The U.S. Census Is Not Your Family Scrapbook
The Constitution is a product of the Founders’ wisdom, and that includes its provisions for the national Census. Taking a census is a good idea. Performing government functions and writing new laws would be all but impossible if we didn’t know how many people lived in the United States or how the population was distributed across the country.
What the Constitution does not mandate (nor should) is that the Census serve as a vehicle for personal fulfillment. It’s not about your memories, hopes, and dreams. It’s just a bunch of numbers.
So I’m dismayed by the St. Louis Beacon‘s announcement that the 2010 Census “Portrait of America” Road Tour is stopping in St. Louis on Monday morning. One of the activities listed is: “Record [your] story in one of two Portrait of America video kiosks.” Hoping that the video project might be a local initiative and not affiliated with the Census, I headed over to the Census blog, where I learned that the Census Bureau really is collecting personal videos from all these events. Visitors will also “have the opportunity to share their photos and stories.” To top it all off, the Census website states that “The 2010 Census is a portrait, and it belongs to all of us.”
The Road Tour activities are obviously voluntary; most people will mail in their Census forms without sharing any family stories with the government. Still, I see two problems with the campaign. First, it encourages people to adopt the attitude that the government is a member of our families or, at least, our personal archivist. Second, it’s easily extended to children who aren’t yet able to differentiate between what citizens have to do to participate in the Census, and optional activities that aren’t required of them. Children may get the impression that giving a personal narrative to the government is just as important as filling out the Census form.
The Census Bureau is already trying to involve students. Here is another excerpt from the Census blog:
The first graders at Gateway Elementary School stole my heart today in St. Louis. I entered their library with a set of officials and there they were, dressed in little white t-shirts promoting the census.
Dressing up little kids to promote the Census is creepy, and I don’t think it’s what the Founders had in mind when they wrote Article 1, Section 2.