Improving education vs. students' rights
A couple of weeks ago, when I hadn't posted for awhile, my oldest son emailed me this article to, as he said, "stir the kettle." The article blasted American schools because kids today are less likely to graduate than their parents. Come on, American schools, what the heck is the matter with you? Why can't you do better?
As I was reading that article, I came across this one about schools trying to enforce dress codes. The article began with this sentence:
It took only an hour for parents in Omaha, Neb., to get in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union.
That article dealt with a school sending kids home who wore tee-shirts memorializing a student who was shot. The school said they were disruptive and possibly gang related, but the ACLU says the school is forcing kids to sacrifice their "free speech rights at the schoolhouse door."
From that article, I went to a video about students and parents who are protesting against a school that is telling it's cheerleaders that they can't wear their very short skirts in school because that violates its dress code. One cheerleader parent said, "It's a big deal, it's crushing."
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a parent who was suing a school for suspending his son who was wearing a tee-shirt that read "Obama is a terrorist's best friend." The school gave the student the option of turning the tee-shirt inside-out after it had caused an altercation at the school, but the kid, apparently with the encouragement of his father, refused. What all of these things have in common is that schools are doing things in an attempt to maintain order and create the best possible learning environment, and they are being challenged for violating students' rights.
As Philip K. Howard said in his book, The Death of Common Sense, the courts' interpretation of students' rights has done more damage to public education than anything else in the last 40 years. (I wonder how many of the Supreme Court justices responsible for making the most important of those decisions sent their kids to public schools.) If we really want to make significant improvement in public education, especially in schools that are doing poorly, we are going to have to re-think the concepts of "the right to an education" and student rights in general.
I am more convinced than ever about this than ever after reading Sweating the Small Stuff. That book is about six inner-city schools that have been completely turned around, but a reader will be hard-pressed to find anything about a concern for student rights. There is, however, plenty of concern about the kids' education. Most of those schools had uniforms, and they didn't even tolerate students having their shirttails out. Even when reading about the one public school discussed in the book, I saw nothing about a student's right to be there. In fact, one student recalled being told by a teacher, "If you're going to behave like that, you won't be able to stay here."
This is one area in which I actually agree with my libertarian friends. Education should not be considered a right. A "right" is something that government should not be able to take away from you, not something government is obligated to give you. As Philip K. Howard says, education is not a right, but a benefit provided by a democratic society. I believe that our democracy should provide education, but there are going to be a lot of places where we can't do it effectively as long as we look at it as a right.