Archives for category: Citizenship

This story has justifiably gotten a lot of national attention. Tim Boyd, the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, resigned after posting the following message on his Facebook page. He has a philosophy of sink or swim. That Government has no responsibility to help you when the power goes out and the temperature goes below freezing. Surviving is your problem.

That worldview sounds like it derives from the late Rush Limbaugh. It is certainly not consonant with the core values embedded in the Holy Bible. I’m guessing ex-Mayor Boyd considers himself a Christian. From what I know of the words of Jesus, he taught love and kindness for one’s neighbors, not indifference.

For non-Christians, there is another source for believing that government has an obligation to help its citizens: the United States Constitution, which begins: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

”Providing for the general welfare” is a commitment that society makes to its citizens.

And then there’s the basic fact that the government in most parts of this country does control the power grid and the water supply. Texans should rightly hold their state government responsible for the lack of both. Individuals and families can burn wood in their fireplaces, if they have one, and they can draw water from a well, but most people don’t have a well. People in civilized societies pay taxes so the government will protect them, build roads, supply electrical power and potable water, provide free public education, and do those things that individuals can’t do for themselves.

When their lives are at risk because of a natural disaster, they rightly turn to government for help. At times of overwhelming crisis, only government has the resources and personnel (think National Guard) to save lives.

This is what ex-Mayor Boyd wrote, along with his sort-of apology:

ORIGINAL FACEBOOK MESSAGE (since deleted):

Let me hurt some feelings while I have a minute!!

No one owes you are (sic) your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout! If you don’t have electricity you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe. If you have no water you deal without and think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family. If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your (sic) lazy is direct result of your raising! Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish (sic). Folks God has given us the tools to support ourselves in times like this. This is sadly a product of socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts. Am I sorry that you have been dealing without electricity and water; yes! But I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves! We have lost sight of those in need and those that take advantage of the system and meshed them in to one group!! Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family!

Bottom line – DONT (sic) A PART OF PROBLEM, BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION!!

APOLOGY

All, I have set back and watched all this escalating and have tried to keep my mouth shut! I won’t deny for one minute what I said in my post this morning. Believe me when I say that many of the things I said were taken out of context and some of which were said without putting much thought in to it. I would never want to hurt the elderly or anyone that is in true need of help to be left to fend for themselves. I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout. I apologize for the wording and some of the phrases that were used! I had already turned in my resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again on the deadline that was February 12th! I spoke some of this out of the anger that the city and county was catching for situations which were out of their control. Please understand if I had it to do over again I would have just kept my words to myself and if I did say them I would have used better wording and been more descriptive.

The anger and harassment you have caused my wife and family is so undeserved….my wife was laid off of her job based off the association people gave to her and the business she worked for. She’s a very good person and was only defending me! But her to have to get fired from her job over things I said out of context is so horrible. I admit, there are things that are said all the time that I don’t agree with; but I would never harass you or your family to the point that they would lose there livelihood such as a form of income.

I ask that you each understand I never meant to speak for the city of Colorado City or Mitchell county! I was speaking as a citizen as I am NOT THE MAYOR anymore. I apologize for the wording and ask that you please not harass myself or my family anymore!

Threatening our lives with comments and messages is a horrible thing to have to wonder about. I won’t share any of those messages from those names as I feel they know who they are and hope after they see this they will retract the hateful things they have said!

Thank you

Tim Boyd(citizen)

Edutopia reports on new research by Professor C. Kirabo Jackson of Northwestern University, who finds that a “good school” does much more than raise test scores.

In a new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, C. Kirabo Jackson, a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University, and his colleagues found that schools with robust impacts on student well-being may be helping students in ways that aren’t picked up by standardized tests. These schools may not have the highest test scores, but they’re the most likely to motivate students to graduate and attend college, especially those students who are less likely to do so in the first place.

“Test scores aren’t everything, and schools that promote socio-emotional development actually have a really big positive impact on kids,” Jackson told me. “And these impacts are particularly large for vulnerable student populations who don’t tend to do very well in the education system.”

This is the latest in a series of studies examining the broad impact that teachers and schools have on students. Jackson’s previous research looked at the impact that teachers had on noncognitive skills such as self-regulation, and found that teachers who improved these skills improved their students’ long-term outcomes, boosting not only grades, but also attendance and high school graduation rates. The skills that are valuable for future success aren’t usually measured on tests, Jackson points out. So while teachers and schools are often evaluated by their ability to improve students’ test scores, broader measures should be used.

In the current study, Jackson and his colleagues looked at over 150,000 ninth-grade students who attended Chicago public schools between 2011 and 2017, analyzing test scores and administrative records. They also examined responses on an annual survey students completed on social and emotional development and school climate. The survey covered a range of topics, including peer relationships, students’ sense of belonging, how hard they studied for tests, and how interested they were in the topics they were studying. The data were then combined into a three-part index: one that included test scores and other academic outcomes, a “social well-being” index, and a “work habits” index.

Jackson’s team found that schools that scored high on the latter two indices—those that promoted social and emotional development—were also the most effective at supporting long-term student success. In these schools, there were fewer absences, and more students graduated and went on to college. And perhaps more importantly, the benefits were greatest for student populations who struggled the most in school.

I “attended” only one Inauguration, that of John F. Kennedy in 1961. I had been married only six months, and my husband and I took the train to D.C. It was a bitter cold and snowy day. Our train contained many members of Congress. Because of the snow, the train crawled and arrived very late.. All of us heard JFK’s stirring Inaugural Address on our portable radios, one train. We missed a historic moment. It was a frustrating moment for all of us, me especially, because I had worked for months in the Kennedy campaign, at campaign headquarters at 277 Park Avenue in Manhattan (since replaced by a high-rise building). I remember when he visited us. I was struck by how freckled he was and starstruck like everyone else.

Our reader Greg B. reflects on the importance of the Inaugural ceremony.

It strikes me that the upcoming inauguration can only be compared to both of Lincoln’s inaugurations. They will have been the only three in which there was serious concern about the life of the president. I think, very sadly, the many of us here and elsewhere who have expressed fear about the rise of fascism and intolerance in this nation over the past five years have been proven to be correct. What I feared in 1989 when I was a part of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism has come to fruition.

Making it even sadder, the only inauguration I experienced personally was the Clinton’s first in 1993. It was a celebration. The tents from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival were erected on the National Mall for a musical, culinary and cultural celebration. It featured musical acts from the range of American experience. I remember being in the tent that had McCoy Tyner, followed by Etta James, followed by Booker T and MGs (!!!), and concluded by the Very Rev. Al Green (!!!!!!). Front freaking row. Free. For the people.

I remember sobbing like a baby when watching tv as the crowd at Obama’s first inaugural celebrated in peace and joy and wishing I could have been there. And while I was just a baby, I remember later learning about JFK’s stirring speech at his inaugural. I also remember laughing at Sean whatever-his-name-is making a fool of himself and cheering my wife and her friends on at the Women’s March from a distance four years ago.

The Idiot has taught me how to hate, something I didn’t think would have been possible four years ago. But mostly, I hate what this craven Idiot and his enablers have done to our national rituals, rituals that confirm the legitmacy–not perfection–of our system of governing. And what they continue to do. They have robbed our Nation–and more importantly, our Nation’s historical and international standing–of an essential act of legitimacy. Murderers of people and our system of governing are still at large, both within and outside of our governing institutions. We must take it back. More importantly, we must all pledge to protect President Biden. Whether we supported his candidacy or not, we must do so to restore this nation’s legitimacy, for us, the world and posterity.

Andrea Gabor argues that the violent storming of Congress is reason to revive civics in schools. Clearly, she writes, many Americans do not understand the norms of a democratic government (including, I would add, Trump and most of the elected representatives of the Republican Party).

Last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol may have been incited by President Donald Trump and right-wing politicians, but it was supported by millions of their followers. News reports and public opinion polls make it clear that many Americans believe evidence-free assertions by Trump and his allies of massive voter fraud in the November election and their lies about the power of public officials to overturn the result.

The riot was just the latest and most appalling evidence that a wide swath of the American public doesn’t understand democratic norms. That’s why it should serve as a sputnik moment for an ambitious revival of civics instruction along with expanded training in news literacy.

Nobody’s claiming that the violent extremism on display on Jan. 6 owes its rise mainly to the decades-long de-emphasis of U.S. classroom civics. But it should be a clue that civics is too important to relegate to a semester or two of high school or to sacrifice to other curricular goals. It needs to be woven throughout the K-12 curriculum and go beyond rote instruction in the three-branch structure of the U.S. government, how a bill becomes law and the ins-and-outs of the electoral college.

Last week, educators nationwide were forced to throw out lesson plans and help students make sense of the day’s events. On Twitter, teachers reported students coming to class hungry for answers about everything from the 25th-Amendment process for declaring a president unable to perform his duties to why the Capitol police were more forceful last summer during the Black Lives Matter protests. In Matt Wood’s seventh-grade civics class at Leman Middle School in suburban Chicago, students analyzed images and words used by the news media to describe the Capitol attack — insurrection, coup, insurgency, protest — to determine which ones were most accurate.More fromCall the Senate Vote on Trump’s Removal and Be Done With ItA Breakup Plan to Save Intel and Preserve National SecurityTrump Will Try to Make His Impeachment About Free SpeechThe Pentagon Must Learn to Do More With Less

At a time of heightened political polarization, wrestling with the events of Jan. 6 is a potential minefield for both teachers and students. Teachers need help from civics experts to figure out how to navigate it.

Some districts in Florida thought they could avoid potential blowback from parents by telling educators to avoid discussing the Capitol riot at all, even though Florida has a decade-old civics graduation requirement. That didn’t stop students from pressing teachers for answers. On Twitter, some students, including an eighth grader in Virginia, agonized about how a class discussion had unleashed racist attacks from classmates.

Illinois’s five-year-old civics mandate requires the discussion of “current and controversial issues” and provides an object lesson in how a robust commitment to civics can prepare schools and educators to help students make sense of the things they see on the news. (Illinois was among 11 states that previously had no civics mandate.)

As part of Illinois’s professional developmentofferings, teachers can take weekly civics webinars. Last week, about 50 educators, including math and dance teachers as well as librarians and administrators, joined a webinar on “strategies for using current and controversial issues in the classroom,” which quickly focused on the Capitol attack. It offered resources on voter fraud and how presidential pardons work, as well as the importance of engaging “student voice.”

Participants were encouraged to handle thorny debates by drawing distinctions between “settled” and “open” issues. For example, the constitutional right to abortion has been “settled” by the Supreme Court but efforts to limit or eliminate it remain “open.” Although debating abortion might be “uncomfortable,” noted a Naperville high school social studies teacher during the webinar, doing so teaches students that “civic peace exists because we can hold oppositional views in the same community.”

Counterintuitively, encouraging debate can help teachers avoid political minefields. When one webinar participant argued that teachers should “condemn” the insurgents and denounce them for racism, Wood, whose Chicago-area school is ethnically and politically diverse, countered that having students help guide discussions by encouraging them to ask questions helps to protect teachers from community blowback. It also gives students a greater stake in the conversation.  

For years, civics has been neglected in favor of math and English, subjects with federally mandated annual tests. A new study found that the vast majority of California students “attend schools in districts that do not articulate a substantial focus on civic education.” Most American high school and college students also have trouble judging the credibility of news stories they read online.

Discussion of current events should begin as early as kindergarten, argues Steve Masyada, a civics expert at the University of Central Florida. And schools should begin teaching American history and civics in early grades.

Maryland is one of the few states to embed civics in social studies learning standards for all grades, and to establish a community service graduation requirement.

In Illinois, high-school students have been instrumental in drafting new legislation, including a 2016 school-discipline law and, most recently, a pending bill to observe daylight savings time all year. In earlier grades, students work on community improvement projects and participate in mock U.N. and legislative sessions.

Doubling down on civics and news literacy will require ratcheting back costly and time-consuming annual standardized tests — though a high school test could measure student knowledge and news literacy gleaned over time. One bonus: Mastering the background knowledge needed to understand history and civics is likely to make students better readers, while civics projects would help produce more engaged citizens.

Schools everywhere should be offering after-hours civics classes for families. The federal government should consider sponsoring an advertising campaign aimed at disseminating bite-sized lessons on how to distinguish fact from fiction online. That would be a fitting way to mark the end of Trump.

George Will is a conservative who adheres to conservative principles of personal responsibility, ethical behavior, and limited government. For these reasons, he despises Donald Trump, a man who has no values, ethics, or principles.

Will was appalled by the storming of the U.S. Capitol and also by Trump’s refusal to concede his loss in the election.

He wrote a column excoriating the three villains of American democracy: Trump, Hawley, and Cruz.

He wrote:

The three repulsive architects of Wednesday’s heartbreaking spectacle — mobs desecrating the Republic’s noblest building and preventing the completion of a constitutional process — must be named and forevermore shunned. They are Donald Trump, and Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.

Trump lit the fuse for the riot in the weeks before the election, with his successful effort to delegitimize the election in the eyes of his supporters. But Wednesday’s explosion required the help of Hawley (R-Mo.) and Cruz (R-Tex.).
Hawley announced his intention to object to the certification of some states’ electoral votes, for no better reason than that there has been an avalanche of “allegations” of election irregularities, allegations fomented by the loser of the election. By doing so, Hawley turned what should have been a perfunctory episode in our civic liturgy of post-election civility into a synthetic drama. He turned this moment into the focus of the hitherto unfocused fury that Trump had been stoking for many weeks.


And Cruz, by organizing support for Hawley among other Republican senators and senators-elect gave Hawley’s grotesque self-promotion an ersatz cloak of larger purpose. Shortly before the mob breached the Senate chamber, Cruz stood on the Senate floor. With his characteristic unctuousness, he regretted the existence of what he and kindred spirits have not only done nothing to refute but have themselves nurtured — a pandemic of suspicions that the election was “rigged.”


“I want to take a moment to speak to my Democratic colleagues,” said Cruz. “I understand your guy is winning right now.” Read those weasely words again. He was not speaking to his “colleagues.” He was speaking to the kind people who were at that instant assaulting the Capitol. He was nurturing the very delusions that soon would cause louts to be roaming the Senate chamber — the fantasy that Joe Biden has not won the election but is only winning “right now.”

The Trump-Hawley-Cruz insurrection against constitutional government will be an indelible stain on the nation. They, however, will not be so permanent. In 14 days, one of them will be removed from office by the constitutional processes he neither fathoms nor favors. It will take longer to scrub the other two from public life. Until that hygienic outcome is accomplished, from this day forward, everything they say or do or advocate should be disregarded as patent attempts to distract attention from the lurid fact of what they have become. Each will wear a scarlet “S” as a seditionist.

Brianna Keilar of CNN speaks here about the post-insurrection efforts to rewrite history by those who were complicit in nurturing the mob and amplifying their grievances.

For months before the election, Trump warned that it would be rigged. He said that if he lost, it was proof that it was rigged. The only “fair” election, he warned, was one that he won. You may recall that in 2016, he repeatedly predicted a “rigged” election, but since he won, it wasn’t rigged.

Since the election, he has been obsessed by the certainty that the election was “rigged,” “stolen,” and the greatest political crime in American history. His campaign team filed 60 or so lawsuits, which failed in state and federal courts, including twice at the U.S. Supreme Court. It didn’t matter whether the judges were appointed by Democrats or Republicans, even Trump himself. There was no evidence of widespread election fraud. Even Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr said do.

But nothing could stop the slander against the election. Trump created a “Stop the Steal” movement of his most ardent cultists. His message was echoed by elected officials like Ted Cruz abd Josh Hawley, who hope to win the loyalty of the Trump base.

Trump summoned his cult to Washington in January 6 to rally them one more time to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. He urged them to march to the Capitol, and he unleashed the Monster.

So far, five people have died because of the Trump-inspired insurrection. We can be grateful that the death toll was not greater and that the domestic terrorists did not set fire to the seat of our national government.

In the aftermath of the insurrection, some say “this is not who we are.” We are not haters, looters, thugs, and vandals. Sadly, this is who some of us are.

What do we do? We don’t appease the mob by holding hearings about blatant lies. As Mitt Romney said, what we owe the American people is the truth. They won’t get the truth from those who seek political gain by telling lies that stoke rage. When Trump’s hoax was twice tossed out by a Supreme Court dominated by six conservatives, including three he appointed, that should have ended the post-election battle. It didn’t because Trump and his enablers had an agenda that did not include the truth.

The deep divisions that Trump exploited won’t be healed anytime soon. As educators, we must remember that the first obligation of public schools is to develop good citizens. Not compliant citizen, not indoctrinated citizens, but citizens who are knowledgeable about our government and our institutions; citizens who can weigh evidence, listen to opposing views, and think critically about their decisions. We need citizens who can tell the difference between facts and propaganda. In rebuilding a functional democracy, we need education more than ever. Civic education is obviously not all that is needed for active participation in society, but it is crucial to sustain our democracy and strengthen it. As Ted Cruz and josh Hawley demonstrate, intellect is not enough when it becomes a tool of the unscrulous.

What matters most, I believe, is a combination of knowledge and character. People who knowingly lie do not have it. People who are driven by greed and ambition do not have it. Our Founding Fathers understood full well that men are not angels, and they created a Constitution of elaborate checks and balances to protest us from the predators who seek power by any means necessary. We have been reminded during these past four years that our democracy must be renewed in every generation. Its promise of equal justice for all is far from real and for too many, a false promise.

We must continue to work towards a better, fairer society. That work begins with truth-telling. We must demand it from our elected officials and practice it in our daily lives. That’s a start.


Andrea Gabor, the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College of the City University of New York, writes here about the importance of civics education, especially in a time when democracy is under attack by a defeated president and the leadership of the Republican Party.

Put Civics Back in the Classroom, Right Now

Has there ever been a better time to resume lapsed efforts to teach young Americans the structure and purpose of U.S. democracy?


By Andrea Gabor

The presidential election seemed to mark a revival in American civic engagement. A record two-thirds of the electorate voted. Candidates raised at least $3 billion in small-dollar donations, and historic get-out-the-vote efforts had an impact in NevadaGeorgia and elsewhere.


Yet large numbers of Americans appear to believe President Donald Trump’s baseless charges of election fraud. Civic life and discourse have been eroded by the normalization of lying by elected leaders, the dissemination of disinformation via social media and the attempted weaponization of the courts to undermine confidence in voting.
Has there ever been a better time for a revival of civics education? Not your father’s bland civics, with its how-a-bill-becomes-law tedium, but a vigorous set of lessons about American society and government that encourages fact-based exchanges of views and civil debate about controversial topics without taking sides in contemporary disputes about such issues as abortion or immigration policy.

Civics should begin with a common narrative that Americans can agree on, beginning with what the Declaration of Independence and Constitution say about the role and structure of U.S. government. It should explore the definition of citizenship and how it has evolved over the course of 250 years via such documents as the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the Seneca Falls Declaration on women’s rights, and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It should address the role of the electoral college, how it works, and how votes are counted. And it should examine the prerogatives of state and local governments and their relationship to the federal government.
A foundational civics course must include uncomfortable truths. That would mean delving into the three-fifths compromise of the constitutional convention, which made slaves count toward the congressional representation of slave states without granting them any political rights, along with the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the Supreme Court’s sanction of Japanese internment during World War II and its 2018 decisionto overturn that precedent. But divisive and complex debatesabout the degree to which slavery shaped American society should be left to more advanced classes.


Civics should also make room for local variations in content and execution. For example, the terms on which Southern states were readmitted to the union following the Civil War might receive more emphasis in the South, and the role of the 1787 Northwest Ordinances in expanding statehood could be stressed in the West.


The refreshing of civics curricula in Illinois and Florida provide a roadmap for how states should approach the topic today. Illinois’s civics mandate, especially a requirement that classes discuss “current and controversial issues,” is especially important. The law passed overwhelmingly in 2015 with bipartisan support — Illinois was among 11 states that previously had no civics mandate — and was signed by former Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican. (While Illinois had long required high schools to teach two years of social studies, including one year of American history, the law now requires that at least one semester be devoted to civics.)


Facilitating constructive discussions of controversial topics requires special teacher training. Illinois offered all civics teachers professional development courses over a three-year period, and created a mentoring program for civics teachers, especially in schools with no previous civics course — as many as 13 percent of the total. The problem is that the state didn’t set aside money for the training, relying instead on philanthropies; a subject as important as civics should have a dedicated funding stream for educators and schools.Nor should the introduction of civics concepts wait until high school. Last year, Illinois added middle school to the grades that must provide civics instruction. Similarly, Florida’s decade-old civics law makes passing a middle-school civics course a requirement for high 
school matriculation.


A well designed middle-school civics test could support fact-based debate and is arguably less onerous than a high-school graduation requirement; students who fail the class (in Florida the test accounts for just 30 percent of the middle-school civics grade) could retake the test and go on to high school. When the coronavirus pandemic recedes, states should consider eliminating all middle-school testing in lieu of a single meaty civics test that might include geography and some economics.


When it comes to civics, states have a lot of ground to make up. For decades, government policies, including state testing mandates and federal initiatives like President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program and President Barack Obama’s support for Common Core, have focused on college and workplace readiness. Civics instruction got short shrift and was often abandoned.

As attacks on democratic institutions picked up steam during the Trump presidency, civics remained an afterthought. As of 2018, only eight states required students to take a yearlong civics and government class. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is considered the nation’s report card, dropped its 4th- and 12th-grade civics and American history exam in 2014.

Few recent state civics efforts succeeded.
Now, as a few states begin to pursue a civics revival, one concern is political interference from the left and right. California Governor Gavin Newsom just vetoed an ethnic studies law that threatened to erode time and effort spent on other subjects, including civics. Last year, Florida’s legislature passed a bill requiring the state to review civics materials, a concern at a time when Republican lawmakers and Governor Ron DeSantis have promoted Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.


But civics instruction needn’t take sides to promote democratic involvement. Last year, Massachusetts became the first state to require schools to coordinate nonpartisan student-led civics projects. The redesigned Advanced Placement U.S. government and politics course taken by many college-bound students also requires students to work on a civics project, either partisan or not.
States should borrow good ideas from each other, including Florida’s emphasis on middle-school civics and Illinois’s focus on constructive debate. A shared narrative will be stronger if buttressed by productive argument and brought to life by civic action.


Andrea Gabor
Bloomberg Chair of Business Journalism 
Baruch College/CUNY
After the Education Wars (The New Press, June 2018)
www.andreagabor.com

Arthur Camins, retired science and technology educator, knows that Democrats must do a better job of reaching out and persuading nearly half of voters that we all have a stake in a better, fairer society.

He writes:

Celebrate! Breathe a very, very big sigh of relief. Among the record number of Americans who went to the polls and mailed in their ballots, over half voted for Joe Biden to reject and decisively defeat Donald Trump!! At least five million more. I wish it was a landslide, but still, big, big whew!

However, don’t stop worrying. Be vigilant. Organize.

Roughly 47% of voting Americans, (including 58% of exit-polled whites) were willing to accept an openly racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, corrupt, wealth-protecting tax cheat, as well as his many elected Republican sycophantic supporters. The causes go way back and continue to this day. We ignore that history and current precipitants at our grave peril.  The depth of racism, appeal of authoritarianism, and continued of be-out-for-yourself cynicism will not fade away soon.  The danger of armed right-wing violence is ever-present.

This deep polarization is unacceptable, he writes. We must find a way forward that changes the mindset of those who fail to see that our society rises or falls together. He has some suggestions.

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the original cast of “Hamilton” (not all, but many) have made an excellent video to appeal to young people with this simple message: REGISTER AND VOTE.

The best way to vote is IN PERSON, so your vote is certain to be counted.

If you can’t get to the polling place in person, vote by mail but vote EARLY.

You are probably not in the habit of reading court decisions. They tend to be dense and filled with citations that slow down the reader.

But you must read the decision issued on October 13 by Judge William Smith of the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island. It is brilliant, fascinating, informative. It is a lesson in civics for all of us.

Students in Rhode Island sued the state of Rhode Island and its governor Gina Raimondo because they did not receive education in civics, which (they said) deprived them of the knowledge and skills they needed to participate in our democracy.

Judge Smith reluctantly dismissed their appeal because no federal court (except for one in Michigan) had ruled that Americans have a “right” to education. He laments that this is the case, and he explains in crisp detail why democracy is in danger in the absence of civic education. He clearly wanted to rule in favor of the students. They will appeal but are likely to run into more roadblocks.

Judge Smith notes that the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954 ruled that education was fundamental to citizenship, but the Nixon Court in 1973 ruled that education was not a right guaranteed by the Constitution. Judge Smith laments that fact but can’t overrule it.

Here is the announcement of the decision from the Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College. Michael A. Rebell of the Center is lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

Judge William Smith of the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island, issued his long-awaited decision in Cook v. Raimondo on on October 13,2020. This case was filed by a group of Rhode Island public school students and families who seek to establish a right under the U.S. Constitution to an education adequate to prepare them to participate effectively in their constitutional rights to “voting, serving on a jury, understanding economic, social, and political systems sufficiently to make informed choices, and to participate effectively in civic activities.”

Judge Smith granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, but did so in a manner that eloquently set forth the critical importance of the issues the plaintiffs raised:

This is what it all comes down to: we may choose to survive as a country by respecting our Constitution, the laws and norms of political and civic behavior, and by educating our children on civics, the rule of law, and what it really means to be an American, and what America means. Or, we may ignore these things at our and their peril. Unfortunately, this Court cannot, for the reasons explained below, deliver or dictate the solution — but, in denying that relief, I hope I can at least call out the need for it.

The judge added:

This case does not represent a wild-eyed effort to expand the reach of substantive due process, but rather a cry for help from a generation of young people who are destined to inherit a country which we — the generation currently in charge — are not stewarding well. What these young people seem to recognize is that American democracy is in peril. Its survival, and their ability to reap the benefit of living in a country with robust freedoms and rights, a strong economy, and a moral center protected by the rule of law is something that citizens must cherish, protect, and constantly work for. We would do well to pay attention to their plea.

Plaintiffs in Cook v. Raimondo argue that the U.S. Constitution entitles all students to an education that prepares them to participate fully in a democracy. It alleges that the state of Rhode Island is failing to provide tens of thousands of students throughout the state with the necessary basic education and civic-participation skills. The plaintiffs are 14 high school, middle school, elementary school, and preschool students (or parents on behalf of their children) attending public schools in a variety of school districts throughout the state. An ultimate decision on behalf of plaintiffs in this case would establish a constitutional right to education for students throughout the United States.

Judge Smith rejected the plaintiffs’ equal protection claim, writing that, although the U.S. Supreme Court “left the door open just a crack” for reconsideration of its 1973 decision in San Antonio Ind’t Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez that education is not a right the U.S. Constitution,  he interpreted that “crack” to allow the courts to consider only a case that alleges that students are receiving no education  whatsoever or an education that is “totally inadequate.”  He also rejected plaintiffs’ “substantive due process” claim that a right to education for citizenship is “deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions” because “[p]recedent clearly dictates that, while education as a civic ideal is no doubt deeply rooted in our country’s history, there is no right to civics education in the Constitution.”

Judge Smith’s opinion squarely recognized the federal court’s authority to review the students’ claim on the merits, namely whether a constitutional right to civics education represented the “quantum of education” that might be necessary for students to be prepared for the “meaningful exercise” of their constitutional rights. While Judge Smith found, to his regret, that he was unable to connect the legal dots to support this claim, his opinion articulates what is at stake for our country and our Constitution, leaving the plaintiffs a road map to present their appeal to the First Circuit. 

Plaintiffs have stated that they will appeal this decision to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Michael A. Rebell, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who is lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said:

Judge Smith has written the most eloquent and forceful justification I’ve ever read for why America may not “survive as a county” if our students don’t obtain a civic education adequate to allow them to meet the challenges jeopardizing our democracy. The final paragraph to his opinion reads:

Plaintiffs should be commended for bringing this case. It highlights a deep flaw in our national education priorities and policies. The Court cannot provide the remedy Plaintiffs seek, but in denying that relief, the Court adds its voice to Plaintiffs’ in calling attention to their plea. Hopefully, others who have the power to address this need will respond appropriately.

Rebell, and the students and families he represents, believe a strong stance by the court will be necessary to ensure the policymakers and school leaders who have the power to address these issues actually do so. Rebell said, “Judge Smith acknowledged that the U.S.  Supreme Court in Rodriguez left the door open “a crack” for reconsideration aspects of that decision; we hope to convince the Court of Appeals that this open door does, in fact, permit the courts to rule on the critical issues raised by our case.”

Judge Smith’s full decision is linked here.

I urge you to read the decision.