Youth Rights, Dignity, and the Anti-Democratic Values of Public SchoolingPosted: January 24, 2012
January 19, 2012
Nevada City, CA
As students, we are told that we are being made into an “informed citizenry” capable of maintaining a vibrant democracy. Indeed, we are told that we must give up most of our constitutional rights in the name of achieving this goal. We are compelled to attend an institution where our every action, from speaking, to moving, to going to the bathroom is strictly controlled by an authority figure. We have no right to due process in this institution, the word of the school authorities is final, and in fact our meager protestations of any wrongful accusation are often called “disrespectful” and used as another justification for punishment. We are also limited in our freedom of speech and of assembly, we cannot leave class to assemble and petition our government and the Supreme Court has explicitly prohibited any speech that would disrupt the educational process. Most of the first 18 years of our lives are fundamentally shaped by a process in which we have absolutely no say. This seems explicitly nonsensical. Should we give up our democratic rights in the name of preserving democracy? Does an institution which has power over countless individuals without giving them any representation or say in how this institution is run really the best preparation for a democratic society? Rather than creating an informed citizenry capable of engaging in the democratic process, compulsory education creates apathy, harms our ability to engage in real education, and actively harms democracy.
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While your kids are very busy toiling over algebra and chemistry, international trade agreements are being forged and currencies are being manipulated by entities that most Americans don’t even know the names of, much less the inner workings of. Kids are compelled to solve quadratic equations and write essays on Shakespeare, and they graduate without understanding how to calculate the interest on credit card debt or decode a mortgage agreement. They learn an old fable called “How a Bill Becomes Law,” while corporate lobbyists draft legislation that will pollute their air and water, deny them health care and unemployment benefits, and put barely tested drugs on the market and genetically modified organisms in their food system. —Carol Black from her essay “Occupy Your Brain“