Publication Date: 2007-01-17
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These are dark days in the land of American Education. The topography is institutional, lifeless, humorless, and all business. It is the lack of a pulse?humor, identity, risk-takers and creative vision?that afflicts our culture of learning. Children are pushed, piled upon, and tested. Teachers ?manage their classrooms? and ?teach the curriculum of the day??a shortsighted, short answer, short leash, standardized reality. Teachers are no longer encouraged to be clever or artful. Instead, they are harassed, marched, gagged and hamstrung in school systems that have resorted to policies of zero-tolerance and accountability in their routine dealings with children and parents. Sadly, many young teachers, unaware of these developments, accept this condition as normal. Poor teachers are comfortable with this structure because it allows them to do their job by the numbers. The state of Education is tightly bound by a culture of publishers, academicians, test-makers and institutional controllers. Within this matrix we have imprisoned the most creative and innovative of ourselves?our children?in a system run by the least imaginative. The state of American education persists as a disenfranchised ghetto confined to a second-class ?teach and test? existence. Our learning culture is endangered, our democracy at risk.
Instead of growing a garden based on the unique qualities of our American character?our diversity, innovation, imagination, and enthusiasm?we pack children into boxes and relegate their education to an academic contest in which the winners and losers are pre-determined according to race and income. Finally, America?s system of education has lost, if indeed it has ever possessed, an enlightened understanding of the young and the needs and requirements of the developing brain. It remains for Americans to lay claim to their learning culture, to re-define and re-shape its character consistent with America?s rich, diverse heritage, its yearning for exploration, and trust in the vitality of its ideas.
The state of American education could be a model of freedom, but instead is a model of freedoms denied. America has been lulled into an acceptance of Testing which is a form of bullying and pigeon-holing of children and teachers, a life of marching in place to the drumbeat of accountability. This is a form of child labor dressed in academic garb, not in pursuit of happiness and self-development, but a state of stress and competition established by adults and for adults to prove statistical levels of productivity and compliance. This is not a model worthy of the Land of the Free. We can do much better.
The state of Education is the people?s trust in the future, a sanctuary entitled to Constitutional protections. Education is the soil in which our collective values grow and the young come to love and uphold the principles of the Constitution. We can no longer allow our learning culture to be owned and operated, and the basic rights of its population nullified in the name of education. We can no longer pay lip service to freedom, while denying children and teachers their basic civil rights. The inalienable rights of Education, rooted in the bond between adult and child, form the basis of a fifth estate that can neither be claimed and exploited by commercial or political interests, nor its speech and behavior defined by the dictate of government.
A Declaration of Independence
for American Education
Whereas the Institution of American Education has devolved into a factory-farm, limited to the strict pursuit of short answer learning, and
Whereas this model has denied students and teachers the rights of play, art, and the most basic of intellectual freedom to teach and learn in freedom, and
Whereas Art, manifest in all of its forms, is recognized for its transformative, transcendent, and mind-opening agency in human exchange, is a universal element of human life, bound inherently with the human drive to play and invent, and
Whereas Play is the biological heritage of learning that keeps us childlike, sensitized, creative, and primed to learn; a principle upon which human nature has evolved its higher capacity for mental health, reason, respect, compromise, and survival, and
Whereas these natural domains foster the human, expressive, and resilient qualities of thinking needed for a productive life and maintenance of a healthy democracy,
And whereas we are witness to the growing erosion of, and bias against, Play and Art in the ongoing academic takeover of our schools,
We hereby declare Art and Play to be inalienable Birthrights of Learning, subject to protections guaranteed Americans under the United States Constitution and The Bill of Rights.
We believe that a body of Educators who embrace, in principle and practice, the use of these fundamental, free, and open resources will be equipped to defend themselves against the abuses of physical and psychological control now widely suffered. These natural resources, which are crucial to the growth of a healthy learning culture, shall not be construed as mandated materials or propaganda, but, rather, as civil, freedom-fostering birthrights that are the proper foundation of a free and democratic learning culture. In a nation increasingly subject to the corrosive forces of corporate, legal, media, and political power and exploitation, we the people declare the American Education culture free and independent, and, accordingly, adopt this Bill of Rights to ensure its survival and protection and preservation. We recognize that these rights are not unique to America, but that America, as it strives to uphold its place in history as a beacon of individual freedom and of the origin of the idea of a Constitutional right to pursue happiness, is where this fight for human birthrights has originated. We believe that it is only through a flourishing state of art and play that education can be revived and redressed to become truly free and independent.
The American Education Bill of Rights
Amendment I (Intellectual Freedom)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a strictly defined and controlled education practice, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, play or art; or the right of the people involved to assemble, move, think, or create for purposes appropriate to communication with the young.
Amendment II (Protection of Core Birthrights)
The Learning Culture may not be denied Play and Art?the fundamental agencies of healing, mental health, and care-giving?the civil rights and birthrights of children to learn in a habitat true to their nature. The presence of Art and Play shall be protected as life-sustaining elements of public education. Neither Art nor Play, the most basic and fundamental expressions of physical freedom of mind and movement related to human learning, shall be banned, suppressed, denied, omitted, or segregated on the basis of age, gender, or ability. The adoption of Art and Play enables teachers to teach in manner consistent with local and regional cultures, and in a spirit consistent with the principles of free expression. In our system of Education, children will be guaranteed the right to learn without fear and under conditions safe enough to fail until age 20. Training based on play and art shall be a right of all teachers, by all teachers, for all teachers.
Amendment IV (Freedom from Commercial Power)
No company or agency service or product shall have the power to shape the communication, content, or character of public school activities, studies, or culture, and will be subject to adoption by peer review.
Amendment V (The Pursuit of Happiness)
The Constitutional right of children and teachers, to ?the pursuit of happiness?, as it relates to teaching and learning in a culture free from political and institutional oppression, including the cultural scourge of bullying?interpersonal as well as academic?shall not be denied.
Amendment VI (Protection of Individual Difference and Diversity)
In principle, all Americans, under the U.S. Constitution, ?are created equal?. It is, therefore, equally self-evident that the right of the individual under the Constitution extends to the young who are ?created different.? Children have the right to a learning culture free of coercion and to the misguided and abusive expectation that each child will learn the same thing at the same rate. Children shall not be denied the right to be fully human in all manner of differences, imperfections, maturities, and complexities?physical, emotional, and psychological.
Amendment VII (?Funding Fairness?)
The Federal Government will guarantee funding fairness of America?s schools. Rural and urban schools, in principle and practice, shall receive supplemental funding to ensure the right to quality teachers and adequate resources. Congress must commit itself to the principle of e-quality (economics and quality) and access to a fair and equitably funded American Education for all.
Amendment VIII (Local Due Process)
The right to an autonomous community of teachers, free to act responsibly but subject to due process review by peers, parents, and students, being necessary to the security of a free state of education and an uncensored and self-managed learning culture, shall not be infringed.
Jeffrey L. Peyton