Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Education: A Messy Web of Child, Parent, and State Interests

The No Child Left Behind law is up for reconsideration. (Read about it.) This reconsideration gives an opportunity for discussion and introspection about primary education in the United States.

The place of education in the U.S. legal sphere is an interesting one. First, the U.S. Constitution does not provide for education as an affirmative right. Rather, if the government provides any education, it must do so equally or else be open to an equal protection claim. If a state wanted to completely do away with public education, there might not be a Constitutional barrier.

Education standards and measures -- such as No Child Left Behind -- themselves illuminate wider problems throughout children's law. There is an uneasy balance of interests and responsibilities wrought throughout the education system. First, there are parents who -- at any income level -- crave education for their children. There are also the children themselves. They might be too young to know what they want, but it can be assumed that these children -- in the long run -- would much prefer more opportunity to less. The state also has a great interest in children's education. Education is the state's opportunity to guarantee itself a future of financially independent and interested citizens who are prepared to support the nation.

The child, the parents, and the state all have the same general goal in mind: better education. The real problem is the enforcement mechanism. This is because while the education is needed now, the payoff (or deficit) that results will not become apparent for a long time. Someone in kindergarten now will not be of voting age (probably) until about 2020. Those who will be most at risk from ineffective education -- the children themselves -- cannot voice or pursue better educational standards themselves.

This leaves the parents and the state. Thankfully education is at the forefront of political debates, and hopefully these debates will result in some positive steps for U.S. education. I urge the politicians and the parents to recognize the peril their children and to keep education at the forefront. No Child Left Behind has both its critics and its champions. All sides should agree, though, that this is not the end. The quest for an education system where schools are like cathedrals and all children can have their education needs met should continue.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Concern about Exploiting Juvenile Rights for Adult Political Gain

In Florida last winter three young men were arrested for brutally beating a homeless man to death with baseball bats as the man slept on a bench. One of the assailants was just 17 at the time, and the other two were 19.

The prosecutor in the case has decided that the death penalty will not be sought for any of the accused. (Read Article) The death penalty was Constitutionally only an option for the two 19-year-olds because in 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for anyone under 18 at the time of their crime is cruel and unusual punishment. (Roper v. Simmons)

The Florida prosecutor indicated that the death penalty was avoided in the case of the deadly beating of the homeless man for reasons of proportionality between the sentences.

Opponents of the death penalty would probably hail this as a great victory -- a chipping away at an immoral punishment. (Personally, I oppose the death penalty.)

From the child advocate's point of view I am concerned that children's rights might take on a middle man role -- being used to push along political agendas that do not directly impact children. I'm concerned that the unique character of children might be exploited for the political gains of adults seeking rights that cannot be achieved in the broader society, but might be achieved with children (and then hopefully extended).

I don't want it to seem as if I don't want children to get rights -- because I do. I'm just worried that children's issues might be manipulated in the hope of furthering some non-child-related goal. The strategy of using children's rights to gain ground for a larger societal issue is not new. Even in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) children were used as a first step toward larger societal progress.

I think that the abolition of the death penalty and the progression of civil rights are both crucial movements for the successful reign of democracy and liberty in the United States, but I wonder how children are being served when they become the focus of the development of such important rights. I'm glad that these 19-year-olds will not be eligible for the death penalty. I'm concerned though about the rationale. I would have much preferred if the prosecutor left Roper v. Simmons out of it and objected to pursuing the death penalty on moral (or other non-child related) grounds.