Across Arizona, K-12 students are the subjects of experimentation by educators. In some cases, educators are well-meaning as they subject students to seemingly innocuous “educational opportunities,” while others use experimentation to drive their ideological agendas.
In nearly every clinical social science setting, the use of human subjects in experimentation is carefully considered. The same cannot be said for the experimentation on kids in Arizona’s K-12 classrooms.
The basic principles for the use of human subjects in experiment is spelled out in a report by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. The “Basic Ethical Principles” outline in the report include: “respect of persons, beneficence and justice.” Respect for persons is defined as:
… the incorporation at least two ethical convictions: first, that individuals should be treated as autonomous agents, and second, that persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection. The principle of respect for persons thus divides into two separate moral requirements: the requirement to acknowledge autonomy and the requirement to protect those with diminished autonomy….
Diminished autonomy would apply to nearly every student in grades 10 and below.
The Commission’s report notes that “in most cases of research involving human subjects, respect for persons demands that subjects enter into the research voluntarily and with adequate information.
School kids, like prisons, are in a position of subservience. This position compromises the voluntary nature of their actions. That is why our laws protect children from entering binding contracts, etc.
|From the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research report:|
The involvement of prisoners as subjects of research provides an instructive example. On the one hand, it would seem that the principle of respect for persons requires that prisoners not be deprived of the opportunity to volunteer for research. On the other hand, under prison conditions they may be subtly coerced or unduly influenced to engage in research activities for which they would not otherwise volunteer. Respect for persons would then dictate that prisoners be protected. Whether to allow prisoners to “volunteer” or to “protect” them presents a dilemma. Respecting persons, in most hard cases, is often a matter of balancing competing claims urged by the principle of respect itself.
Because we recognize that students in grades K-12 are generally minors, and have diminished autonomy, it is imperative, that educators secure authorization from parents before using them as human subject.
Slavery is not a game
In some instance, educators do not realize they are experimenting with their students. Take the case of the parents of students in the Phoenix Elementary School District this year. In that case, parents were outraged when they discovered children were permitted to play an online game that simulates slavery. Almost immediately school officials apologized and blocked access to the game, Mission US.
In an Arizona Republic article on the subject, De’Lon Brooks, a mother of a seventh-grader who attends Emerson Elementary, said, “As a parent and as someone who grew up under civil-rights (movement) members, I couldn’t allow my son to be subjected to that without my permission.”
Schools used to ask parents’ permission in order to allow children to participate in extraordinary or extra-curricular activities. In the case of Mission US, some critics argue that children do not truly experience the horrors of slavery and that the game trivializes the atrocities stemming from the slave trade. Yet others argue that the game is powerful enough to traumatize kids who are tasked with helping the heroine, 14-year-old Lucy King, escape torture, or sale to another master.
Kids will most likely get enthralled with the game and come to identify with Lucy. That is the whole point of the game after all. Yet, if a child should play the game and teachers and parents are not prepared to deal with the certain trauma, how does that identification become something positive? What does a child learn other than hate for people with southern accents?
The truth is that we do not really know what the lasting effect is on children. Without that understanding, there is no way for adults to anticipate and address the material in a way in which it becomes a lesson as opposed to a scary game.
Experimenting with kids is the new normal
In June 2016, I reached out to Dr. Ronald Marx, Dean of the College of Education at the University of Arizona regarding an alarming conversation on the radio in which a University of Arizona doctoral student discussed using students as subjects in Jane Elliot’s Blue Eyes and Brown Eyes experiment. Elliot’s experiment is highly controversial, and for years it was forbidden in classrooms due to the trauma it inflicted on students. It has been described as the “anti-racism exercise that taught kids to Be racist.”
Whether it teaches kids to be racist or not, it does what it does by making one group of kids feel inferior to another. It has prompted ugly behavior by participants, and it educational value, if any exist, is out weighed by hateful behavior it generates, if even temporarily. In the hands of an ideologue, it could be extremely dangerous.
I wrote to Marx in fairness, hoping that he could provide a reasonable explanation as to why a student with obviously limited training and an expressed ideology would use kids as human subjects:
Dear Dr. Marx,
Today, a young and impressive College of Education doctoral student appeared on a Tucson radio show. She explained that she performed Jane Elliot’s Blue Eyes and Brown Eyes experiment on her young students at Van Buskirk K-5. She admitted that students were traumatized by the experience, but that as a proponent of Social Justice it was important for kids to experience discrimination.
My questions to you are:
1) Is it acceptable for a teacher’s political agenda to drive the classroom experience in any way other than the most fundamental (i.e. choice of words, clothes, mannerisms, etc.), and
2) Is it ever acceptable to actively force children into an experiment that is known to – and may – cause trauma? We all know that spelling and math cause trauma, but it is appropriate for a teacher to impose something on kids when we know there are alternative means to teach the same concept?
3) Is this a practice recommended in UofA classrooms?
I was thrilled to read Dr. Marx’s answer to question number two. He wrote, “State law prohibits political advocacy on the part of educators in their official business. As private citizens they can, of course, and they ought to be active in political advocacy as everyone ought to in the exercise of their obligations as citizens.”
His answer to question number three, derived through back and forth emails was disturbing on many levels. Initially, Marx appeared to treat what the doctoral student described as an “experiment” as a lesson. Of course ignoring the doctoral student’s description and characterizing the incident as a lesson would have exempted her from basic ethical practices.
Finally, I asked:
The practice to which I refer is the practice of experimenting with kids. This was not an instructional approach, it was an experiment. As I said before, the reactions would have, or should have been anticipated. My question is: Do teachers have a right to experiment on kids? Don’t they first have to obtain consent? Doesn’t any subject of an experiment have a right to refuse? Or are we back in the Dark Ages again and plebs and prisoners are now students? That may seem inflammatory, however I myself would feel horribly violated if a conservative teacher used my child in an experiment to show that Christians are victims of discrimination. I for one would certainly want to know, and perhaps I might even allow participation, on the condition that I, or a trained counselor was on hand to explain the various feelings, thoughts etc. generated by the experience. Wouldn’t you?”
He finally answered:
I don’t actually have sufficient information about the experiment you are talking about. For us at UA and indeed all academic researchers, we have a very stringent code of ethics that requires us to obtain approval through our Institutional Review Board (IRB) for all research with “human subjects”. However, under the rules of our code, only research that is to be published in some form needs review. Otherwise, it is not research, regardless of the label that used to describe it.
Not only was I startled by the fact that the dean of the College of Education would be unfamiliar with Elliot’s Blue Eyes and Brown Eyes experiment, I was shocked that possible publication was the only protection afforded Arizona’s K-12 students.
As I had advised Marx, Elliot’s experiment “has been known to create traumatic experiences for subjects.” Adult subjects. It is not hard to imagine, and the doctoral student confirmed, that there would be and was an emotional response to an experiment that was intended to cause trauma.
Essentially one of the unstated goals of Elliot’s experiment is to problematize students. It is through the process of problematization that children begin to see the world has something they must change.
Few parents believe it is the schools’ role to turn their kids into change agents, but that doesn’t stop many educators from using methods to do just that.
If parents do prefer that their kids are indoctrinated there are plenty of options for them. From the Paulo Freire Freedom schools in Tucson to La Tierra Community School in Prescott, to a multitude of conservative charter chains across the state. Parents have many indoctrination factories from which to choose. And parents are the only people who have a right to choose indoctrination for their kids.
The questions as to whether Arizona taxpayers should fund the incubators of change is another question to be dealt with at another time.
“Basic Educational Principles”
Basic educational principles do exist. The vast majority of teachers follow them meticulously. It is the small minority that creates problems, news, and horrible laws.
However, Dr. Marx’s reaction to the news that one of his doctoral students was experimenting with kids – and traumatizing them, is precisely why parents reach out to the media and lawmakers for solutions. By and large, concerned parents of traumatized kids do not get an adequate response from school officials. Of course, no one could expect anything different from the same people who allowed the traumatic teaching to take place in the first place.
If our educators in our colleges of education were doing their jobs properly teachers would be aware of the difference between education and indoctrination. If our educators were doing their jobs properly, teachers would understand the impropriety of forwarding their social and political agendas in the classroom. One must assume that they are not doing their jobs properly because there are too many examples of teachers abusing their positions.
If the Board of Regents, presidents of our state universities, and Governor Doug Ducey were doing their jobs properly they would spend as much time trying to improve our colleges of education as they are supposedly spending on solving the teacher shortage. Has it occurred to them that our current colleges do not offer safe harbor to apolitical or even conservative wannabe teachers? If it has, they certainly haven’t done anything to remedy the situation.
Our leaders seem less interested in what is happening in our classrooms than getting more teachers into them. At the same time educators are claiming that parents are not involved in their kids’ education. But it is our educators who are not involving parents in important decisions like whether their kids should be human subjects.
The solution is not simple, but any solution must include parents. It is then essential that parents, and grandparents consider running for their local school boards. They can bring an understanding of what parents want and don’t want for their kids. It is all about the kids, right?