Educational inequality cements political inequality that deprives students of the right to life, the right to vote, and the right to free expression.
Wesche 16 — Breanne N. Wesche, Attorney at the Rizio Law Firm—a personal injury law firm in California, former Special Education Teacher in the Houston Independent School District, holds a J.D. from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, 2016 (“Putting The American Education System To The Test: Recognizing Education As A Fundamental Right And Abolishing Unequal School Funding,” Thurgood Marshall Law Review (41 T. Marshall L. Rev. 5), Available Online to Subscribing Institutions via Lexis-Nexis)
[*5] I. Introduction
In the United States of America, a child's zip code often determines the quality of the child's education. A myriad of social, economic, and political factors contributes to this tragic truth. This article, however, focuses on the staggering, discriminatory effect that Unequal School Funding has on our nation's youth.
Consider the experience of Daniel Lopez, a fifth-grade student in Houston, Texas. n1 Daniel and his family live on the south side of Houston, near William P. Hobby Airport. The public school nearest Daniel is an old, dilapidated building. When Daniel arrives at school each morning, he sees broken computers, leaky air conditioners, and chipping turquoise paint. He sees a small athletic field, occupied by ten-year-old "temporary" trailers. He sees a physical education teacher, doing her best to teach a mathematics class.
Compare Daniel's experience to that of Thomas Smith, a fifth-grade student living near Houston, Texas. n2 Thomas and his family live in a neighborhood filled with multi-million dollar homes, located just miles away from Daniel's neighborhood. The public school nearest Thomas is a new, state-of-the art building. When Thomas arrives at school each morning, he sees new tablets for every student, interactive white boards in every classroom, and extra teacher assistants for individualized help. He sees the new soccer field, next to the tennis courts. He sees art and music teachers with specialized training.
[*6] Which student do you expect is more likely to feel valued when he arrives at school each day? Which student is more likely to reach his potential? Which student do you think has more opportunities to succeed?
Such disparate realities exist between students in different zip codes in large part because of Unequal School Funding: the discriminatory practice in which school funding is based on unequal property taxes within the district. Discriminatory practices such as Unequal School Funding exist in our country because education is not protected as a fundamental right. The United States Supreme Court has only once considered whether education is a fundamental right. The Court's failure to recognize education as a fundamental right resulted in both the nation's pervasive practice of Unequal School Funding and the wildly varying protection of educational rights throughout the states. In light of these horrible repercussions, the Court should now readdress whether education is a fundamental right. Furthermore, the proper analysis of education as a fundamental right would undoubtedly abolish unequal and discriminatory practices such as Unequal School Funding.
I. Education Is A Fundamental Right
Education is a fundamental right because it is inextricably linked to the constitutional guarantees of liberty, voting, and freedom of expression. The quality and level of a United States citizen's education has a direct impact on that citizen's ability to exercise such constitutional rights. As compared to a citizen with a low-quality and low-level education, a person with a high-quality and high-level education is less likely to be incarcerated, more likely to vote, and more equipped to exercise his freedom of expression.
A. The Right to Liberty
"[An incarcerated man] has, as a consequence of his crime, not only forfeited his liberty, but all his personal rights except those which the law in its humanity accords to him. He is for the time being the slave of the State. He is civiliter mortuus; and his estate, if he has any, is administered like that of a dead man." -- Ruffin v. Commonwealth n3
A United States citizen's right to liberty is forfeited upon incarceration. Thomas Jefferson once described liberty as the [*7] "unobstructed action according to our own will within limits drawn around us by the equal right of others." n4 A prisoner is stripped of the right to take unobstructed actions. For example, a prisoner cannot take the unobstructed actions of voting, traveling, starting a business, or having children. n5 A prisoner's every allowable action -- what to eat, when to sleep, when to bathe, who to see, what to wear -- is obstructed and confined by rules created by others. n6 A person's inalienable right to liberty, then, becomes alienable upon his incarceration.
A citizen with a low-level education is significantly more likely to be incarcerated than his well-educated counterpart. In 2004, the Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded that 36.3% of incarcerated men over the age of 18 have less than a high school diploma, and only 11.5% of incarcerated men over the age of 18 have some college education. n7 Likewise, a survey conducted by the American Community Survey in 2009 revealed that Black and White men who are "high school dropouts are about 5 times more likely to go to prison . . . than men who have completed high school." n8 Moreover, the amount of male high school dropouts who become incarcerated continues to rise every year, while the amount of high-school-educated men who become incarcerated remains virtually stagnant. n9
The statistics for female prisoners are equally as staggering. A 2009 survey found that 37% of incarcerated women had less than a high school education, while only 14% of non-incarcerated women had less than a high school education. n10 The survey also found that only 31% of incarcerated women had some postsecondary education, while 58% of non-incarcerated women had some postsecondary education. n11 In short, education levels are inversely related with the likelihood of incarceration: the increased quantity of a person's education decreases the likelihood of incarceration and resulting forfeiture of liberties.
[*8] B. The Right to Vote
"A share in the sovereignty of the state, which is exercised by the citizens at large in voting at elections, is one of the most important rights of the subject, and in a republic ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law." -- Alexander Hamilton n12
The right to vote and access to state and federal franchise is a revered and zealously protected right of all citizens. n13 The right to vote in federal elections is explicitly conferred by the United States Constitution, in Article I, Section 2, and in the Seventeenth Amendment. The right to vote in state elections, while not explicitly listed in the Constitution, has been provided special judiciary protection, as "it is the 'preservative of other basic civil and political rights.'" n14
A citizen with a low-level education is significantly less likely to vote than his well-educated counterpart. n15 The U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey in 2012 showed that only 7.9 million citizens without a high school diploma were registered to vote, compared to over 41.6 million citizens with a high school diploma who were registered to vote. n16 The same survey showed that only 6 million citizens without a high school diploma reported voting, compared to over 34.4 million with a high school diploma who reported voting. n17 Further, a study in 2009 showed that 50.4% of those with less than a high school education were registered to vote, while 84.8% of those with bachelor's degrees or more were registered to vote. n18 Education, thus, significantly contributes to the likelihood of a citizen's effective participation in a democratic society. n19
C. The Right to Freedom of Expression
[*9] "[Education] is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities . . . It is the very foundation of good citizenship." -- Brown v. Board of Education n20
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of assembly, collectively known as "freedom of expression." n21 Justice Benjamin Cardozo defined freedom of expression as "the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom." n22 Exercise of freedom of expression continuously protects all other fundamental rights. n23
A poor education significantly limits a citizen's ability to exercise freedom of expression. "Education directly affects the ability of a child to exercise his First Amendment rights, both as a source and as a receiver of information and ideas, whatever interests he may pursue in life." n24 The classroom – the "marketplace of ideas" n25 – holds a pivotal role of opening up an individual to key experiences in our culture and society. n26 Schools should instill in our young an interest in political discourse, the tools for political debate, and knowledge of governmental processes. n27 Indeed, Americans revere public schools as the "most vital civic institution" for encouraging political consciousness and protecting our democratic system of government. n28 A substandard education, however, strips a child of his ability to fully participate in our democratic society, thereby losing his voice and the ability to fight for his rights.
II. THE PROBLEM: THE SUPREME COURT HAS FAILED TO RECOGNIZE EDUCATION AS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT
[*10] The Supreme Court's failure to recognize education as a fundamental right has allowed discriminatory and inconsistent treatment of educational rights throughout the states. For example, the trend of allotting unequal funding to school districts is a pervasive practice across the country. Moreover, without guidance from the Supreme Court, each state government's protection of educational rights is, at best, haphazard and wavering. Thus, the state where a citizen resides determines both whether education is considered to be a fundamental right and the level of educational equality the state government requires.
Only the plan can remedy this political inequality — education is key.
Newman 13 — Anne Newman, Researcher at the University of California Center for Collaborative Research for an Equitable California—a multi-campus research program and initiative, holds a Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Education from Stanford University, 2013 (“Education Policy Making in the Shadow of an Enduring Democratic Dilemma,” Realizing Educational Rights: Advancing School Reform through Courts and Communities, Published by the University of Chicago Press, ISBN 9780226071749, p. 17-19)
The Relationship Between Education and Political Equality
Making informed decisions about representation and public policy requires a host of abilities, including analytic reasoning skills and the ability to distinguish sophistry from sound argument. This is even more true in a deliberative democracy that expects citizens to contribute to agenda setting, in contrast to a vote-centric democracy that simply asks citizens to cast ballots for representatives.
The crux of the relationship between education and political equality centers on the types of advantages that education affords citizens in public discourse. People who have comfortable housing, lucrative employment, and good health care may participate in deliberation more easily than those who are less well-off in these respects. Moreover, severe deprivation in any of these welfare domains may impede political participation altogether. Yet inequalities with respect to housing, income, or health care do not result in deliberative inequality per se. Having a bigger house, a more lucrative job, or better health care does not directly confer superior deliberative skills upon citizens.
By contrast, education is directly tied to deliberative influence, and it is not possible to neutralize educational inadequacies to restore political equality without addressing educational deficits head on. The political disadvantage that follows from having poor reasoning skills or limited literacy, for example, is hard to remedy without addressing these problems directly. Moreover, educational inequalities cannot be readily contained for the sake of achieving political equality in public forums. How could well-educated citizens refrain from using their skills in deliberations? Basic income, on the other hand, is largely instrumental to deliberative influence, and the wellbeing it provides can be achieved through various means, such as public assistance for food and housing. By contrast, the quality of citizens’ education directly affects their effectiveness in public deliberation, and nothing short of giving citizens the requisite skills can compensate for their lack thereof.
A few caveats are necessary here. Some citizens may secure the skills that constitute an adequate education outside formal schooling because these skills are not the sole province of formal education. And not all schools successfully teach students the requisite deliberative skills. Even many well-funded schools may fail on this front. Moreover, a charismatic personality may more than compensate for educational disadvantage in some deliberative settings. Yet the possibility of autodidacts and compelling personalities cannot vindicate miserly provisions for public education. Nor do the deficiencies of civic curricula today diminish the importance of the state’s responsibility to do better on this front. After all, for the vast majority of citizens, educational opportunity is limited to the offerings of the public system. When public schools fail them, a significant portion of the population is likely to be severely disadvantaged in the political sphere.
The tight link between education and political equality is poignantly expressed in Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s dissenting opinion in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, in which the majority opinion refused to recognize a federal right to education.29 In addition to finding no legal ground for such a right, the majority expressed concern that recognizing a right to education would open the floodgates to myriad other welfare rights. Marshall refuted the Court’s slippery-slope argument by contending that education is distinctively tied to individuals’ ability to exercise constitutional liberties, including free speech and the right to vote, and to participate in politics more generally: “Education may instill the interest and provide the tools necessary for political discourse and debate. Indeed, it has frequently been suggested that education is the dominant factor affecting political consciousness and participation.”30 His dissent highlights how the meaningful exercise of political liberties is inextricably tied to educational opportunity—a connection that is even tighter in a deliberative democracy, where one’s reasoning skills and ability to communicate determine one’s opportunity to have political influence.
American democracy will collapse without excellent and equitable K-12 education. Political inequality results in fascism.
Brown 10 — Wendy Brown, Heller Professor of Political Science at the University of California-Berkeley, Co-Chair of the University of California-Berkeley Faculty Association, holds a Ph.D. in Political Philosophy from Princeton University, 2010 (“Without Quality Public Education, There Is No Future for Democracy,” The California Journal of Politics & Policy, Volume 2, Issue 1, Available Online at http://escholarship.org/uc/item/72s6p9ph, Accessed 07-09-2017, p. 2-3)
Without quality public education, we the people cannot know, handle, let alone check the powers that govern us. Without quality public education, there can be no substance to the promise of equality and freedom, no possibility of developing and realizing individual capacities, no possibility of children overcoming disadvantage or of teens reaching for the stars, no possibility of being a people guiding their own destiny or of individuals choosing their own course. Above all, there is no possibility of being a self-governing people, a democracy.
As the world grows more complex and integrated and the media grows ever moresophisticated and powerful in shaping events and ideas, what maintains democracy is not the technical instruction into which resource-starved schools are rapidly retreating. It is not the reduction of high school to two years, college to three and only vocational training for the many, but the kind of education through which future citizens learn to understand and engage the complexities of this world.
For democracy to survive, let alone thrive, the people must be able to know and analyze the powers organizing our lives. The people must be able to reflect on the perils and possibilities of our time and develop considered views about how to navigate them. The people must be able to analyze written and oral arguments, journalistic accounts, images and sound bites—distinguishing the reasonable from the sensational, the serious from the simplistic, the well-founded from the fatuous.
If such capacities have always been importantto democratic citizenship, our increasingly complex world demands them all the more, and quality public education is the key to their acquisition. Without quality public education in our future, there is no future for democracy. Without quality public education in our future, we face a huge divide between the educated and uneducated, corresponding to a divide between the rich and the poor and [end page 2] magnifying the power of the former and the powerlessness of the latter. This is plutocracy, not democracy.
Without quality public education in our future, we face a populace taught only the skills needed for work, ill-equipped to understand or participate in civic and political life. This is corporate oligarchy, not democracy.
Without quality public education in our future, we face a people manipulable through their frustrations, mobilizable through false enemies and false promises. This is the dangerous material of democracy’s opposite—despotism if not fascism.
So California’s disinvestment in education not only entrenches and deepens inequalities, not only breaks the promise of opportunity for every able student, not only chokes the engine of invention and achievement that built California’s 20th century glory. It destroys the fundament of democracy itself—an educated citizenry capable of thoughtful analysis and informed judgment.
California must recommit to first-class K-12 education and the California Master Plan for higher education. We must come to our senses, quickly, about preserving the most esteemed public university system in the world. And we must do so not only because education is what lifts people from poverty, equalizes opportunities, reduces crime and violence, builds bright individual and collective futures, but because education makes democracy real.
Educate the state. Sí se puede.
This is an existential risk — concentrated private power causes global warming and nuclear war.
Chomsky 14 — Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania, 2014 (“America’s corporate doctrine of power a grave threat to humanity,” Salon — originally published on TomDispatch, July 1st, Available Online at http://www.salon.com/2014/07/01/noam_chomsky_americas_corporate_doctrine_of_power_a_grave_threat_to_humanity/, Accessed 07-09-2015)
The Final Century of Human Civilization?
There are other examples too numerous to mention, facts that are well-established and would be taught in elementary schools in free societies.
There is, in other words, ample evidence that securing state power from the domestic population and securing concentrated private power are driving forces in policy formation. Of course, it is not quite that simple. There are interesting cases, some quite current, where these commitments conflict, but consider this a good first approximation and radically opposed to the received standard doctrine.
Let us turn to another question: What about the security of the population? It is easy to demonstrate that this is a marginal concern of policy planners. Take two prominent current examples, global warming and nuclear weapons. As any literate person is doubtless aware, these are dire threats to the security of the population. Turning to state policy, we find that it is committed to accelerating each of those threats — in the interests of the primary concerns, protection of state power and of the concentrated private power that largely determines state policy.
Consider global warming. There is now much exuberance in the United States about “100 years of energy independence” as we become “the Saudi Arabia of the next century” — perhaps the final century of human civilization if current policies persist.
That illustrates very clearly the nature of the concern for security, certainly not for the population. It also illustrates the moral calculus of contemporary Anglo-American state capitalism: the fate of our grandchildren counts as nothing when compared with the imperative of higher profits tomorrow.
These conclusions are fortified by a closer look at the propaganda system. There is a huge public relations campaign in the U.S., organized quite openly by Big Energy and the business world, to try to convince the public that global warming is either unreal or not a result of human activity. And it has had some impact. The U.S. ranks lower than other countries in public concern about global warming and the results are stratified: among Republicans, the party more fully dedicated to the interests of wealth and corporate power, it ranks far lower than the global norm.
The current issue of the premier journal of media criticism, the Columbia Journalism Review, has an interesting article on this subject, attributing this outcome to the media doctrine of “fair and balanced.” In other words, if a journal publishes an opinion piece reflecting the conclusions of 97% of scientists, it must also run a counter-piece expressing the viewpoint of the energy corporations.
That indeed is what happens, but there certainly is no “fair and balanced” doctrine. Thus, if a journal runs an opinion piece denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin for the criminal act of taking over the Crimea, it surely does not have to run a piece pointing out that, while the act is indeed criminal, Russia has a far stronger case today than the U.S. did more than a century ago in taking over southeastern Cuba, including the country’s major port — and rejecting the Cuban demand since independence to have it returned. And the same is true of many other cases. The actual media doctrine is “fair and balanced” when the concerns of concentrated private power are involved, but surely not elsewhere.
On the issue of nuclear weapons, the record is similarly interesting — and frightening. It reveals very clearly that, from the earliest days, the security of the population was a non-issue, and remains so. There is no time here to run through the shocking record, but there is little doubt that it strongly supports the lament of General Lee Butler, the last commander of the Strategic Air Command, which was armed with nuclear weapons. In his words, we have so far survived the nuclear age “bysome combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.” And we can hardly count on continued divine intervention as policymakers play roulette with the fate of the species in pursuit of the driving factors in policy formation.
As we are all surely aware, we now face the most ominous decisions in human history. There are many problems that must be addressed, but two are overwhelming in their significance: environmental destruction and nuclear war. For the first time in history, we face the possibility of destroying the prospects for decent existence — and not in the distant future. For this reason alone, it is imperative to sweep away the ideological clouds and face honestly and realistically the question of how policy decisions are made, and what we can do to alter them before it is too late.