Thursday, November 4, 2010

Do We Have Any Educational Rights?

Shoplifters should be punished, but LIFE for a $153 theft? “No one in the history of the United Stastes ever had been sentenced to life in prison,” writes Erwin Chemerinsky, the founding dean at UC Irvine School of Law and author of The Conservative Assault on the Constitution, (Simon & Schuster, NY, 2010). That, claims this distinguished Professor of Law, is what California’s “three-strikes law” did for Leandro Andrade, now residing in prison for life, although he never in his life committed a felony.

The Constitution touches all of us, as this distinguished professor of Constitutional Law reveals in this newest volume. He shows how the constitution affects us in several key areas of our lives, including education, the office of the President, and personal liberties.

Chapter two details the progress of a public system of “separate and unequal schools.” Quoting cases in Texas and Alabama, the author details the erosion of our rights to public education. Quoting the 1973 case of “San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, “the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that such disparities in school funding to not violate the U.S. Constitution” and that “there is no constitutional right to education and thus that differentials in spending between wealthy and poor school districts . . .are constitutionally permissible” (p.35).

Although disparity of funding between school districts does violate some state constitutions, Alabama is not one of them. In fact, “Alabama … amended its state constitution by voter initiative in 1956 to declare that there was no right to public education in the state … This was done to allow Alabama public schools to close rather than desegregate” (p36).

Chemerinsky reviews “Brown v. Board of Education (1954 desegregation) and ranges widely in referencing educational cases involving our individual interests. He documents extensively, coming forward from the Nixon Administration to the present, with an increasingly conservative court. He shows (1) how Affirmative Action has been effectively eroded, (2) how a new system of public school education has become segregated between wealthy white suburban school districts and impoverished ethnic Metropolitan school systems, and (3) how the swing to the political right began with the Nixon Administration and continues to the present.

This well documented chapter concludes with this statement: “Nowhere has the conservative assault on the Constitution and the effect of the conservatives justices on the Supreme Court been more apparent or more important than in its re-creation of separate and unequal schools” (p. 65). Liberal versus conservative is not the problem, it is when we allow our politics to influence our behavior in ways that deny fundamental rights of individuals created in the image of God.

I had read of this problem before and wanted to believe it NOT so, just a reconfiguring of our metro demographics. On the other hand, Jonathan Kozol, Shame of the Nation, exposed this problem, as he related his personal experiences in public education. I would have to be blind and dishonest if I did not admit I have seen my share of disingenuous racial and ethnic disparities. Experience teaches me that we all profit when we can learn from each other.

Yet, here is Nixon appointee Justice Lewis Powell, writing for the majority in the case of San Antonio ISD v. Rodriguez (1973), saying: “Education, of course, is not among the rights afforded explicit protection under our Federal Constitution. Nor do we find any basis for saying it is implicitly so protected“ (Chemerinsky/52/emphasis added”

That Court rejected the claim that education is a fundamental right, saying, “It is not the province of this Court to create substantive constitutional rights in the name of guaranteeing equal protection of the laws” (Ibid, emphasis added).

This all comes as quite a revelation to me, a Caucasian American who grew up with the understanding that under God we all deserved an equal opportunity, be we Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, or otherwise … and that wealth and poverty were non-determinents.

Now, I am learning differently, although our founding fathers prepared their document so we could find equality of opportunity when we came on the scene. John Adams saw the necessity of this when he declared: “…The education of a nation instead of being confined to a few schools and universities for the instruction of the few, must become the national case and expense for the formation of the many” (John Adams/David McCullough/2001/364).

On the other hand, that self-taught Abolitionist, Frederick Douglas, also discovered that “Education unfit’s a man to be a slave.”

Here is how John Adams summarized it: “Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant” (McCullough/105).

While the political right claims the high moral ground of politics and faith as their basis, I find them wading in sinking sand,falling short in their practice. They remind me of the biblical Pharisees, standing on the street corner praying all the right words, but again and again falling far short of the simplest words of Jesus to love their neighbors as themselves.

Ultimately, they destroyed Jesus on a cross rather than share the equal opportunity they thought belonged only to them.
From Warner's World, I am

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