Who’s Responsible For What Your Kids Are Taught in School?

Who's Responsible For What Your Kids Are Taught in School?

(RightWing.org) – For centuries, Americans viewed education as the means to escape poverty and acquire wealth. Society expects that children attend school from kindergarten through 12th grade and earn a high school diploma. However, America is getting schooled on what state governments can force children to learn in recent months.

In Rhode Island, an issue crept up recently that made its way to federal court. A group of young people sued to ask a federal court to recognize that all students have a Constitutional right to civics education. They argued a lack of teaching on the Constitution and how government works led to the horrific January 6 riot on Capitol Hill. They appealed to a higher court when a lower court praised the students but threw the suit out. Shockingly, state officials argued that the court should dismiss the lawsuit because the state didn’t need to teach civics. They also stated that there is no Constitutional guarantee to an education.

Is There a Constitutional Guarantee to an Education?

The short answer is no, there is no Constitutional guarantee of public education. Don’t tell that to public school districts, teachers, and their teacher unions. They want you to believe there is a guarantee to a public education. In 1787, the framers did not include education as a right. According to the 10th Amendment, anything not explicitly given to the federal government belongs to the states. While some states may guarantee an education, others don’t.

The students make a good case that civics is a vital subject to the success of America’s future. Those unaware of civics often don’t participate in government through voting and public service because they are uncertain of the process. The students argued that people don’t know how to exercise their constitutional rights appropriately and can’t defend against misinformation if they are unaware of how the government works. They argued that the January 6 riot occurred because too many people were unaware of the congressional role in counting electoral college votes and certifying the election according to the US Constitution.

Whether or not they are right isn’t the question. The question is, can federal courts force schools to teach civics?

As long as parents disengage from their children’s education, others will decide what they learn. It’s that simple. Teacher unions are vital Democratic constituents, and they have a lot of say about the curriculum being taught. They don’t trump school boards, but they have a considerable say in what teachers teach our children. Just look at the fight over COVID-19 for much of the past year, or Critical Race Theory across the country happening right now.

Why Are We Sending Kids to Public Schools If the Constitution Does Not Require It?

So, why are we sending our kids to school, and why are there legal consequences if we don’t? In the 19th century, literacy rates were almost non-existent, and child labor practices were abhorrent. State laws were put in place to solve both problems. Among them were compulsory laws that required children from 6 until 16 to attend school, with homeschooling as a notable exception.

The first law appeared in Massachusetts in 1852. It required every municipality to offer primary schools that focused on grammar and basic math. If parents refused, they faced fines and, sometimes, officials stripped them of their parental rights. In 1917, Mississippi was the last state to enact compulsory education laws.

So, the question is, if by law one must attend school, what are schools required to teach? That could be a tricky legal question for the federal courts. Education is not a purview of federal jurisdiction according to the Constitution. What one state requires may be different from another.

While students may not need civics as much as reading and math, it’s ultimately up to the states to decide the matter. The federal judge hearing the Rhode Island case praised the students for taking action. Unfortunately, he said there wasn’t much he could do and dismissed the case. Will the appeals court feel differently? Probably not, but that shouldn’t stop them from trying.

Ultimately, parents must demand the school boards require civics instruction. When parents put enough pressure on their local elected officials, they have the power to enact swift changes. The best way for students to learn civics is for parents to engage their elected officials.

Is there a better place to learn civics than the local level?

Don Purdum, Independent Political Analyst

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