Lesson 8: A Slice of the Census

Grades 9–12

Strand: About the Census

Skills and Objectives

  • bullet Explain the importance of each census question
  • bullet Describe how the concept of privacy has changed since the first census
  • bullet Explain the measures taken to protect the confidentiality of personal information
       on the census

Materials: Census Forms and Confidentiality Student Worksheet 8, 2010 Census form copy

Time Required: One 40-minute class period

    Getting Started

  1. Download the informational copy of the 2010 Census form by going to www.2010.census.gov and clicking on Materials. Distribute a copy of the form to each student. Remind students that the Census Bureau does more than just distribute census forms. In this lesson students will learn specifically about the decennial census form that Americans will fill out in 2010.
  2. Point out to students that there are very few questions on the 2010 Census form. Tell them that in the past some households received a "long form" version of the census, which contained more than 50 questions. Other households received a shorter version. The 2010 Census marks the first time in many years that the census has been this short for everyone! Ask students why they think the form may be shorter this time. (Possible answers: The Census Bureau wants to make it easier for people to complete the form; information that used to be collected using the long form can now be gathered in other ways.)
  3. Explain to students that most of the questions that were included on past census forms are now part of the American Community Survey (ACS). Unlike the census, which is conducted once every 10 years, the ACS goes out to a much smaller population, but is conducted more often. Tell students that although the 2010 Census questionnaire is short, they can still learn a lot from the information that it gathers.
  4. Explain to students the logistics of how the census is taken: In March 2010, every household in the country will receive a census form to fill out and send back to the Census Bureau. Explain to students that the form is to be filled out with information that is accurate as of April 1, 2010, even if the form is completed before or after that specific date. This way, the Census Bureau can be sure that all gathered data are based on the same date. Ask students to think about what might happen if someone doesn’t complete the form with information based on April 1. Finally, explain that after mid-April, if people don’t return their completed forms, the Census Bureau will send census workers door-to-door to conduct in-person interviews.
  5. Read through each question as a class. As you do, ask students to draw on what they have learned in previous lessons about why each question is asked and what the resulting data are used for. For more information, direct students to read about the questions at the Census Bureau Web site: www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/2007/subjects_notebook.pdf.
  6. Remind students that collecting data is only half of the Census Bureau’s job. The other half of the job is handling the data once they are collected. Besides sorting and publishing the summarized data, the Census Bureau goes to great lengths to protect the confidentiality of the data. Title 13 of the U.S. Code regulates the census and includes legal measures to ensure this confidentiality.
  7. The Census Bureau protects confidentiality by removing personally identifiable information, such as names and addresses, from data files. The Bureau also has many security measures in place so that only a restricted number of authorized people have access to private information, which is only used for internal purposes. Violating the confidentiality of census data is a federal crime.

    Using Student Worksheet 8

  8. Distribute Census Forms and Confidentiality Student Worksheet 8 to students. Read the top section of the worksheet together. Explain that students are going to explore an important issue surrounding census data: confidentiality. Assign the "Interpretation" questions as homework.

    Wrap-up

  9. Lead a discussion about how the concept of privacy has changed since the first census, including possible contributing factors, such as new technology, new uses for information, and new notions of personal identity. Discuss how these changes might affect a modern-day person’s response to receiving a census form. Conclude with Title 13’s guarantee of privacy and the importance of every household’s participation in the census.

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