Thursday, April 06, 2006

Aaron Tang

My name is Aaron Tang, I’m the co-director of a new national nonprofit organization called Our Education, which is working to build a national youth movement of high school and college aged students for an American right to high quality public education. As a 22-year-old who just graduated from college last May, I have neither a legal nor policy background. But my hope is to bring to the symposium something amounting to a student voice—what young people themselves have to say about why the fight for a fundamental right to quality education is so critical.

It is our belief that creating a fundamental right to education in this country would affect young people in four important ways. First, it would force us to define, through the legal and legislative processes, what we as a nation actually believe quality education ought to mean for all American youth. Second, it would change the power dynamic that currently operates in our schools, where states and the federal government hold districts, schools, educators, and youth “accountable” for their performance but no one holds the states and federal government accountable for providing the tough policies and resources necessary for high achievement. Third, the creation of a fundamental right to education, especially if it is enshrined explicitly in the US Constitution, would serve as a statement of priority that has been too long missing in our social & civic environment. Finally, if the fundamental right is pursued through a democratic process that involves millions of Americans (particularly the youth who are most directly affected), the most important effect may be that the process itself will produce a generation of youth believes deeply in the importance of educational opportunity, civic responsibility, and civil rights.

The problems facing youth in their schools today are not educational in their nature (which is to say, we do know what good schools look like and how to provide them); they are political. It is a shortage of public demand and political will for change that is responsible for our paradoxical position today: we are among the world’s leaders when it comes to guaranteeing human and civil rights, yet the most important right of all—the right to an education—is not among them. If this is ever to change, public opinion and the power of millions of ordinary American citizens will have to be marshaled in support of a fundamental right to education.

I encourage you to check out Our Education Blog if you are interested in reading more about the student voice and why it must play a critical role in Rethinking Rodriguez.

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