Tag Archives: Education

Educating Citizens as a Constitutional Right

New Orleans   Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell agreed with Justice Thurgood Marshall that educational inequality might rise to the level of a constitutional breech, if students were curtailed from their ability to exercise other rights, like their “right to speak and to vote.”  On that narrow, but critical bridge, lawyers and their plaintiffs have sued Rhode Island in federal court making the case, as the New York Times reported, that “the state has not equipped all of its students with the skills needed to ‘function productively as civic participants’ capable of voting, servicing on a jury and understanding the nation’s political and economic life.”  More recently retired Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and David Souter have also joined the call for more basic civic education.

It’s a tough path, but it is worth all of us following not only the court case and its potential ramifications if the plaintiffs succeed, but the underlying breakdown in civic education it exposes.   The Times also reported that civics classes are only available now in less than half of the states according to the US Education Commission which studied this problem and released a report in 2016.  Educational testing in 2014 indicated that only 23% of American eight graders were rated as capable on basic questions on the standard bedrocks like checks-and-balances, fundamental rights, and the duties of the various branches of government.

I can remember civics classes in junior high schools as eye openers for me into the wider world and its possibilities and, more importantly, guaranteed rights.  The classes didn’t exist when my children were in middle and high school.  Yet one of them had a year balanced by a required course in personal finance where he was taught how to write a check and the other half of the course was called “free enterprise.”  Doesn’t that just say it all?  State legislatures can require public schools to teach some mumble jumble ideology like so-called “free enterprise,” but not require civics, likely because they really don’t want rising citizens to hold them accountable on basic governance, rights, and entitlements.

Embedded in this problem is also basic educational inequality of course.  Richer districts and even public schools within a district might offer an array of such courses, including civics education, because they have the ways and means, but also because they assume an additional prerogative for their students:  the expectation that they will govern, just as poorer schools transmit the expectation that government, indeed citizenship responsibilities, are passive and entail only understanding the willingness to be governed.   Richer schools talk of developing leaders, while other schools implicitly assume, they are teaching only enough to allow people to be led.

Is it any wonder that Trump was able to become president by breaking all the norms, when Americans no longer even understand that there are norms?  Where there is no understanding of civics, authoritarianism can rise because democracy is no longer understood or valued.  How hard would it be to start demanding the return of civic education in public schools?



Strikes Against Charters, Amateurism, Disinvestment and DeVos/Trump Agenda

New Orleans       Reporters and commentators don’t know what to make of the anger and activism of teachers who are flipping the red-state script and taking job actions, with and without their unions, to directly target governors and legislators in Oklahoma, North Carolina, West Virginia, and likely Arizona.

West Virginia teachers were out nine days until they won a full commitment from the governor and legislative leadership to fully fund increases for both teachers and state employees.  Oklahoma teachers saw their governor and legislature attempt to preempt their strike with a $6000 raise, but their demands were for $10,000 over several years, raises for school support workers, and huge investments in public schools that have been starved for funding for years.  North Carolina teachers took sick days to go to their legislators with their demands.  Arizona teachers are clearly organizing to be apart of this Teacher Spring offensive.

What’s in the water at the drinking fountains in public school hallways now?

Some of the credit must be given to Trump and the long rolling scandal of his misogyny.  More than 75% of the teaching force is composed of women, and this is a moment for women everywhere to step up and step out.  Teachers are professionals.  They are responsible for discipline and decorum in the classroom and often in the community as well.  Talk to any of them and you will find that regardless of political affiliation, they are offended by the tenor and tone of the national government.

They understand they work for the government, and they see that they have been abandoned by the government and the calls for shrinking public services and closing of the public purse.  They don’t have to go to Washington to join and lead the resistance, they can see the disinvestment in public education right at home and in the rhetoric of their own state legislators and their knee-jerk adherence to the charter and privatization of education over recent years and in the ideological ignorance of Betty DeVos, Trump’s Education Secretary.  The West Virginia spark has started a prairie fire.

Congress in the new budget recently left DeVos stranded like a voice in her own wilderness.  She wanted to cut the budget by $9 billion.   They ignored her and added $2.5 billion.  She wanted to eviscerate the civil rights offices for schools, and they made such action dependent on Congressional action.  They slammed the door on her hands and did so without apology.

Teachers in Oklahoma may not win.  No strikes are guaranteed victory, but they do guarantee that everyone will feel the pain and that lines will be drawn.  Their demand for investment in more staffing and improved physical plants after years of disinvestment are going to stop the bleeding there.  They had won an $18 million down payment on improvements before they stopped work.  They will win more, and their action will prevent legislators from continuing to defund public schools in favor of choice, vouchers, and charters.

Always remember that teachers in statewide actions like these are in every legislators’ districts.  Public support flows from teachers to children to their parents and legislators are being forced to remember that now as teachers flood into their offices in state capital after state capital.

Strike to strike, who can gauge the results, but taken together state after state will start getting this message, so whatever happens this spring, the results will likely rebound to the good for public education and teachers for years to come.