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Detroit Judge Rules Children Don’t Have a Constitutional ‘Right to Literacy’

Although he did agree that conditions in the schools were "nothing short of devastating."

Max Pixel

Last month, a judge in Detroit ruled that kids do not have a constitutional ‘right to literacy.’ Not surprisingly, the decision ⏤ which the judge used as grounds to dismiss a lawsuit filed by students at underfunded schools in Detroit ⏤ has generated controversy.

The lawsuit argued that classrooms in the Michigan city were overstuffed and underfunded, and that many students weren’t given the resources to receive a proper education, including a fundamental right to ‘literacy.’ “The abysmal conditions and appalling outcomes in plaintiffs’ schools are unprecedented,” read the complaint. “And they would be unthinkable in schools serving predominantly white, affluent student populations.”

Judge Stephen J. Murphy III’s agreed in principle that conditions were “nothing short of devastating” and that giving kids the resources to learn to read is “of incalculable importance.” But he disagreed with the argument that reading is a right protected by the Constitution and noted that government officials were partially responsible for the abysmal state of the education system.

“[T]hose points do not necessarily make access to literacy a fundamental right,” he said.

Given the divisive nature of the ruling, it shouldn’t come as a shock its received a fair share of backlash. Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer with Public Counsel, the law firm in California that represented the Detroit students, said he couldn’t believe that anyone would still try to deny children the basic right to an adequate education.

“Historically, access to literacy has been a tool to subordinate certain groups and certain communities and to keep those communities down,” Rosenbaum said. “And I think the most telling fact in Michigan today is that blameless kids in Detroit are going to schools where they don’t find teachers or books, and this is just the latest version of that historic attempt to subordinate certain communities.”