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.

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