- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sometimes the best lessons are the ones that aren’t planned. High school students in Batavia, Ill., recently received real-world training in the Bill of Rights unlike anything found in a textbook.

Social studies teacher John Dryden landed in hot water when he mentioned the Fifth Amendment to his students as he, under orders, passed out an intrusive questionnaire. The survey asked detailed questions about drug and alcohol use so that administrators could identify students with potential emotional problems. Mr. Dryden simply reminded the children that they didn’t have to incriminate themselves with their answers. Drinking alcohol below the age of 21 and using drugs are illegal. Illinois law offers an exception for drinking at private family functions with parental consent, or for religious purposes, so just about any other admission could get a student in trouble.

The survey forms weren’t anonymous; each one was printed with the name of a student at the top. School superintendent Jack Barshinger insisted the results weren’t shared with police, not even the police officer who is resident at the facility.

Unlike Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner, who was suspended from her job (with pay) after “taking the Fifth” before a congressional committee, it was Mr. Dryden, not any noncomplying student, who bore the brunt of this constitutional exercise of freedom. The Kane County Chronicle reports the teacher was docked a day’s pay and faced a closed-door disciplinary hearing before the school board on Tuesday. According to Illinois state law, Mr. Dryden could be slapped with a “letter of remedy,” which warns of consequences up to and including dismissal.

That’s rather harsh treatment for someone whose job description includes teaching students about the Constitution. Batavia officials said parents could have decided to exempt their children from questioning, but it would be more fitting for students to realize the need to reject meddlesome bureaucratic mandates of their own accord.

Mr. Barshinger, the school superintendent, defended the survey like a true bureaucrat. “We can’t help them if we aren’t aware of their needs,” he told the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill.

There are certainly less obnoxious alternatives to identify these needs. An open-door policy encouraging students to approach teachers, counselors and the principal with such problems would be a great start. Distributing a Big Brother questionnaire and throwing the book at a teacher who rocked the boat is the sort of heavy-handed approach that closes doors and sends a chilling message throughout the campus. The Batavia School Board gets a failing grade for this display of contempt for a fundamental freedom.

Such displays will become more common as long as complacent voters let public officials get away with stepping on the Constitution. The IRS targeted Tea Party groups in violation of the First Amendment. President Obama uses executive orders to undermine the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Federal agents continue to spy on the emails of Americans without a warrant, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment is now reserved for use only by government bureaucrats to escape being held to account for their misdeeds.

If we’re ever to reverse this disturbing trend, we’re going to need more teachers like Mr. Dryden.

The Washington Times