I was excited when I read that kids in California were suing the schools for wasting their time. Or something like that. You can read about the lawsuit here. In my mind, the list of grievances against school governing bodies is long and growing. But the focus was on firing teachers — schools negotiated away the right to fire bad teachers and kids were suing the schools for doing that. The kids argued that they have the right to competent teachers. 

It’s exciting to see kids mobilize. The California crusade ultimately failed, but it’s part of a movement to use civil rights legislation to reform schools. In New York the board of education is being sued because charter schools are terrible. And other lawsuits accuse schools of violating civil rights laws by disproportionately (by a huge margin) disciplining black kids.

These are attempts to rein in the schools by using rights we’ve established to apply to school situations. But I also see an opening to expand the rights of kids — so they are independent entities and not just legal extensions of their parents.

There’s an important case in Illinois courts, in the 90s, where two kids living with their divorced mom refused to visit their dad in North Carolina. The judge held the kids in contempt of court. He put the 12 year old in juvenile prison and grounded the 8 year old at her mom’s house.

WTF??? I remember being shocked that courts could do that. And even today, when I rooted around to find a link to the case, I was shocked again. Kids have no rights in a divorce. They do not determine visitation, so how could they be held in contempt for violating visitation? It’s taxation without representation, yes? Or divorce without representation, or something.

Anyway, when kids have no rights, they become another object of a dispute. Mary Ann Mason wrote in her book, Custody Wars, “The idea of legal rights for children apart from those of their parents is relative new and still very controversial for Americans.” For example, in the 1960s the Supreme Court established that kids could protest the Vietnam War in school because children “did not leave their constitutional rights at the school house door.” But the Supreme Court in the 1970s upheld censorship of the school newspaper and searching student lockers.

The United Nations has made a statement by way of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Not surprisingly the document is so vague as to be meaningless, but at least acknowledges that this is all a big problem.

A 45-year study on super-smart kids finds that in order to score consistently in the top 1% in intelligence, kids need supportive, understanding parenting and increasingly challenging work. This type of work is very specific – researchers point to reading, playing a musical instrument and playing video games as the best examples of the type of work that encourages genius. The most interesting part of the study is that adults get the same brain benefits as kids do if adults engage in these activities. Which means playing video games is good for both adults and kids.

When it comes to education, adults and kids learn the same way. And everyone can benefit from the right to choose what they learn. But no one tells adults they need to follow the common core. So why not extend kids the same latitude?

Adults do not want to give kids rights that are inconvenient for the adults. But when the problem comes to a head, you can bet kids will take themselves out of school. If kids had rights, it’s easy to see how school would violate them.

The assumption that kids do not have the same basic rights as adults is making adult life harder, not easier. As homeschoolers, instead of thinking in terms of childhood education, we should think in terms of childhood rights. That’s where the real social reform will take shape.