This story originally appeared in The Lowdown, ABP’s weekly roundup of news, culture, holy-shit awesomeness, event updates & exclusive offers delivered straight to your inbox. Click here to subscribe.
As Michigan students take their desks, they return to the classroom knowing that the adults in charge don’t care one bit about their future. What a warm and fuzzy feeling as that first class bell rings.
In July, a Michigan judge ruled there is no constitutional right to literacy. The ruling came from a class action lawsuit brought by a group of (mostly minority) students enrolled at Detroit’s worst performing schools, and the complaint alleged that underfunding, abysmal management and discrimination had systematically deprived them of an adequate education. The children sat in rat-infested classrooms without textbooks or proper heating.
While the robed-one may be technically correct, the court took an extremely myopic view of the law and society. The 14th amendment’s equal protection clause guarantees that if a state sets up a public benefit, like a school system, all people regardless of age, sex, race and income should have equal access. Additionally, the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 prohibits discrimination against faculty, staff and students, and requires school districts to take action to overcome barriers to students’ equal participation. In 2000, a group of English Language Learners in Arizona successfully argued in court that the state had deprived them of an adequate education by not providing enough resources and funding to their programs.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Detroit’s public school district scored lower in reading and math than students in all of the other 26 large urban districts measured. The lawyers for the Detroit students have vowed to appeal the decision.
Michigan kids aren’t the only ones taking adults to court for screwing things up. In Washington, a group of young people recently sued the state government for failure to protect the environment and combat climate change. The case was dismissed, the judge ruling that there’s no right to a healthy environment enshrined in the state constitution.
The Washington state constitution does, however, have guarantees protecting the right to life, liberty, property and the public use of water, legal protections that will mean very little if the land is contaminated and the water polluted.
It is certainly convenient when the adults in charge mismanage the government and then determine that the future generations harmed by their irresponsible actions had no right to enjoy those benefits in the first place. It also sets a dangerously narrow precedent for equal protection under the law.