Quality Education is a Human Right: From our Executive Director on Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day. At Coleman, one of our guiding principles is that quality education is a fundamental human right and is inextricably tied to other basic human rights. Educational attainment is closely linked to economic security and physical and mental health. When some in our society are denied access to a quality education, they are prevented from being able to reach their potential and participate fully in the economic, political and social life of the community.

The creation of a two-tiered education system in the United States (and in SFUSD where we have the largest racial achievement gap in the state) has left a large percentage of our students with very few options for their future. This inequity is intensified by harsh zero tolerance disciplinary practices that disproportionately impact low-income African American and Latino children, depriving them of their fundamental human right to education and in many cases pushing students permanently out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

Last night, the SF Board of Education unanimously voted to pass Commissioner Fewer’s Resolution to institutionalize Ethnic Studies in ALL schools in the district. Students, teachers and community groups collaborated to develop and win the expansion of Ethnic Studies so that all high school students would have access to the course. The policy is a major milestone in a long-term fight – dating back to the 1960’s – to institutionalize Ethnic Studies in our schools and universities. It affirmed a growing consensus that the definition of what is considered a “quality education” must be expanded to include cultural relevance and competence, among other considerations. A quality education should reflect the realities of students’ lives and affirm students’ multi-faceted identifies and the histories, contributions, and cultures of their communities.

Approximately 90% of SFUSD students are students of color and yet the curriculum remains largely Eurocentric. As students of color go through the school system, the curriculum’s overwhelming whiteness disengages many from academic learning. Extensive research demonstrates that Ethnic Studies, a curriculum that does reflect the experiences of students of color, has a positive impact on student academic engagement, achievement, and empowerment.

The Ethnic Studies curriculum that was officially expanded last night was developed by SFUSD teachers and is grounded in a social justice framework that provides students with the critical lens and the tools necessary to address issues in their own lives and make positive change in their communities. In this way, not only is this policy win about expanding access to the human right of quality education, but it is also about developing future generations of human rights champions…young people with a strong sense of civic responsibility and agency.

On Human Rights Day, we are reminded at Coleman that our work to expand opportunities for low-income students of color is part of a global movement for human rights.  This reminder bolsters us and inspires us to be even more bold and determined in our fight for quality education for ALL children in San Francisco.

In solidarity,

Neva

DEC 11, 2014