Robinson 13 — Kimberly Jenkins Robinson, Professor of Law and Austin Owen Research Scholar at the University of Richmond School of Law, Researcher at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, former Associate Professor at the Emory School of Law, former General Attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the United States Department of Education, holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School, 2013 (“The High Cost of Education Federalism,” Wake Forest Law Review (48 Wake Forest L. Rev. 287), Spring, Available Online to Subscribing Institutions via Lexis-Nexis)
Although the nation's current approach to education federalism undoubtedly generates some benefits, it also tolerates substantial inequitable disparities in educational opportunity both within and between states. n7 The reality of local control of education for many communities means the ability to control inadequate resources that provide many students substandard educational opportunities. n8 The [*289] opportunity divide in American education continues to relegate far too many poor and minority schoolchildren to substandard educational opportunities. n9 These communities are left behind in the competition for educational excellence. n10 In addition, high-poverty schools, particularly those within urban school districts, regularly yield the worst academic outcomes. n11
[*290] These disparities in educational opportunity hinder schools from fulfilling some of their essential national and institutional goals. Schools serve indispensable public functions within a democratic society: they prepare students to engage in the nation's political system in an intelligent and effective manner and transmit the fundamental societal values that a democratic government requires. n12 The nation also relies on its public schools as the principal institutional guarantor of equal opportunity within American society by serving as a mechanism to ensure that children are not hindered in attaining their dreams by their life circumstances. n13 Americans depend on schools to address the societal challenges created by social and economic inequality rather than creating the extensive social welfare networks that many industrialized countries have implemented. n14 The disparities in educational opportunity that relegate many poor and minority students to substandard schooling have hindered the ability of schools to serve these functions. Indeed, rather than solve these challenges, low graduation rates and substandard schools cost the United States billions of dollars each year in lost tax and income revenues, higher health care costs, food stamps, and welfare and housing assistance, to name a few of the costs. n15
Fourth, closing the opportunity gap in education is vital to reduce inequality.
Johnson 16 — Rucker C. Johnson, Associate Professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California-Berkeley, Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, Faculty Research Fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University, Research Affiliate at the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, Research Affiliate at the Institute for Poverty Research at the University of Wisconsin, holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Michigan, 2016 (“Can Schools Level the Intergenerational Playing Field? Lessons from Equal Educational Opportunity Policies,” Economic Mobility: Research & Ideas on Strengthening Families, Communities & the Economy, Edited and Published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Available Online at https://www.stlouisfed.org/~/media/Files/PDFs/Community-Development/EconMobilityPapers/EconMobility_Book_508.pdf?la=en , Accessed 06-19-2017, p. 321)
Summary Discussion and Conclusions
The key contributions of this study are three-fold. First, the paper provides a more detailed descriptive portrait of intergenerational economic mobility in the United States.
Second, the paper attempts to explain why black-white mobility differences narrowed significantly for successive cohorts born between 1955 and 1979, with a focus on the role of three major equal educational opportunity policies pursued over this period: school desegregation, school finance reforms, and roll-out and expansions of Head Start, improving the understanding of the intergenerational mobility process in the United States and illuminating the central role schools play in the transmission of economic success from one generation to the next.
Third, the paper emphasizes differences inearly education and school quality—in particular, Head Start and school spending—as important components of the persistence in income across generations.
Indeed, schools—and policies that influence their optimal functioning—are transformative agents that either provide or deprive children of the opportunity to reach their full potential. These equal educational opportunity policies were instrumental in the making of a growing black middle class. The evidence shows that the footprints of paths toward upward mobility are preceded by access to high quality schools beginning in early childhood through 12th grade. These school reforms expanded on-ramps to poor and minority children to get on that path.
Evidence on the long-term productivity of education spending demonstrates that equal education policy initiatives can play a pivotal role in reducing the intergenerational transmission of poverty.
Fifth, educational inequality also cements political inequality that deprives students of the right to life, the right to vote, and the right to free expression.
Wesche 16 — Breanne N. Wesche, Attorney at the Rizio Law Firm—a personal injury law firm in California, former Special Education Teacher in the Houston Independent School District, holds a J.D. from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, 2016 (“Putting The American Education System To The Test: Recognizing Education As A Fundamental Right And Abolishing Unequal School Funding,” Thurgood Marshall Law Review (41 T. Marshall L. Rev. 5), Available Online to Subscribing Institutions via Lexis-Nexis)
[*5] I. Introduction
In the United States of America, a child's zip code often determines the quality of the child's education. A myriad of social, economic, and political factors contributes to this tragic truth. This article, however, focuses on the staggering, discriminatory effect that Unequal School Funding has on our nation's youth.
Consider the experience of Daniel Lopez, a fifth-grade student in Houston, Texas. n1 Daniel and his family live on the south side of Houston, near William P. Hobby Airport. The public school nearest Daniel is an old, dilapidated building. When Daniel arrives at school each morning, he sees broken computers, leaky air conditioners, and chipping turquoise paint. He sees a small athletic field, occupied by ten-year-old "temporary" trailers. He sees a physical education teacher, doing her best to teach a mathematics class.
Compare Daniel's experience to that of Thomas Smith, a fifth-grade student living near Houston, Texas. n2 Thomas and his family live in a neighborhood filled with multi-million dollar homes, located just miles away from Daniel's neighborhood. The public school nearest Thomas is a new, state-of-the art building. When Thomas arrives at school each morning, he sees new tablets for every student, interactive white boards in every classroom, and extra teacher assistants for individualized help. He sees the new soccer field, next to the tennis courts. He sees art and music teachers with specialized training.
[*6] Which student do you expect is more likely to feel valued when he arrives at school each day? Which student is more likely to reach his potential? Which student do you think has more opportunities to succeed?
Such disparate realities exist between students in different zip codes in large part because of Unequal School Funding: the discriminatory practice in which school funding is based on unequal property taxes within the district. Discriminatory practices such as Unequal School Funding exist in our country because education is not protected as a fundamental right. The United States Supreme Court has only once considered whether education is a fundamental right. The Court's failure to recognize education as a fundamental right resulted in both the nation's pervasive practice of Unequal School Funding and the wildly varying protection of educational rights throughout the states. In light of these horrible repercussions, the Court should now readdress whether education is a fundamental right. Furthermore, the proper analysis of education as a fundamental right would undoubtedly abolish unequal and discriminatory practices such as Unequal School Funding.
I. Education Is A Fundamental Right
Education is a fundamental right because it is inextricably linked to the constitutional guarantees of liberty, voting, and freedom of expression. The quality and level of a United States citizen's education has a direct impact on that citizen's ability to exercise such constitutional rights. As compared to a citizen with a low-quality and low-level education, a person with a high-quality and high-level education is less likely to be incarcerated, more likely to vote, and more equipped to exercise his freedom of expression.
A. The Right to Liberty
"[An incarcerated man] has, as a consequence of his crime, not only forfeited his liberty, but all his personal rights except those which the law in its humanity accords to him. He is for the time being the slave of the State. He is civiliter mortuus; and his estate, if he has any, is administered like that of a dead man." -- Ruffin v. Commonwealth n3
A United States citizen's right to liberty is forfeited upon incarceration. Thomas Jefferson once described liberty as the [*7] "unobstructed action according to our own will within limits drawn around us by the equal right of others." n4 A prisoner is stripped of the right to take unobstructed actions. For example, a prisoner cannot take the unobstructed actions of voting, traveling, starting a business, or having children. n5 A prisoner's every allowable action -- what to eat, when to sleep, when to bathe, who to see, what to wear -- is obstructed and confined by rules created by others. n6 A person's inalienable right to liberty, then, becomes alienable upon his incarceration.
A citizen with a low-level education is significantly more likely to be incarcerated than his well-educated counterpart. In 2004, the Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded that 36.3% of incarcerated men over the age of 18 have less than a high school diploma, and only 11.5% of incarcerated men over the age of 18 have some college education. n7 Likewise, a survey conducted by the American Community Survey in 2009 revealed that Black and White men who are "high school dropouts are about 5 times more likely to go to prison . . . than men who have completed high school." n8 Moreover, the amount of male high school dropouts who become incarcerated continues to rise every year, while the amount of high-school-educated men who become incarcerated remains virtually stagnant. n9
The statistics for female prisoners are equally as staggering. A 2009 survey found that 37% of incarcerated women had less than a high school education, while only 14% of non-incarcerated women had less than a high school education. n10 The survey also found that only 31% of incarcerated women had some postsecondary education, while 58% of non-incarcerated women had some postsecondary education. n11 In short, education levels are inversely related with the likelihood of incarceration: the increased quantity of a person's education decreases the likelihood of incarceration and resulting forfeiture of liberties.
[*8] B. The Right to Vote
"A share in the sovereignty of the state, which is exercised by the citizens at large in voting at elections, is one of the most important rights of the subject, and in a republic ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law." -- Alexander Hamilton n12
The right to vote and access to state and federal franchise is a revered and zealously protected right of all citizens. n13 The right to vote in federal elections is explicitly conferred by the United States Constitution, in Article I, Section 2, and in the Seventeenth Amendment. The right to vote in state elections, while not explicitly listed in the Constitution, has been provided special judiciary protection, as "it is the 'preservative of other basic civil and political rights.'" n14
A citizen with a low-level education is significantly less likely to vote than his well-educated counterpart. n15 The U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey in 2012 showed that only 7.9 million citizens without a high school diploma were registered to vote, compared to over 41.6 million citizens with a high school diploma who were registered to vote. n16 The same survey showed that only 6 million citizens without a high school diploma reported voting, compared to over 34.4 million with a high school diploma who reported voting. n17 Further, a study in 2009 showed that 50.4% of those with less than a high school education were registered to vote, while 84.8% of those with bachelor's degrees or more were registered to vote. n18 Education, thus, significantly contributes to the likelihood of a citizen's effective participation in a democratic society. n19
C. The Right to Freedom of Expression
[*9] "[Education] is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities . . . It is the very foundation of good citizenship." -- Brown v. Board of Education n20
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of assembly, collectively known as "freedom of expression." n21 Justice Benjamin Cardozo defined freedom of expression as "the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom." n22 Exercise of freedom of expression continuously protects all other fundamental rights. n23
A poor education significantly limits a citizen's ability to exercise freedom of expression. "Education directly affects the ability of a child to exercise his First Amendment rights, both as a source and as a receiver of information and ideas, whatever interests he may pursue in life." n24 The classroom – the "marketplace of ideas" n25 – holds a pivotal role of opening up an individual to key experiences in our culture and society. n26 Schools should instill in our young an interest in political discourse, the tools for political debate, and knowledge of governmental processes. n27 Indeed, Americans revere public schools as the "most vital civic institution" for encouraging political consciousness and protecting our democratic system of government. n28 A substandard education, however, strips a child of his ability to fully participate in our democratic society, thereby losing his voice and the ability to fight for his rights.
II. THE PROBLEM: THE SUPREME COURT HAS FAILED TO RECOGNIZE EDUCATION AS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT
[*10] The Supreme Court's failure to recognize education as a fundamental right has allowed discriminatory and inconsistent treatment of educational rights throughout the states. For example, the trend of allotting unequal funding to school districts is a pervasive practice across the country. Moreover, without guidance from the Supreme Court, each state government's protection of educational rights is, at best, haphazard and wavering. Thus, the state where a citizen resides determines both whether education is considered to be a fundamental right and the level of educational equality the state government requires.
Newman 13 — Anne Newman, Researcher at the University of California Center for Collaborative Research for an Equitable California—a multi-campus research program and initiative, holds a Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Education from Stanford University, 2013 (“Education Policy Making in the Shadow of an Enduring Democratic Dilemma,” Realizing Educational Rights: Advancing School Reform through Courts and Communities, Published by the University of Chicago Press, ISBN 9780226071749, p. 17-19)
The Relationship Between Education and Political Equality
Making informed decisions about representation and public policy requires a host of abilities, including analytic reasoning skills and the ability to distinguish sophistry from sound argument. This is even more true in a deliberative democracy that expects citizens to contribute to agenda setting, in contrast to a vote-centric democracy that simply asks citizens to cast ballots for representatives.
The crux of the relationship between education and political equality centers on the types of advantages that education affords citizens in public discourse. People who have comfortable housing, lucrative employment, and good health care may participate in deliberation more easily than those who are less well-off in these respects. Moreover, severe deprivation in any of these welfare domains may impede political participation altogether. Yet inequalities with respect to housing, income, or health care do not result in deliberative inequality per se. Having a bigger house, a more lucrative job, or better health care does not directly confer superior deliberative skills upon citizens.
By contrast, education is directly tied to deliberative influence, and it is not possible to neutralize educational inadequacies to restore political equality without addressing educational deficits head on. The political disadvantage that follows from having poor reasoning skills or limited literacy, for example, is hard to remedy without addressing these problems directly. Moreover, educational inequalities cannot be readily contained for the sake of achieving political equality in public forums. How could well-educated citizens refrain from using their skills in deliberations? Basic income, on the other hand, is largely instrumental to deliberative influence, and the wellbeing it provides can be achieved through various means, such as public assistance for food and housing. By contrast, the quality of citizens’ education directly affects their effectiveness in public deliberation, and nothing short of giving citizens the requisite skills can compensate for their lack thereof.
A few caveats are necessary here. Some citizens may secure the skills that constitute an adequate education outside formal schooling because these skills are not the sole province of formal education. And not all schools successfully teach students the requisite deliberative skills. Even many well-funded schools may fail on this front. Moreover, a charismatic personality may more than compensate for educational disadvantage in some deliberative settings. Yet the possibility of autodidacts and compelling personalities cannot vindicate miserly provisions for public education. Nor do the deficiencies of civic curricula today diminish the importance of the state’s responsibility to do better on this front. After all, for the vast majority of citizens, educational opportunity is limited to the offerings of the public system. When public schools fail them, a significant portion of the population is likely to be severely disadvantaged in the political sphere.
The tight link between education and political equality is poignantly expressed in Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s dissenting opinion in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, in which the majority opinion refused to recognize a federal right to education.29 In addition to finding no legal ground for such a right, the majority expressed concern that recognizing a right to education would open the floodgates to myriad other welfare rights. Marshall refuted the Court’s slippery-slope argument by contending that education is distinctively tied to individuals’ ability to exercise constitutional liberties, including free speech and the right to vote, and to participate in politics more generally: “Education may instill the interest and provide the tools necessary for political discourse and debate. Indeed, it has frequently been suggested that education is the dominant factor affecting political consciousness and participation.”30 His dissent highlights how the meaningful exercise of political liberties is inextricably tied to educational opportunity—a connection that is even tighter in a deliberative democracy, where one’s reasoning skills and ability to communicate determine one’s opportunity to have political influence.
Seventh, utilitarian balancing can’t justify educational inequality. Any solvency deficit to a counterplan should be rejected as a preventable injustice.
Gross 1 — James A. Gross, Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2001 (“A Human Rights Perspective on U.S. Education: Only Some Children Matter,” The Catholic University Law Review (50 Cath. U.L. Rev. 919), Summer, Available Online to Subscribing Institutions via Lexis-Nexis)
VI. Concluding Observations
To understand that education is a human right is to understand that the problems of education in this country and the proposed solutions are inextricably interconnected with issues of morality, justice and values. Fundamental issues of human rights, justice and morality must be addressed and resolved before any reconstruction of the educational system is attempted. What is excused as misfortune must be recognized as injustice and what has been dismissed as the status quo must be traced to the action or inaction of the unjust.
A just society, particularly one with the economic resources of the United States, would not choose to reject any of its children. A just society would treat each of its children as an "unprecedented wonder" n243 and would be committed to enabling them to realize their potential for living a full human life. n244 Each child would be recognized for the person he is; his presence on this earth would be treated as an "unconditional blessing." n245
This recognition and celebration of life is the core principle of human rights. It was recognized by a Freedmen's Bureau commissioner who urged that the freed people in the Bureau's schools be "treated as men with immortal souls rather than as beasts of burden or machines for pulling cotton." n246 More than 100 years later, Thomas Sowell similarly noted that the "only common denominator among the successful schools [in the black community/ghetto] was that the students were treated like human beings and everything was geared to the expectation that they would succeed." n247 The children understood that they were important in and of themselves. n248
[*952] Conscious choices violate the human rights of certain children. Yet human rights constitute the most essential moral claims that all human beings can assert. n249 They confirm the sacredness of human beings and their intrinsic dignity. Human rights are entitlements. The great disparity in the amount of money spent for some compared to that spent on the education of other people's children is a measure of how little certain children are valued as human beings. As a result, a message is sent that those children "deserve to be neglected [and] to be surrounded by a blatant lack of respect." n250
A solution to this problem will require the problem solvers to know what it is like for children to grow up rejected and shunned by the dominant society, what it means and does to them, and whether they think they deserve to be treated that way. As Kozol asks, "what is it that enables some of them to pray? When they pray, what do they say to God?" n251 Other previously ignored questions must also be answered:
how certain people hold up under terrible ordeal, how many more do not, how human beings devalue other people's lives, how numbness and destructiveness are universalized, how human pity is at length extinguished and the shunning of the vulnerable can come in time to be perceived as natural behavior ... . How does a nation deal with those whom it has cursed? n252
Others wonder about the impact of long-standing devaluation on both the children devalued and on those responsible for that devaluation: "after all that has happened, in history and in our own time, can black people still be seen with empathy and without sentimentality as human beings with aspirations and potential that deserve fulfillment?" n253 Andrew Hacker maintains that persuading Americans to care about children other than their own is imperative because indigent children are looked upon as a burden. n254
Where is the public indignation at the abuse of innocent children who have done nothing wrong? Despite a "reverence for fair play" and a "genuine distaste for loaded dice" in the United States, Kozol maintains [*953] that in the realms of education, health care and inheritance of wealth, fairness is not evident. n255 In those areas, Kozol says, "we want the game to be unfair and we have made it so; and it will likely so remain." n256 If our motives can be judged most accurately by our actions or inaction, Hacker and Kozol's perceptions are on the mark. Many in our country, including children, are isolated in helplessness while others choose to isolate themselves by their own selfishness. It is a selfishness that consists not only of an unwillingness to redistribute resources to others in need, but also of a deliberate perpetuation of an unfair distribution of the benefits of the educational system which secures advantages in society.
Americans pride themselves on their morality. The "American Creed" is the ideological foundation of the nation, encompassing the ideals of the inherent dignity of the individual human being, and of the fundamental equality of all, as well as "inalienable" rights to freedom, justice and fair opportunity. All of these ideals are reconciled within the framework of the common good. These are the elements of a democratic creed that, although pre-dating the United States, represents the "national conscience." n257 The creed is the basis for the realization of the "American Dream," which in addition to being a dream of wealth has also "been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as a man and woman" to benefit "the simple human being of any and every class." n258
In 1944, Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal characterized U.S. race relations as an "American Dilemma": the moral dilemma of the disparity between ideals and actual behavior. n259 It is tragic that any such gap remains after all of these years. Yet, it is not unrealistic to believe in and work for change unless those with economic and political influence are completely hypocritical. The civil rights and women's rights movements in this country are among the precedents that justify some optimism and hope.
No matter how discouraging the prospects for fundamental change in the educational system, it would be even more irresponsible to fail to act. n260 If human rights violations are to end, then the moral choices that [*954] underlie those violations and the values that influence those moral choices must be changed. n261 Without that change, we will continue merely to remodel on a faulty foundation. Despite commentaries about the futility of trying to reverse these choices, fundamental change is possible and one of the many reasons for that change is the ability of challengers to redefine a policy issue.
Acceptance of education as a human right changes our understanding of the essential purpose of education and requires a fundamental and thorough redefinition of education policy. The primary objective of education policy would become compliance with the rights of all children to the type and quality of education needed to live full human lives rather than, as now, conceiving of education as merely a utilitarian instrument for maximizing payoff for those who invest in it - or for those who can afford the type of education most likely to provide the greatest return on investment. It puts into sharp historical and cultural perspective the fact that since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1945, nations from all over the world have recognized education as a human right while our own Supreme Court does not consider education to be even a constitutional right.
It may be that domestic human rights issues go unacknowledged by the public because of the myth that the United States is a paragon of human rights observance. As human rights become more important in international relations, this country is vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy for attempting to maintain a "facade of championing human rights when it does not protect the rights of its own citizens." n262 Despite the rhetoric about the sanctity of human rights, hypocritical or not, it is likely that most people in this country comprehend human rights only in the context of such egregious human evils as genocide or systematic torture. Beyond that there is little understanding of the meaning, significance and implications of human rights.
All education systems want to produce a certain kind of human being, and values have always been an essential and unavoidable part of education. Ironically, therefore, the redefinition of education policy [*955] issue requires education. From the time they start school, children need to learn about human rights and to respect the human rights and dignity of all people regardless of race, color, language, gender, or faith. Human rights education needs to occur at all levels from elementary school through college or university.
Promotion of internationally recognized human rights principles emerging in international law, moreover, would educate our judiciary as well as the public. These international human rights principles pose a growing challenge to what some experts consider the isolation and provincialism of U.S. courts. n263 Given the influence of values on judicial decision-making, these human rights principles provide an important source of law for U.S. courts to use in the interpretation of the Constitution, including filling in the gaps in constitutional protections. To ignore those principles is to express indifference to them and expresses a willingness to put the United States in direct conflict with international law. n264
No attempt is made here to spell out the details of a curriculum or the content of specific course subjects needed to enable people to live full human lives. However, a quality education is about reading, writing, computing, communicating, imagining, thinking, reasoning, creating, participating, questioning, analyzing, challenging, judging, and changing. It is about the unprecedented wonder of each and every human being, the rights and duties of each other. It is about history and heritage as well as partaking in cultural stories and heritage. It is about sharing all the intellectual adventures at the heart of civilization. It is about morals and ethics and the content of character. It is also about participating in decisions that affect one's life.
A quality education must not be indoctrination in an "Aren't-We-Americans-Just-Dandy curriculum" as Theodore and Nancy Sizer called it. n265 Education needs to have a global perspective with an understanding of all peoples, their cultural heritage, values, problems and ways of life. Education needs to be about human solidarity, respect for human dignity, the equal rights of all human beings, and justice and equality for all people.
There is no reason that can justify the perpetuation of human rights violations to education: not transparent appeals to the democratic principle of local control of education (it would be a perverted [*956] democracy that commits or tolerates violations of the human rights of children); not a state's use of local control as an excuse rather than as a justification for interdistrict inequality; n266 and not the federal government's evasion of the duty by hiding behind the myth that education is exclusively a state and local matter in this country. n267
A just society would not tolerate anything less than the end of these violations of our children's human right to education. Of course, our willingness to end these violations depends on the type of a society we desire and what kind of people we want to be.
Eighth, American democracy will collapse without excellent and equitable K-12 education. Political inequality results in fascism.
Brown 10 — Wendy Brown, Heller Professor of Political Science at the University of California-Berkeley, Co-Chair of the University of California-Berkeley Faculty Association, holds a Ph.D. in Political Philosophy from Princeton University, 2010 (“Without Quality Public Education, There Is No Future for Democracy,” The California Journal of Politics & Policy, Volume 2, Issue 1, Available Online at http://escholarship.org/uc/item/72s6p9ph, Accessed 07-09-2017, p. 2-3)
Without quality public education, we the people cannot know, handle, let alone check the powers that govern us. Without quality public education, there can be no substance to the promise of equality and freedom, no possibility of developing and realizing individual capacities, no possibility of children overcoming disadvantage or of teens reaching for the stars, no possibility of being a people guiding their own destiny or of individuals choosing their own course. Above all, there is no possibility of being a self-governing people, a democracy.
As the world grows more complex and integrated and the media grows ever more sophisticated and powerful in shaping events and ideas, what maintains democracy is not the technical instruction into which resource-starved schools are rapidly retreating. It is not the reduction of high school to two years, college to three and only vocational training for the many, but the kind of education through which future citizens learn to understand and engage the complexities of this world.
For democracy to survive, let alone thrive, the people must be able to know and analyze the powers organizing our lives. The people must be able to reflect on the perils and possibilities of our time and develop considered views about how to navigate them. The people must be able to analyze written and oral arguments, journalistic accounts, images and sound bites—distinguishing the reasonable from the sensational, the serious from the simplistic, the well-founded from the fatuous.
If such capacities have always been important to democratic citizenship, our increasingly complex world demands them all the more, and quality public education is the key to their acquisition. Without quality public education in our future, there is no future for democracy. Without quality public education in our future, we face a huge divide between the educated and uneducated, corresponding to a divide between the rich and the poor and [end page 2] magnifying the power of the former and the powerlessness of the latter. This is plutocracy, not democracy.
Without quality public education in our future, we face a populace taught only the skills needed for work, ill-equipped to understand or participate in civic and political life. This is corporate oligarchy, not democracy.
Without quality public education in our future, we face a people manipulable through their frustrations, mobilizable through false enemies and false promises. This is the dangerous material of democracy’s opposite—despotism if not fascism.
So California’s disinvestment in education not only entrenches and deepens inequalities, not only breaks the promise of opportunity for every able student, not only chokes the engine of invention and achievement that built California’s 20th century glory. It destroys the fundament of democracy itself—an educated citizenry capable of thoughtful analysis and informed judgment.
California must recommit to first-class K-12 education and the California Master Plan for higher education. We must come to our senses, quickly, about preserving the most esteemed public university system in the world. And we must do so not only because education is what lifts people from poverty, equalizes opportunities, reduces crime and violence, builds bright individual and collective futures, but because education makes democracy real.
Educate the state. Sí se puede.
Ninth, this is an existential risk — concentrated private power causes global warming and nuclear war.
Chomsky 14 — Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania 2014 (“America’s corporate doctrine of power a grave threat to humanity,” Salon — originally published on TomDispatch, July 1st, Available Online at http://www.salon.com/2014/07/01/noam_chomsky_americas_corporate_doctrine_of_power_a_grave_threat_to_humanity/, Accessed 07-09-2015)
The Final Century of Human Civilization?
There are other examples too numerous to mention, facts that are well-established and would be taught in elementary schools in free societies.
There is, in other words, ample evidence that securing state power from the domestic population and securing concentrated private power are driving forces in policy formation. Of course, it is not quite that simple. There are interesting cases, some quite current, where these commitments conflict, but consider this a good first approximation and radically opposed to the received standard doctrine.
Let us turn to another question: What about the security of the population? It is easy to demonstrate that this is a marginal concern of policy planners. Take two prominent current examples, global warming and nuclear weapons. As any literate person is doubtless aware, these are dire threats to the security of the population. Turning to state policy, we find that it is committed to accelerating each of those threats — in the interests of the primary concerns, protection of state power and of the concentrated private power that largely determines state policy.
Consider global warming. There is now much exuberance in the United States about “100 years of energy independence” as we become “the Saudi Arabia of thenext century” — perhaps the final century of human civilization if current policies persist.
That illustrates very clearly the nature of the concern for security, certainly not for the population. It also illustrates the moral calculus of contemporary Anglo-American state capitalism: the fate of our grandchildren counts as nothing when compared with the imperative of higher profits tomorrow.
These conclusions are fortified by a closer look at the propaganda system. There is a huge public relations campaign in the U.S., organized quite openly by Big Energy and the business world, to try to convince the public that global warming is either unreal or not a result of human activity. And it has had some impact. The U.S. ranks lower than other countries in public concern about global warming and the results are stratified: among Republicans, the party more fully dedicated to the interests of wealth and corporate power, it ranks far lower than the global norm.
The current issue of the premier journal of media criticism, the Columbia Journalism Review, has an interesting article on this subject, attributing this outcome to the media doctrine of “fair and balanced.” In other words, if a journal publishes an opinion piece reflecting the conclusions of 97% of scientists, it must also run a counter-piece expressing the viewpoint of the energy corporations.
That indeed is what happens, but there certainly is no “fair and balanced” doctrine. Thus, if a journal runs an opinion piece denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin for the criminal act of taking over the Crimea, it surely does not have to run a piece pointing out that, while the act is indeed criminal, Russia has a far stronger case today than the U.S. did more than a century ago in taking over southeastern Cuba, including the country’s major port — and rejecting the Cuban demand since independence to have it returned. And the same is true of many other cases. The actual media doctrine is “fair and balanced” when the concerns of concentrated private power are involved, but surely not elsewhere.
On the issue of nuclear weapons, the record is similarly interesting — and frightening. It reveals very clearly that, from the earliest days, the security of the population was a non-issue, and remains so. There is no time here to run through the shocking record, but there is little doubt that it strongly supports the lament of General Lee Butler, the last commander of the Strategic Air Command, which was armed with nuclear weapons. In his words, we have so far survived the nuclear age “bysome combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.” And we can hardly count on continued divine intervention as policymakers play roulette with the fate of the species in pursuit of the driving factors in policy formation.
As we are all surely aware, we now face the most ominous decisions in human history. There are many problems that must be addressed, but two are overwhelming in their significance: environmental destruction and nuclear war. For the first time in history, we face the possibility of destroying the prospects for decent existence — and not in the distant future. For this reason alone, it is imperative to sweep away the ideological clouds and face honestly and realistically the question of how policy decisions are made, and what we can do to alter them before it is too late.
Tenth, racial and economic inequality is a form of structural violence that condemns entire populations to preventable suffering and death.
Bezruchka 14 — Stephen Bezruchka, Senior Lecturer in Health Services and Global Health at the School of Public Health at the University of Washington, holds a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University and an M.D. from Stanford University, 2014 (“Inequality Kills,” Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality, Edited by David Cay Johnston, Published by The New Press, ISBN 9781595589446, p. 194-195)
Differences in mortality rates are not just a statistical concern—they reflect suffering and pain for very real individuals and families. The higher mortality in the United States is an example of what Paul Farmer, the noted physician and anthropologist, calls structural violence. The forty-seven infant deaths occur every day because of the way society in the United States is structured, resulting in our health status being that of a middle-income country, not a rich country.
There is growing evidence that the factor most responsible for the relatively poor health in the United States is the vast and rising inequality in wealth and income that we not only tolerate, but resist changing. Inequality is the central element, the upstream cause of the social disadvantage described in the IOM report. A political system that fosters inequality limits the attainment of health.
The claim that economic inequality is a major reason for our poor health requires that several standard criteria for claiming causality are satisfied: the results are confirmed by many different studies by different investigators over different time periods; there is a dose-response relationship, meaning more inequality leads to worse health; no other contending explanation is posited; and the relationship is biologically plausible, with likely mechanisms through which inequality works. The field of study called stress biology of social comparisons is one such way inequality acts. Those studies confirm that all the criteria for linking inequality to poorer health are met, concluding that the extent of inequality in society reflects the range of caring and sharing, with more unequal populations sharing less. Those who are poorer struggle to be accepted in society and the rich also suffer its effects.
A recent Harvard study estimated that about one death in three in this country results from our very high income inequality. Inequality kills through structural violence. There is no smoking gun with this form of violence, which simply produces a lethally large social and economic gap between rich and poor.
Finally, the structural violence of inequality outweighs other impacts. There is an ethical obligation to address it.
Ansell 17 — David A. Ansell, Senior Vice President, Associate Provost for Community Health Equity, and Michael E. Kelly Professor of Medicine at Rush University Medical Center (Chicago), holds an M.D. from the State University of New York Upstate Medical University College of Medicine, 2017 (“American Roulette,” The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills, Published by the University of Chicago Press, ISBN 9780226428291, p. kindle 307-363)
There are many different kinds of violence. Some are obvious: punches, attacks, gunshots, explosions. These are the kinds of interpersonal violence that we tend to hear about in the news. Other kinds of violence are intimate and emotional.
But the deadliest and most thoroughgoing kind of violence is woven into the fabric of American society. It exists when some groups have more access to goods, resources, and opportunities than other groups, including health and life itself. This violence delivers specific blows against particular bodies in particular neighborhoods. This unequal advantage and violence is built into the very rules that govern our society. In the absence of this violence, large numbers of Americans would be able to live fuller and longer lives.
This kind of violence is called structural violence, because it is embedded in the very laws, policies, and rules that govern day-to-day life.8 It is the cumulative impact of laws and social and economic policies and practices that render some Americans less able to access resources and opportunities than others. This inequity of advantage is not a result of the individual’s personal abilities but is built into the systems that govern society. Often it is a product of racism, gender, and income inequality. The diseases and premature mortality that Windora and many of my patients experienced were, in the words of Dr. Paul Farmer, “biological reflections of social fault lines.”9 As a result of these fault lines, a disproportional burden of illness, suffering, and premature mortality falls on certain neighborhoods, like Windora’s. Structural violence can overwhelm an individual’s ability to live a free, unfettered, healthy life.
As I ran to evaluate Windora, I knew that her stroke was caused in part by lifelong exposure to suffering, racism, and economic deprivation. Worse, the poverty of West Humboldt Park that contributed to her illness is directly and inextricably related to the massive concentration of wealth and power in other neighborhoods just miles away in Chicago’s Gold Coast and suburbs. That concentration of wealth could not have occurred without laws, policies, and practices that favored some at the expense of others. Those laws, policies, and practices could not have been passed or enforced if access to political and economic power had not been concentrated in the hands of a few. Yet these political and economic structures have become so firmly entrenched (in habits, social relations, economic arrangements, institutional practices, law, and policy) that they have become part of the matrix of American society. The rules that govern day-to-day life were written to benefit a small elite at the expense of people like Windora and her family. These rules and structures are powerful destructive forces. The same structures that render life predictable, secure, comfortable, and pleasant for many destroy the lives of others like Windora through suffering, poverty, ill health, and violence. These structures are neither natural nor neutral.
The results of structural violence can be very specific. In Windora’s case, stroke precursors like chronic stress, poverty, and uncontrolled hypertension run rampant in neighborhoods like hers. Windora’s illness was caused by neither her cultural traits nor the failure of her will. Her stroke was caused in part by inequity. She is one of the lucky ones, though, because even while structural violence ravages her neighborhood, it also abets the concentration of expensive stroke- intervention services in certain wealthy teaching hospitals like mine.
If I can get to her in time, we can still help her.
Income Inequality and Life Inequality
Of course, Windora is not the only person struggling on account of structural violence. Countless neighborhoods nationwide are suffering from it, and people are dying needlessly young as a result. The magnitude of this excess mortality is mind-boggling. In 2009 my friend Dr. Steve Whitman asked a simple question, “How many extra black people died in Chicago each year, just because they do not have the same health outcomes as white Chicagoans?” When the Chicago Sun-Times got wind of his results, it ran them on the front page in bold white letters on a black background: “HEALTH CARE GAP KILLS 3200 Black Chicagoans and the Gap is Growing.” The paper styled the headline to look like the declaration of war that it should have been.
In fact, we did find ourselves at war not long ago, when almost 3,000 Americans were killed. That was September 11, 2001. That tragedy propelled the country to war. Yet when it comes to the premature deaths of urban Americans, no disaster area has been declared. No federal troops have been called up. No acts of Congress have been passed. Yet this disaster is even worse: those 3,200 black people were in Chicago alone, in just one year. Nationwide each year, more than 60,000 black people die prematurely because of inequality.10
While blacks suffer the most from this, it is not just an issue of racism, though racism has been a unique and powerful transmitter of violence in America for over four hundred years.11 Beyond racism, poverty and income inequality perpetuated by exploitative market capitalism are singular agents of transmission of disease and early death. As a result, there is a new and alarming pattern of declining life expectancy among white Americans as well. Deaths from drug overdoses in young white Americans ages 25 to 34 have exploded to levels not seen since the AIDS epidemic. This generation is the first since the Vietnam War era to experience higher death rates than the prior generation.12 White Americans ages 45 to 54 have experienced skyrocketing premature death rates as well, something not seen in any other developed nation.13 White men in some Appalachian towns live on average twenty years less than white men a half-day’s drive away in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Men in McDowell County, West Virginia, can look forward to a life expectancy only slightly better than that of Haitians.14
But those statistics reflect averages, and every death from structural violence is a person. When these illnesses and deaths are occurring one at a time in neighborhoods that society has decided not to care about—neighborhoods populated by poor, black, or brown people—they seem easy to overlook, especially if you are among the fortunate few who are doing incredibly well. The tide of prosperity in America has lifted some boats while others have swamped. Paul Farmer, the physician-anthropologist who founded Partners in Health, an international human rights agency, reflects on the juxtaposition of “unprecedented bounty and untold penury”: “It stands to reason that as beneficiaries of growing inequality, we do not like to be reminded of misery of squalor and failure. Our popular culture provides us with no shortage of anesthesia.”15
That people suffer and die prematurely because of inequality is wrong. It is wrong from an ethical perspective. It is wrong from a fairness perspective. And it is wrong because we have the means to fix it.