful tool to educate and protect students’ rights is offering and distributing notebook-sized “inserts” listing current local pupil and parent protection laws. A second tool is the “opt-out form” for objectionable curricula. You’ll quickly learn that a refusal to honor such an opt-out form will serve to gauge your school’s intent to honor your parental rights and/or to protect your child from inappropriate education practices.

Don’t fall prey to the Delphi technique—i.e., “but you are the only one who objects to this. . .” There are documented teacher in-service programs where this intimidation process is taught and promoted nation-wide. You should also be aware of the Hegelian dialectic method of “manufacturing a crisis” in order to promote a school program to “fix” it.

Finally, don’t ever give up, for children are not, as some have said, our most precious resource/human resource. Rather, they are our most precious gift, whose future and freedom depends on you.


  • Carolyn Steinke

    At the time this article was published, Carolyn Steinke was executive director of Parents Involved in Education and the mother of seven children. She and her husband resided in Palm Desert, CA.

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