People who got themselves in a twist over the intrusiveness of U.S. census forms ought to try filling out the paperwork parents have to supply in order to enroll their children in school. That would really make 'em mad!

With the census, citizens were principally riled by the impertinence of being asked their race and ethnicity. On school forms, such disclosures are the least of it. Oh, how much more detailed is Leviathan's curiosity when it comes to children!

If, for instance you send a child to nursery school in Maryland, you must answer four pages of questions. These begin with: "Are you concerned about your child's general health (eating, sleeping habits, teeth, skin, menstruation, weight, bowel/bladder, etc.)?"

YES or NO? Well, which is it? If YES, "provide further information" in the remarks section.

What happens if you tell Maryland that you're worried about your child's bowels? Will a bureaucrat call up to suggest more fiber in the diet? It's a serious question, though I'm asking it through gritted teeth.

The District of Columbia, meanwhile, insists on poking around inside children's mouths. You and your dentist must disclose whether your child suffers from, say, gingival inflammation or malocclusion (if the latter, is it overbite or underbite?)

Furthermore you must give an account of the child's mouth, tooth by tooth. Does the surface of tooth No. 9 display any decay on one, two, or three surfaces? Has tooth No. 17 been sealed or restored? Please mark X for any missing teeth, on the line provided.

The more children you have, the more forms you fill out.

A friend of mine, with six sets of paperwork to do, tries to subvert the system by turning the annual ordeal into an object lesson.

"Once they get big enough I like to have them fill out as much of the forms as they can on their own," she says, because, "nothing better builds libertarian sensibilities than to have them feel the stifling hand of the state at an early age."

Yet no matter how many times she or anyone else has pleased bureaucratic requirements -- writing out each child's immunization records before kindergarten, before first grade, before second grade, etc. -- every year they must be satisfied again.

The responsibility is never on the bureaucrats to keep old paperwork, or to update it. The onus is always on parents to produce fresh supplies of documentation.

Like the sprawling homeland security apparatus, school forms seem to have morphed out of all proportion to their original public-health purposes. In the interest of catching a few children who haven't had their shots, absolutely everyone is caught in a colossal expenditure of time, treasure and energy.

And so, year after year, a sludgy, slow-moving flood of paperwork travels from schools to homes to doctors' and dentists' offices, back to schools and thence into the bowels of the nanny state -- about which we should all be concerned. More fiber, in this case, is not recommended.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at