Your Assignment: Help the Federal Government
This St. Louis Post-Dispatch article about the Census in Schools Program mentions lesson plans provided by the federal government:
Gateway, like 118,000 schools nationwide, will get lesson plans provided by the Census Bureau in subjects such as math and social studies that puts into context the importance of the census, mandated by the U.S. Constitution.
In case you’re confused by that sentence, please note that the Constitution mandates the Census, not the lesson plans.
Official government lesson plans can cause controversy, as they did when the Education Department distributed brainstorming assignments about ways to help the president. To find out whether the Census Bureau lessons contained similar content, I headed to the Census Bureau’s website for teachers and read the teaching guides.
The bureau’s graphic artist must have been working furiously for the past decade, because the 2010 lesson plans are much more colorful and attractive than the ones from 2000. (Just kidding about the artist. It looks like that work was done by Scholastic.) Most pages in the guides are unobjectionable worksheets that teach how to read a map. One of the high school handouts actually pokes fun at the idea of teaching the Census. It shows a cartoon of a student raising his hand and asking, “Does being in a large family mean I get extra credit?”
What’s troubling is that each guide requires students to help the Census Bureau do its job. For example, a lesson for fifth- and sixth-graders tells students:
Create a multimedia campaign to get the word out about the importance of the 2010 Census. Follow the directions below to complete your campaign.
It’s bad enough asking students to imagine how they would help the Census Bureau, and these guides go further, making it clear that students are expected to act on whatever plans they come up with in class.
Another worksheet instructs third- and fourth-graders to interview their parents and ask whether they participated in the Census in the past. And younger students are supposed to conduct a mock census of their stuffed animals, with parental participation. These activities are thinly veiled attempts to change families’ attitudes toward the Census.
Schoolchildren are not Census workers in training (unless they attend the fabled public service academy) and they shouldn’t have to act as Census apprentices to get a good grade. If the Census Bureau wants to involve students in campaigns, that should be a voluntary, after-school activity.
The Census Bureau lesson plans probably won’t receive the same degree of attention as the lessons plans that preceded the presidential address. But any time the federal government promotes a curriculum, it’s worth evaluating it closely.