PESPD'S MYTH # 3: Education Should Be Every Student's Right
How can anyone argue against education being a right? I know how bad it sounds. It’s like arguing against Mom and apple pie. The idea of education being the right of every child sounds so good, but there’s one problem. It doesn’t work very well. It’s bad for schools, it’s bad for teachers, it’s bad for students who get stuck in classes with disruptive and apathetic students who ruin their education, and it’s even bad for most of the disruptive and apathetic students.
The way education is now treated as a right began with court rulings in the 1960s. First, the Supreme Court said that students don’t leave their rights at the schoolhouse door. Later, they declared education to be a student’s property right that can’t be taken away without due process of law. Then, they ruled that students could sue school officials who knew or should have known that they were denying students their due process rights. Congress and state legislatures couldn’t wait to jump on the students’ rights bandwagon, so they have passed legislation reinforcing this concept.
Philip K. Howard, in his book THE DEATH OF COMMON SENSE, argues that nothing has done more harm to public education than declaring education to be the student’s right. I agree. This has made it impossible for schools to deal effectively with most disruptive and apathetic students. It has led to horror stories like those described by Elizabeth in her post, THE DISASTER WE CALL PUBLIC EDUCATION. If a student brings a weapon to school, then that student might get expelled. But for anything else, it is either impossible or prohibitively expensive to do so.
Let me make myself clear. I have no problem with students having the right to enroll in our school, and I have no problem with them having the right to be treated fairly while they are here. But they should not have the right to just be here. That should be contingent on whether or not they are willing to make a reasonable effort to succeed, and whether or not they are willing to follow reasonable rules. If some kids are determined not to do those things, there is nothing good that can happen from their presence in school, and it should not cost thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees and court costs to get rid of them.
The rights of disruptive and apathetic students to remain in school has effectively taken away the right to an education for millions of students who actually wanted one since the Supreme Court made their rulings. But as I said earlier, this does no good for the disruptive and apathetic kids who are supposedly being protected, either.
Most students behave, in part, because they don’t want to get in trouble. They don’t want teachers to get angry with them, they don’t want to serve detention, and they definitely don’t want to be suspended. Disruptive kids aren’t deterred by any of these things, but many of them do want to remain in school. Most students want to earn good grades, and they want to avoid bad ones. Obviously, apathetic kids aren’t terribly motivated by grades, but again, many of them do want to remain in school.
I am convinced that many disruptive kids would improve their behavior, and many apathetic kids would actually start to make an effort if they thought there was a real possibility that they could get kicked out if they didn’t. Wouldn’t this be the best possible thing we could do for these kids? And if they are totally unwilling to change, what good does it do them to be in school?
I am all for offering incentives to troubled students to do well, and sometimes those incentives work. I am all for those few teachers who are so full of love and empathy that they can reach kids that nobody else can. Nevertheless, I think these "carrots" would be effective a lot more often if we also had a stick. As it is now, when it comes to dealing with disruptive and apathetic students, public education doesn’t have a stick.