data mining

Is It Time For Grade Schools To Start Asking Students If They’re Gay?

When news reports about colleges scouring undergrad applications about signs of gayness as a way to court LGBT students, there was the requisite outrage (how dare they target queers!) and celebration (they’re targeting queers!). The folks behind the Common Application, used by thousands of schools as a one-form-fits-all application, is even considering asking graduating high schoolers about their sexual orientation. Now one high school is doing the same thing — to get a handle on the queerness of its own student body. Wise idea or privacy invasion?

Canada’s Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is asking students in grades 7-12 — that’s 150,000 potential respondents — to fill out a voluntary online questionnaire that asks about everything from how much money their parents make, what religion they belong to, and what kind of job they imagine holding down in the future. Oh, and among the 43 questions is one that asks if they like other boys or girls or both. The parents of students in grade 6 and below will receive a different survey.


I’d say no. The more information a school has on its student body, the thinking goes, the more able it is to meet the needs of those students. It’s very easy for administrators and parents to overlook the needs of queer students because many of them exist invisibly, either by not being out or, even if they are out, not being registered in any quantitative way.

An anonymous survey that collects the data in aggregate is an excellent way to mine this information. And so long as it doesn’t violate existing student privacy laws, the data should be shared with parents, teachers, staff, and the community. That way there will be no question that certain demographics of students are walking the hallways, whether they’re poor (and need more funds directed at subsidized food programs), interested in a career in medicine (and could use a new class about disease and treatment), or gay (and are in desperate need of a guidance counselor trained in LGBT youth issues).

And if students aren’t comfortable revealing this information? Simply don’t respond to the survey.