The Right to Education

Written by Firas Suqi ’13

Illustration: Chalkboard

This (past) week was our last lecture before the election next Tuesday, and Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Kelton Williams discussed what he would describe as one of the least-debated topics, the role of federalism in public schooling.

Professor Williams petitioned us to come up with our own opinions on the objectives of public schooling, as well as whom we thought should hold jurisdiction over enacting these objectives. Needless to say, the class came up with an assortment of answers, a couple of them being “providing equal access to social mobilization” and “to create a conducive learning environment.”

Professor Williams then stumped the class when asking, “Why do we feel as though schools are necessary to provide the positive outcomes we associate with public schooling?” This stimulated the class to ponder the nuances of education and schooling.

The United States Constitution does not explicate federal authority relating to public education, according to Professor Williams. Instead, the state has assumed power in these issues from the 10th Amendment, which grants the state authority to delegate powers not granted to the federal government under the Constitution, yet still remain locally legal.

This is otherwise known as Federalism, with other examples including the regulation of interstate highways and determining the legal age of alcohol consumption. While the state has the right to regulate education, this doesn’t mean the federal government doesn’t have a say. The federal government’s involvement in education has become increasingly larger, allowing this issue to sneak into the presidential debates.

The historical purpose of education has shifted from “producing good Americans” in the 1790s-1830s, to “producing moral Christians” in the 19th century, to the contemporary purpose of “producing internationally competitive citizens.” This progression of objectives coincides with the changing identities of the United States.

Professor Williams mentioned that “nobody tries to educate as many people as we do” when referring to the class discrepancies and ethnicities of those in the public school system when compared to the rest of the world. This brought us to question whether the American school system is actually failing, or if we just haven’t figured out an approach that can be applicable to the diversity of students in the public school system.

Both candidates seem to take similar stances on how this question should be addressed, but these have been overshadowed by the debates of the economy and America’s foreign policy.

As this is the last lecture of the term, I now feel as though I have a better understanding of the platforms both candidates are running under. This class has definitely prepared me to be a more conscientiously informed citizen as I exercise my right to vote for the first time and participate in the democratic process.

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