Next semester, I will teach education law. The syllabus opens with a preamble about the importance of the subject. I share it here, because our nation has been made by educational opportunity. The most important decision the Supreme Court issued in the twentieth century was desegregation the public schools.
The development of public schools, accessible by all, has been regarded as among the great achievements of our democracy. While an educated citizenry is assumed to be integral to a system of self-governance, the provision of such training to children has been controversial since its inception. Who teaches whom, what is taught, and how the service is funded, among other issues, have been contested.
It is said that in America all issues eventually end up in court. It also might be said that in America all issues appear in education, whether they begin there or end there. Conflicts of race, gender, sexual orientation, sexuality, religious faith, socioeconomic status, federalism, taxation, the role of science, disciplinary norms, the labor movement, and the risks of athletics all are played out in the classroom and on campus. For example, respectively: the attempt to bring about racial integration through busing despite residential segregation; Title IX as a means of advancing gender equality; transgender access to bathrooms, in itself and as an issue symbolic of much more; sexual assault prevention and remediation; religious observances; equitable funding; the authority of the federal government; a constitutional right to free education; mandatory vaccinations with compulsory attendance; corporal punishment; teachers’ unions; and injuries from football. Administrators and teachers are responsible for everything from measurement of student learning outcomes, including through standardized high-stakes testing, and addressing bullying, in fulfillment of a parens patria role.
Like a few other areas of law, since virtually everyone has had or continues to have contact with formal education almost all people, adults and children alike, have strongly held beliefs about it. Yet as also is the case with most subjects about which people offer their opinion, there is a need for much more fact. In our discussions, we will explain law and policy as it is in order to imagine education and schools as they could be. Everyone wishes to improve education. But we disagree about what makes it effective.
By studying education, we are able to study society. I am excited to do so with you.
I am honored to teach. I am a lifelong student. Teaching is among the best means of learning. There is much for us to study together.