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Friday, July 15, 2011

A DECLARATION OF EDUCATION RIGHTS

Editor: As many of our readers know, the Educational Institute for Democratic Renewal that houses the Journal of Educational Controversy participates in  John Goodlad's National League of Democratic Schools.  Jim Strickland, the regional coordinator for the Western region of the League and a special education teacher in Washington State, has prepared this "Declaration of Education Rights" document that we want to share with our readers for their thoughts.  Jim is putting together two education rights workshops this summer -- one in Portland at the AERO conference (http://www.educationrevolution.org/ ) and one in Washington, DC at the Save Our Schools March conference (http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org/).   He is hoping to establish some sort of Education Rights Task Force to continue this work.



Toward a Declaration of Education Rights

by Jim Strickland
The National League of Democratic Schools

Abstract

In the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a Declaration of Education Rights would serve as a common ethical standard, or moral compass, for education in a democracy by which we can guide our practice, develop programs and policies, and continuously evaluate our efforts. In this essay, readers are invited to review proposed articles for such a declaration and suggest possible revisions and/or additions. The ultimate goal will be to produce a collaborative document that can be submitted to other groups for consideration, input, and eventual adoption.


Ever since December 10, 1948 when it was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has stood as an international moral beacon of human dignity and freedom. The Universal Declaration was never meant to be the final word on human rights, nor was it intended to impose a single model of right conduct on all nations. The Universal Declaration was written to be a living document, reinterpreted and reinvented by each succeeding generation, a common standard that can be brought to life in different settings in a variety of legitimate ways.

Education today is in dire need of just such a common ethical standard. Not a legally binding prescription, but a moral compass by which we can guide our practice, develop our programs and policies, and evaluate our results. In our ongoing efforts to provide the education our children deserve and our world so desperately needs, we need a mutual commitment to values that will inspire us and keep us from drifting off course. In education, as in all areas of life, if we do not decide where we are going, someone will be happy to decide for us.

It is in this spirit that the following suggestion for a Declaration of Education Rights (DER) is being proposed. These 13 articles were inspired from a variety of sources, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Alternative Education Resource Organization (www.educationrevolution.org), the Institute for Democratic Education in America (www.democraticeducation.org), and the Institute for Educational Inquiry’s Agenda for Education in a Democracy (www.ieiseattle.org). Each article is followed by comments which note the source and/or clarify the article’s intent or implications.

In order to be effective, a Declaration of Education Rights must balance several competing requirements. A DER must:

1) Establish the conditions necessary to promote and preserve basic human and civil rights.

2) Address the values and requirements of democracy. For our purposes, we are using a broad definition of democracy as a value system – a way of living and working together based on freedom, justice, equality, and mutual respect. [“Democracy first and foremost, is a shared way of life. It begins with who we are as individuals and the relationships we have with those around us, and it radiates outward from that center to encompass all of humanity… it is, in essence, about human relationships.” (Goodlad, et al, Education for Everyone, p. 82)]

3) Ensure the conditions necessary for the continuous growth, self-development, and creative participation of the learner.

4) Differentiate between education -- a community responsibility -- and schooling -- one component of this larger context.


Declaration of Education Rights
Preamble

Whereas a healthy, sustainable democracy requires the thoughtful and effective participation of its citizenry…

Whereas optimum political, social, and economic participation requires certain fundamental capacities and conditions…

Whereas it is the responsibility of democratic society to intentionally foster the development of these capacities and conditions essential to its continued vitality and to that of its citizens…

Now, therefore, this Declaration of Education Rights is proclaimed as a common standard of achievement for the continuous growth and self-realization of all people in the context of democratic community.


Article 1

Everyone has the right to participate meaningfully in his/her own education and the educational decisions that affect him/her. These decisions include those establishing the purposes, content, and assessment of learning activities.


COMMENTS: The right to participate in the decisions that affect us is a basic principle of democracy. The Institute for Democratic Education in America (www.democraticeducation.org) applies this concept to education in their stated mission “to ensure that all young people can participate meaningfully in their education and gain the tools to build a just, democratic, and sustainable world.” John Dewey also emphasized the importance of participation – “There is, I think, no point in the philosophy of progressive education which is sounder than its emphasis upon the importance of the participation of the learner in the formation of the purposes which direct his activities in the learning process, just as there is no defect in traditional education greater than its failure to secure the active co-operation of the pupil in construction of the purposes involved in his studying.” (Dewey, Experience and Education, p. 67) This article implies access to self-directed learning opportunities whenever possible.


Article 2

Everyone has the right to an education directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.


COMMENTS: Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26. This right guards against overly narrow definitions of education as primarily a means to the economic and political ends of the powers that be.


Article 3

Everyone has the right to an education that acknowledges and respects his/her cultural, religious, and/or ethnic heritage.


COMMENTS: Every educational system is based on a particular set of beliefs, assumptions, and cultural perspectives. Without overt acknowledgement and respect for the cultural, religious, and/or ethnic heritage of the student, there is real danger that these important sources of personal and cultural identity will be undermined.


Article 4

Everyone has the right to an education that acknowledges multiple ways of knowing and assists in the exploration and understanding of various world views.


COMMENTS: A cornerstone of democracy is the realization that other people may see and experience the world differently from us. Engaging in thoughtful dialogue that leads to a deeper understanding of one another is critical in our work for peaceful coexistence in a diverse world, as well as a critical evaluation of our own perspective.


Article 5

Everyone has the right to an education that fosters the capacities necessary for effective participation in a social and political democracy.


COMMENTS: From the Institute for Educational Inquiry’s Agenda for Education in a Democracy (www.ieiseattle.org). Democracy by definition depends on the thoughtful and effective participation of its citizens.


Article 6

Everyone has the right to an education that fosters the capacities necessary to lead responsible and satisfying lives.


COMMENTS: From the Institute for Educational Inquiry’s Agenda for Education in a Democracy (www.ieiseattle.org). This emphasizes the second part of the dual role of education noted by John Goodlad in Democracy, Education, and the Schools – “The mission of schooling comes down to two related kinds of enculturation; no other institution is so charged. The first is for political and social responsibility as a citizen. The second is for maximum individual development, for full participation in the human conversation (with the concept of conversation expanded into a metaphor for the whole of daily living).” (John Goodlad in Soder, Roger, Ed., Democracy, Education, and the Schools, p. 112)


Article 7

All educational institutions shall unambiguously reflect the values of democracy in their policies, practices, curriculum, organizational structures, and outcomes.


COMMENTS: As Marshall McLuhan noted, the medium is the message. Dewey also emphasized the critical importance of the lessons we learn indirectly by way of the educational environment – “Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only the particular thing he is studying at the time. Collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is more important than the spelling lesson or lesson in geography or history that is learned. For these attitudes are fundamentally what count in the future.” (Dewey, Experience and Education, p. 48) Democracy can only really be learned by a process of immersion. To be effective and sustainable, the means used must be aligned with the ends desired.


Article 8

P-12 education shall be free, as well as equitably and adequately funded. Technical, professional, and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of capacity.


COMMENTS: Adapted from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26. The emphasis on higher education being equally accessible to all on the basis of capacity implies (but does not explicitly guarantee) the removal of economic barriers to such participation when appropriate.


Article 9

Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education in which their children participate.

COMMENTS: From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26. The UDHR version reads, “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” The wording was changed to reflect an understanding of education not as something that can be given or imposed, but as something that requires the free participation of the learner. This article was originally included in the UDHR in the aftermath of WWII as a way to prevent oppressive regimes from using state mandated educational programs to indoctrinate its citizens.


Article 10

Everyone has the right to an education that acknowledges our place within the natural world, respects the interconnectedness of all life, and promotes the building of a just and sustainable world.


COMMENTS: This ecological literacy (see Orr, Ecological Literacy, 1992) is increasingly being recognized as essential not only to our quality of life, but to our very survival as a species and to the long-term health of our planet. The latter portion is taken in part from IDEA’s mission statement (see comments on Article 1).


Article 11

Education shall be compulsory through the primary years and freely available thereafter until the age of majority. No minor shall be denied access to a free and appropriate educational program for any reason. Furthermore, no person shall be compelled to participate in any educational program that does not protect the full range of these rights.


COMMENTS: The UDHR states that elementary education shall be compulsory, presumably to ensure the basic educational foundation required for optimum self-development and for effective political, social, and economic participation. After the primary years, the emphasis shifts from compulsory participation on the part of the individual to compulsory service on the part of society, with participation being optional at the discretion of the learner. This acknowledges the fact that coercive educational techniques are inherently counterproductive to “the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” as well as to the health and viability of democracy itself.


Article 12

Given that education is an ongoing process that extends far beyond the bounds of formal schooling, everyone has the right to live in an educative community that purposely contributes to the continuous growth and well-being of all its members.


COMMENTS: This highlights the difference between schooling and education, and promotes a vision of education as a community responsibility. Implied is the need to continuously advocate and work for the creation of truly educative communities. For our purposes, an educative community can be understood as one which depends on the real work and creative participation of each of its members, as well as actively promoting and protecting human and civil rights.


Article 13

No one shall be denied access to employment or postsecondary education, or be discriminated against in any way solely on the basis of P-12 academic credentials.

COMMENTS: It is unethical to use any criteria for employment that are not clearly necessary for the successful performance of the particular job being sought. Given the broad and varied nature of high school graduation requirements, for example, this cannot be said to apply to the high school diploma. This article also makes more feasible the development of and participation in alternative approaches to learning that do not result in standard academic credentials.

Another implication of this article is that schools will have to attract learners on the basis of the skills and experiences they have to offer rather than because they are the sole gatekeepers to economic participation. It safeguards against the accumulation of too much power in the education establishment to determine and/or limit the future opportunities of citizens. It does, however, leave open the possibility of using P-12 academic credentials and measures as one of several sources of information used together to assess a person’s aptitude for particular postsecondary jobs and programs.


Conclusion

The time has come for us to take a stand on what we believe to be the purpose and proper nature of education in our democracy. This Declaration of Education Rights is a first attempt to do just that – an articulation of values and principles intended to serve as a moral and functional compass for education in America.

Thomas Jefferson sparked a political revolution when he wrote that “we hold these truths to be self-evident”. But the moral and philosophical revolution that produced these truths had been steadily growing in our hearts and minds for hundreds of years. Jefferson merely affirmed them and recognized their revolutionary implications.

Like its inspiration, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration of Education Rights contains some ideas that are intuitive and others that are more daring, but all of them reflect a revolution in thinking that is already under way. The implications are profound and far reaching.

In order to make this document as sound and powerful as it needs to be, we are asking for your feedback. Input will be used to refine this document for future use in public forums across the nation. Imagine the long-term impact of its official adoption, not only by schools, school districts, and educational organizations, but by state and federal departments of education as well.

Without a clear vision, it is inevitable that education will continue to drift in the winds of various political, economic, and special interest agendas. And as we drift, our children, our democracy, and our planet will suffer. Please help us chart the course for a redefinition of education that celebrates individuality while simultaneously promoting democracy – that reinforces creativity, nurtures greatness, and helps to build a just and sustainable world.



Declaration of Education Rights

Preamble


Whereas a healthy, sustainable democracy requires the thoughtful and effective participation of its citizenry…


Whereas optimum political, social, and economic participation requires certain fundamental capacities and conditions…


Whereas it is the responsibility of democratic society to intentionally foster the development of these capacities and conditions essential to its continued vitality and to that of its citizens…


Now, therefore, this Declaration of Education Rights is proclaimed as a common standard of achievement for the continuous growth and self-realization of all people in the context of democratic community.




Article 1


Everyone has the right to participate meaningfully in his/her own education and the educational decisions that affect him/her. These decisions include those establishing the purposes, content, and assessment of learning activities.


Article 2


Everyone has the right to an education directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.


Article 3


Everyone has the right to an education that acknowledges and respects his/her cultural, religious, and/or ethnic heritage.

Article 4


Everyone has the right to an education that acknowledges multiple ways of knowing and assists in the exploration and understanding of various world views.


Article 5


Everyone has the right to an education that fosters the capacities necessary for effective participation in a social and political democracy.


Article 6


Everyone has the right to an education that fosters the capacities necessary to lead responsible and satisfying lives.


Article 7


All educational institutions shall unambiguously reflect the values of democracy in their policies, practices, curriculum, organizational structures, and outcomes.


Article 8


P-12 education shall be free, as well as equitably and adequately funded. Technical, professional, and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of capacity.


Article 9


Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education in which their children participate.


Article 10


Everyone has the right to an education that acknowledges our place within the natural world, respects the interconnectedness of all life, and promotes the building of a just and sustainable world.


Article 11


Education shall be compulsory through the primary years and freely available thereafter until the age of majority. No minor shall be denied access to a free and appropriate educational program for any reason. Furthermore, no person shall be compelled by law to participate in any educational program that does not protect the full range of these rights.


Article 12


Given that education is an ongoing process that extends far beyond the bounds of formal schooling, everyone has the right to live in an educative community that purposely contributes to the continuous growth and well-being of all its members.


Article 13


No one shall be denied access to employment or postsecondary education, or be discriminated against in any way solely on the basis of P-12 academic credentials.

Bibliography

Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO), http://www.educationrevolution.org/

Dewey, John, 2002 (First published 1916). Democracy and Education. New York: Barnes & Noble Digital Library

Dewey, John, 1997 (First published 1938). Education and Experience. New York: Touchstone

Glendon, Mary Ann, 2001. A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. New York: Random House

Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA), http://www.democraticeducation.org/

Institute for Educational Inquiry (IEI), http://ieiseattle.org/

Goodlad, J.I., Goodlad, S. J., Mantle-Bromley, C., 2004. Education for Everyone: Agenda for Education in a Democracy. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Morsink, Johannes, 1999. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, & Intent. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

Orr, David, 1992. Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World. Albany: State University of New York Press

Soder, Roger, Editor, 1996. Democracy, Education, and the Schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass



9 comments:

Sue VanHattum said...

Article 11 Education shall be compulsory through the primary years...

This is problematic, but the rest sounds pretty good.

Anything that's compulsory gets in the way of true democracy, I think. But at least a distinction has been made between schooling and education. Still I'd rather see something that gives children a right but not an obligation to this thing called education.

Anonymous said...

Very good declaration observed. I really found this information useful. And appreciate your efforts. I hope for more good articles in future.

Online Learning

Abe Karl-Gruswitz said...

Article 11 sticks out like a sore thumb! Compulsory education is the opposite of a democratic education.

Your definition of democracy is just plain wrong. Democracy is a decision-making process. In describing what happens in the culture of a democracy, you might find your definition, but you will not without the decision-making process. For example, in the protests in Egypt, people were coming together for democracy. They did not have democracy for coming together. They will only have it with the decision-making process.

Jim Strickland said...

Compulsory schooling is one of the more controversial and divisive issues in the DER. I included it to generate conversation and because it is addressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To some people, compulsory schooling implies the use of force to coerce learning, an approach that history has proven to be inhumane, unethical, and counterproductive. One the other hand, compulsory schooling laws keep the state from neglecting its educational responsibility. Without these laws, it could be easier for the state to provide a one-size-fits-all approach to education while allowing students and families who don't fit this mold to "freely choose" to opt out. With these laws, the state is forced to grapple with the educational needs of ALL students, even nontraditional learners, those who have been historically marginalized, and those with special learning needs.

Another perspective is that education is a mutual responsibility. The state has a responsibility to provide education, and the individual has a responsibility to obtain an education, thus decreasing the chances that he/she will later become a burden on society (I guess it's kind of like requiring citizens to purchase health insurance to keep us from shifting responsibility for our healthcare onto others!). It could be that compulsory attendance laws preserve this mutuality.

How should we deal with this issue? For now I say leave it in the DER as an issue that we need to grapple with. But we could eventually cut it out. Other sections of the DER imply a commitment to noncoercive learning, as well as ensuring equitable access without discrimination. A revised Article 11 could read as follows without any reference to compulsory schooling except when it should not be allowed:

Article 11
No minor shall be denied access to a free and appropriate educational program for any reason. Furthermore, no person shall be compelled to participate in any educational program that does not protect the full range of these rights.

Your thoughts?

Jim

Sue VanHattum said...

That's much better. Now I'm wondering how this list of rights compares to my thoughts on an 'ideal school'.

An important difference is that my ideal school is not prescriptive. A list of rights must take into account the different values of each family. And that points me to a problem almost the opposite of my problem with article 11.

Article 7 says democracy has to be a value of all educational institutions. I think it's best to trust each family to raise their kids the best way they know how. If the family has values that they hold higher than democracy, and wants a school that reflects their values, isn't that ok?

A very interesting radical take on this can be found at C.A.Bowers' website, though most of it is buried in pdf's. His main issue is respect for indigenous values, in support of their ecological wisdom. (I'm putting it badly. Check him out.)

Jim Strickland said...

Sue, I love your ideal school! Reminds me of the visions of John Holt and Ivan Illich -- truly inspirational.

I agree that families should be able to choose an education that reflects their highest values (See Article 9 -- Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education in which their children participate.). I see a commitment to democracy as supporting this freedom, which could mean the existence of a diverse array of beliefs and practices in one school, or the need to allow the creation of new schools to meet these diverse needs.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback. I'll check out the Bowers website.

indiana defensive driving said...

hard hitting facts and nice written.

continuing education said...

I am pretty relaxed with declaration of these education rights. Most of these rights are in favor of poor people.

Shawn Warren said...

Nice work. I did not see in your references, The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. A UN document ratified by numerous countries, including the US and Canada. It calls for progress toward universal free higher education on the basis of capacity - as does your article.

As someone who is clearly interested in the realization of the right to education, I invite you to look at a model for the provision of higher education that easily allows us to realize this right.

The Model: http://bit.ly/1iWdCEU
Its application to education rights: http://bit.ly/1kMlTxq

I hope you find it of some use.

Cheers,
Shawn