NLA Discussion: Adult literacy education a Constitutional Right?
Angela_Hock at email.msn.com
Sun Apr 8 21:58:28 EDT 2001
David, Catherine, et. al: Isn't one of the requirements for registering to
vote that one be literate in the language of the voting system? I'm not
totally clear about those requirements, so this is a real question -- and I
do not know how various states approach the voter registration matter. But
. . . if there is such a requirement then it's almost a de facto reality
that access to education, free or otherwise, that will promote that literacy
would be necessary. Couldn't we approach this "right to read" (and other
literacy components) from such a point?
<Angela_Hock at email.msn.com>
----- Original Message -----
From: "David J Rosen" <DJRosen at world.std.com>
To: <nla at world.std.com>
Sent: Sunday, April 08, 2001 7:02 PM
Subject: NLA Discussion: Adult literacy education a Constitutional Right?
> While I wholeheartedly agree with the ideal of a commonwealth -- and with
> the importance of educating all citizens -- and other residents -- in a
> democracy, my point -- underscored by what was not in your reply to my
> question -- is that it is not in the Constitution or in any state law
> other than Rhode Island -- that adults must have as a right free, public
> general education.
> The spirit clearly embodied in the Constitution that citizens must
> be informed -- and I agree with you that this implied to the founders an
> ability to read -- appears to have been translated in law to mean that
> every child must have this opportunity until the age of 22.
> So, Catherine, if you want to achieve the implied but not actual promise
> of the Constitution that adults have this right, it will take legislative
> advocacy and perhaps law suits. Talk to the good folks of Rhode Island
> -- adult learners, practitioners and legislators who all worked hard to
> make literacy a right for adults -- to find out how they did this. Then
> begin, in your state, to make this the reality there. But don't stop with
> the law. Continue the struggle to enforce the law, to put resources
> behind it to make the law the reality. And keep us informed about how
> your efforts to persuade legislators are proceeding.
> Is anyone else working in their state to make free general (basic)
> for adults the law? If so, please tell us how this is going.
> David J. Rosen
> <DJRosen at world.std.com>
> > From: "Catherine King" <cb.king at verizon.net>
> > To: <nla at europe.std.com>
> > Subject: Re: NLA Discussion: Adult literacy education a Constitutional
> > Date: Sun, 8 Apr 2001 16:19:13 -0700
> > To David Rosen, who says:
> > "In (my) your message to David Heath you write that there is a:
> > 'constitutional right' (and **promise**, I would claim) 'to
> > a general education" for all adults **who ask for it** in the
> > United States.....' Please explain to us where in the U.S.
> > Constitution this right and promise is, or where state legislative
> > or administrative bodies have made the specific promise that
> > all adults are entitled to free general education, regardless of age."
> > David: Obviously, if there were **specified** and distinct
> > legislation for "a free general education, regardless of age" in
> > either the U.S. Constitution or in state directives, Adult Education
> > and Literacy would not be the educational step-child it is today.
> > Rather, I think Literacy and Adult Education is coming of age as
> > a promise of **any** Constitutional democracy, and of ours,
> > much like civil rights and women's suffrage came of age--though
> > these are certainly not finished yet either.
> > Though there are some differences which of course need to be
> > addressed, nevertheless, Adult Education and Literacy shares
> > with these two movements an unstated, but implied-all-over-the-
> > place, promise that, in the case of literacy and AE in a
> > participatory democracy, those who are more-than-implied
> > participants,
> > (1) ***must be literate*** --this is absolutely essential to a
> > participatory democracy, for how can adults participate if we
> > cannot even read?-- and, as we all know, illiteracy is just the
> > tip of the iceberg in forecasting the lack of any form of community
> > or political "participation, not to mention economic well-being.
> > (2) **All** of the polity must have access to basic educative
> > systems regardless of income **IF** we are to be expected to
> > participate in the dialogue that would produce other than
> > Quick-Fix Alternatives, Empty-Headed Choices, or what usually
> > happens to our adults: No Participation At All.
> > On this last point, we must address the fact that the United
> > States, and indeed the world, has changed--it has become a
> > much more complex place to understand, to live in, and to
> > participate politically in. Our adults are woefully neglected
> > on this point. We should at least be afforded the opportunity--
> > free of monetary constraints--to be prepared to read the
> > Constitution (literacy) and to understand what is in it
> > (education)? And a "representative democracy" only
> > makes the choices less direct, it doesn't diminish a
> > democracy's need for an educated polity.
> > We also must remember that Jefferson's polity was not what
> > we understand as a polity today--However, **his** polity, though
> > basically white "landed" males, was nevertheless assumed to
> > be **educated** and (with deTocqueville) that meant at least
> > politically aware.
> > These, and many, many others, knew that, without a generally
> > aware and educated polity--whether it is made up of only white
> > males or an entire adult population as it has finally become--
> > however that polity is formed, without literacy and education a
> > Constitutional democracy is a political form heading slowly
> > toward either some form of totalitarianism or anarchy--either
> > way, corrupted from within.
> > As far as Constitutional statements are concerned, here is
> > the Preamble--:
> > "We the People of the Unites 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."
> > My argument is this:
> > Education is not only a "blessing of liberty" (a point that most of
> > our ESL students seem to understand much better than we do
> > because many have experienced the political oppression that
> > we have forgotten first-hand), literacy and basic education are
> > necessary to "insure domestic Tranquility" and to "promote the
> > general welfare" that would, we can assume (the promise?) include
> > the ability to understand how important our Constitution, and the
> > rights it affords its citizens, is. What good are these "blessings"
> > if no one understands them? Education rests at the basis of
> > the whole project--it's not only one of the blessings.
> > This need for basic literacy and education, and our identity with
> > continual renewal of a democratic culture, in our situation now,
> > can only be systematically accessed by those who can afford it.
> > This situation speaks of a foundational failure--the ones who
> > need it the most, are the very ones who **can't** afford it.
> > Democracy without the people's understanding it is a "not
> > accessible" democracy. And a democracy "not accessible"
> > to its people is a contradiction in terms.
> > Also, in Section 8, "The Congress shall have the Power
> > To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay
> > Debts and provide for the common Defence and **general
> > Welfare of the United States, . . .**" (my emphases) . .
> > "To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for
> > carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other
> > Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the
> > United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof."
> > And, here is the First Amendment. Please tell me how, without
> > literacy and education, adults are supposed to be "free" to do
> > these very things that the First Amendment is supposed to
> > secure for us, like read the "press," or "speak" intelligently
> > (from a basis of illiteracy and ignorance? (e.g., of our own
> > history as a democracy?) or to "petition the Government for
> > a redress of grievances."
> > Many of our students have no idea what their political status
> > is, an can't write about, and can't express it well if they did,
> > and can't read the newspaper--how can they speak from this
> > position that is being functionally silenced by "no service
> > available" in the arenas of public education?
> > The First Amendment:
> > "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
> > religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the
> > freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people
> > peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a
> > redress of grievances."
> > The Literacy and Adult Education situation in the United States
> > makes Our First Amendment read like a political oxymoron, no
> > pun intended. From the point of view of another person coming
> > from another culture to view a "vibrant democracy" that the
> > United States is supposed to be, I should think the "status quo"
> > would present a bit of a quandary--an picture of hypocrisy
> > and degeneration to say the least.
> > And the Ninth Amendment:
> > "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not
> > be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
> > This apparently speaks to what is not written down--yet?
> > But we are doing nothing new here--we are also retaining a right
> > that is implicit in the laws that seek to educate our children and
> > young people. How do the existing laws read? Do they
> > guarantee an education, or do they secure merely having gone
> > through grade levels?
> > We have experienced a high level of change--more than anytime
> > in history. Public schools can no longer give our youth everything
> > they need to participate in the world as it has become, even the
> > best and most privileged of them. Today, WHO can be considered
> > even basically educated at age 17? What was and is rightly
> > promised to our children in simpler times, **by change alone**, is
> > mandated to adult citizens through a public education guarantee
> > as an urgent need for systematic and"continuing education." In
> > this view, the lack of literacy in a democracy is nothing less than
> > criminal.
> > About state laws: I have raised this question here about a month
> > ago, and will do some research on it on a state-by-state basis--
> > but I am starting two new classes this semester and am a bit
> > tied up with preparation. I will, however, follow up on this.
> > Perhaps some others in each state can let us know what they
> > know about how different statutes are written?
> > David, I am not a lawyer, but, I am claiming that, though Congress
> > has "made no law" of restraint, I know (1) it remains open to
> > redress of grievances, (2) we DO have a great grievance which
> > not only involves individuals but the health of our democracy itself,
> > and about which many do not know how, nor have the means to
> > either speak, write, assemble, or petition, and (3) I know that
> > by open and continuous default of our legislators, we are denying
> > a large number of its citizens the very possibility to be involved
> > in the process that is, through our Constitution itself, both implied
> > and promised, if not explicitly guaranteed.
> > On this count, adults whose literacy and general education is
> > neglected merely on account of their financial situation, or that
> > they cannot enter college because they cannot meet the criteria
> > for entry, are our polity--for whom the Constitution is written--
> > adults basically left out of the whole system by default. Whereas
> > legislators can't continue to make education mandatory for
> > adults as we do with children, we should be glad and relieved
> > when adults still come to our doors asking for it--and we are
> > negligent in not providing it.
> > Our Constitution is a generalized document written precisely that
> > way so that human consciousness--thoughtful human beings--can
> > then mediate the general into the ever-changing particular. I
> > believe that the situation of Literacy and Adult Education is on the
> > cusp of a crisis in our democracy, where the particular situation is
> > straining against the underlying tenets of the Constitution that
> > already assume, as The First Amendment clearly shows,
> > commonwealth principles and a fundamentally literate and
> > educated polity.
> > We shouldn't quit grassroots arguments; however, THIS is where
> > our line of questioning, and our advocacy should take us as a
> > long-term, underlying movement to put Literacy and Adult
> > Education back into the mainstream--hand-in-hand with
> > political and ethical concerns of our citizens where it belongs.
> > This is not to mention that, without education, political involvement
> > presents a frightening spectre of ignorance with a stick, or in
> > our case these days, guns, bombs, and chemical weapons. In
> > the long run, there is a heck of a lot at stake here.
> > Best to all,
> > Catherine King
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