Commentary: Pegging 10th Grade Students Politically Unnecessary And Inappropriate

Dated survey asks about gay rights, abortion in American government class

The 30-question survey my son had half-filled out that he brought home this week from his Jackson High School American Government 10th grade class read: “Pinpoint yourself, politically.”

The survey asked him about his views on prayer, gun control, abortion and gay rights and awarded points based upon his answers. Get the most points — you are “Jesse Jackson.”  Score a zero — you are “Jesse Helms.”

Helms died in 2008. Another question asked if the student would rather dine with Charlton Heston or Paul Newman, who also both died in 2008. If the references appear dated, that’s because the survey is 16 years old. The teacher took it from a 1996 “quiz” done for a national magazine by political consultants Victor Kamber, Bradley S. O’Leary and Craig Shirley. One website claimed this survey had been done in high schools and colleges.

I find that surprising, considering it’s about as sophisticated as a dime-store pencil sharpener. 

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For instance, one of the questions was: “Which TV show do you watch?” The choices were “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “Friends.” (Hint: According to the survey, conservatives watch "Walker, Texas Ranger" because, apparently, they just love expressionless actors with a monotone delivery while a well-written, funny sitcom would appeal to liberals.)

But the more I read the survey, the more it became clear just how bad an idea this had become as my own questions started popping up.

Why is my son’s 10th grade teacher trying to classify a bunch of 16-year-olds as “liberals” or  "conservatives?” What does my son’s views on gay rights have to do with American government, especially since a discussion about that topic in the Howell Public Schools led to claims of bullying and got one student suspended for expressing his views.

And why in the world would any teacher want to know where in the political spectrum her students are aligned?

Some of the questions just seemed wrong. For instance, Question No. 9 asked: “What should be the primary goal of U.S. foreign policy? A) To promote democracy and human rights around the world. B) To serve U.S. national interests.”

You know, I thought promoting democracy and human rights around the world actually served U.S. national interests.

Other questions just didn’t seem appropriate for a discussion in a beginning-level government class.

Question No. 8 asked: “If you saw a child watching a gay wedding on television, would you change the channel?” If you answered “yes” you were awarded one point. The more points you get, the more “liberal” you are deemed to be.

I found it amusing that if you take the quiz, answer the questions and end up with zero points then you are “Jesse Helms.” Zero points may not mean anything to some yuppies taking the test as a goof while eating at Bennigan's in 1996.

But what high school student completes a work assignment and thinks finishing with zero points is a good thing? That’s not how that academic rewards system works. Extra credit is extra points.

And with all the concerns about bullying, do I really need my son’s classmates to know about his views on abortion, prayer in schools and gay marriage? And what will be the fallout if his answers on contentious issues aren’t the same as his classmates, or worse, his teacher?


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