St. Louis, MO
Giving Children a Real First Amendment ‘Voice’ in Services and Education
The recent, well publicized non-event, originating from what was portrayed as a small (in membership) church in Gainesville, Florida was variously examined in media echo chambers as a First Amendment (freedom of expression) activity. As distasteful as this non-event turned out to be, it prompted me to reflect on the rights granted to adult citizens in the U.S. compared to the rights of children citizens, but not in a freedom of expression context, rather as a matter of ‘redress of grievances’ which is an often overlooked element found in the last three words of the Amendment.
The First Amendment states:
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.
No matter where your opinion leads you on current events, we have a large section of our population –our children–who do not have a clear cut process to redress their grievances about sub-standard educational experiences.
As an adult, I am free to express my opinion to state legislators, Congress and Senate representatives about proposed legislation and how it will affect my life and that of my grandchildren, now and in the future. My calls and emails maybe answered, and I trust considered, at some level. My vote on Election Day offers me another opportunity to express my concerns. At work, I am free to express my views to colleagues and supervisors. While we may not always agree, in most instances I sense they consider what I have expressed. In other words, I have an impact within my work and work environment.
However, my reflections about the First Amendment, have led me to consider that while children have in many instances freedom of expression, they do not have a ‘voice’ concerning sub-standard, non-competent educational opportunities. Their behaviors may indicate that curriculum, programming or teaching is not ‘on target’, but children lack the communication skills, opportunities, and credence as adults. Thus, children do not determination what will happen to them and what they will experience. In the realm of children’s education, growth and development, there are many people who believe they know ‘what is best for children’. Groups claiming this ‘best’ knowledge vary greatly in their actual knowledge of children and education, but all groups are certain they are right.
Children’s lack of a ‘voice’ is evidenced in two ways:
- On a broad political and legislative landscape, children often lack advocates who have their best interests at ‘heart’. Funding for Parents as Teachers in Missouri has been cut this year for other educational venues. State legislatures have reduced the funding for Pre-kindergarten classrooms. In funding reductions such as these, legislators ignore research which demonstrates for every $1.00 spent in programming for young children, anywhere from $8.00 to $17.00 is saved in the social and criminal justice services when those children become adults.
- Children often experience curriculum and instruction that is not appropriate for their age, developmental level, and also disregards their social/cultural experiences and family context. The real injustice in this situation is that teachers may know and understand the inappropriateness of what they are doing in the classroom, but may be told to use the curriculum/instructional strategy, or experience subtle pressure for its use.
Children may exhibit behaviors because of not having had a foundation of knowledge or experiences from a preschool or pre-kindergarten, or they may be experiencing sub-standard teaching or curriculum. Children’s behaviors may be indicators which send up ‘red flags’ for adults that there is a problem. But it is up to adults to determine what the problem is, and how best to ‘fix’ it.
I have found state legislators are most concerned about young children when they actually have a child of their own in school or they are a grandparent. Still then, the information gathered in making legislative and funding decisions may be from a range of individuals who are ‘agenda’ driven, believing they have the answer. Our current environment of accountability and standardized assessment is fertile ground to for politicians and educators to ‘kick the can’ of ‘who has the right answers’ further down the road.
As a reader you may be asking yourself, “So how do we change this?” It’s easy to point out problems, but solutions are much more complex and difficult to achieve. Families are responsible for children, but they so often defer to the political process, or educators who they believe must know what is right. Families can understand, given the information is provided in a non-condescending way, without professional jargon. Other solutions lie in educators/teachers having opportunities to voice opinions in a ‘risk-free’ environment.
Somehow, we need to examine our values, and act on what is in the best interests of children. Early childhood and elementary educators and families must take an active role. We must speak for children, giving them a ‘voice’—-ours.
What is Right for Children’ blog is researched and written by Deb Moberly, Ph.D. The intent is to offer information and reflection on current issues/concerns regarding young children, elementary age children, and families. I look forward to your responses as the dialogue is so important in our educational arena and in our society.
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