Lawyers And Educators Split On Whether People Have A Right To Literacy

Rob Shimshock | Education Reporter

Attorneys are arguing that people are entitled to learning how to read and write on the basis that those abilities are essential for exercising other rights.

Michigan District Court Judge Stephen J. Murphy III ruled in July that due process does not necessitate children receive a “defined, minimum level of education” to become literate, reported The Washington Post.

Parents and children in the state sued Michigan Gov. Richard Snyder, members of the state’s board of education, as well as other officials for not providing enough funding to schools resulting in a lack of literacy.

“Although there are many important aspects of living in the United States, the mere fact that something is important does not mean that there is a constitutional right to it,” Michigan attorney general and Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette said in November 2016. Schuette had asked Murphy to dismiss the case. “For example, although it is certainly important for a person to have shelter, the Constitution does not create a right to governmental provision of adequate shelter.”

But some educators and attorneys are trying a new tact, enjoyment of other rights hinges upon one’s literacy. (RELATED: Education Scholar: 3 Most Frequently Assigned College Common Readings Are About Racism)

“These children are being disenfranchised,” pro bono Detroit lawyer Mark Rosenbaum, who concentrates on social justice issues, told WaPo. “Children are not receiving the basic skills to participate in a democracy.”

“This idea that we needed a literate, educated electorate dates back to before the Constitution,” University of South Carolina law professor Derek W. Black said. “Opening doors for everyone is not enough. You have to prepare them with the government knowledge and the critical literacy that would allow them to effectively vote.”

Black believes the post-Civil War Congress, which required states to grant the vote to black men and provide public education to all individuals, intended for the issues of suffrage and education to be addressed together.

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