Daniel Stange de Acatl
Wherever you come from, whatever you call yourself, however you vote and even if you don’t—the opportunity to receive an education is provided by our state laws. The idea of free education for all was adopted from our ancestors in Tenochtitlan. The Calmecatl foundation stones were placed 700 years ago beneath the current UNAM—Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México/National Autonomous University of México—in México City.
All throughout our continent, the education of youth in society was a sacred gift and obligatory in order to maintain a healthy community. All U.S. State constitutions enacted statutes to ensure the regulation of an education system but everyone knows that the quality of education is another one of those money matters. School districts are divided along neighborhood lines that often find segregation on economic terms. And the introduction of charter schools just made it easier for people with privilege to maintain their elevated status by opening into specialized education for their precious offspring. Shouldn’t we all have the right to quality education?
Who doesn’t want the best for their children? That’s a no brainer. But it’s a challenge to think about who wants a poor education for your kids? A brief history of the American public school system would not surprise you and the language in our current Colorado Revised Statues (C.R.S) Section 9 has outdated language that has obviously allowed the inequity that we experience in the public school system now. Times like these demand action and for those who wonder if anybody is doing anything about it well…
The Right2Learn Dignity Lab (R2L) was founded in 2007 by Tania Soto Valenzuela and Dr. Manuel Espinoza. (In 2021, Soto Valenzuela became Director, while Dr. Espinoza is now the Director of Research.) Motivated by a desire to affect positive change in public education for unauthorized immigrant students, that founding purpose evolved into an interdisciplinary research program on dignity with a public advocacy component Right2Learn.
Now in our 16th year, it has grown to about 17 members, undergraduate and graduate students from CU Denver and Boulder campuses, and high school students. Across the life span of R2L, the main difficulties have been securing funding, a difficult task for a project that combines social science and the law. Most members started as undergraduates in Espinoza’s Equality, Rights, and Education Core course. Those first-generation college students have become family to one another. Whether Latina/o, African American, Asian American, or European American, what they hold in common is an abiding commitment to changing the landscape of public education.
On Monday October 16, the group hosted a public awareness campaign and community engagement session at El Centro del Barrio in north Denver. This was the beginning of their campaign to get the word out and share this amazing work. Article 9 of the C.R.S. explains the state’s obligation to regulate public education but we need to replace the current language without jeopardizing free education and by ensuring that public education is well funded. More clear and distinguishable language that will guide legislation and help the State Board of Education implement better policy to ensure teachers are supported and able to compete with the higher demands of today’s society and changing technology.
Four years ago, R2L decided to channel all they had learned from the interdisciplinary study of dignity in education toward amending the “education clause” of the Colorado constitution, which sets the government mandate for public education. It began with an intense phase of study that resulted in a conference presentation at the Georgetown Law School. About 2 years ago, they began drafting a candidate clause to replace the original 1876 version. In November of 2021, with the high-school-aged members of the Student Bill of Rights working group from Denver Public Schools, members of R2L
testified before the Colorado Legislative Council regarding the meaning and intent of our candidate amendment.
Our goal is to get our citizen-initiated proposal on the November 2024 ballot. In order to reach this goal, we need to build a grassroots network to collect the roughly 125,000 signatures required by law from 35 senate districts within six months! This is no small task, but it’s also not as big as some of the networking and public mobilization that we have done before. Somebody said, “It’s a small world when you’re a Chicana from Denver, Colorado!” We know that is true and we know that education is among the top reasons that our gente have come to settle in the United States. If they weren’t already here before the border crossed us.
This is why we are fighting to secure a fundamental right to an education that centralizes each students’ inherent worth as a human being by leading a campaign to amend our state’s 145-year-old education clause and replace it with the language of dignity.”
Adria Padilla Chávez, R2L
R2L is asking for support from those that feel passionate about improving the educational experience of students in public schools by joining our efforts to amend the education clause of our constitution and securing education as a fundamental right. Everyone deserves an education that affirms their human dignity and self-worth regardless of race, ethnicity, social class, ability, nationality, sexual orientation, gender expression, and religious affiliation. To make this a reality, education in Colorado must be recognized as a fundamental human right. The current clause, which dates back to 1876, obligates the state to provide free public schools and a thorough and uniform education for 3 months each year for individuals ages 6 to 21.
“The current clause says nothing about the content of a quality education while ours does. This is why we are fighting to secure a fundamental right to an education that centralizes each students’ inherent worth as a human being by leading a campaign to amend our state’s 145-year-old education clause and replace it with the language of dignity,” says Adria Padilla Chávez, Denver Public School graduate and advocate for R2L.
There seems like a lot of time ahead because this campaign is for the November 2024 election, but you can believe that time will pass by too quickly if we sit idle. No more waiting for others to bring change, it’s the future that we can secure. We know this government was built on the ideology of freedom and equality, but our communities have seldom lived to enjoy the fruits of our own labors. We toil for others to reap the benefit and those days are slipping into darkness. These amazing scholars and educators have been burning the midnight oil for the past 16 years and they built a very competent and diverse team. They need your support and our children need this example of how to make lasting change.
You can find out how to support R2L at https://www.educational-dignity.org/take-action.
Danny Stange de Acatl is a Denver Native and Cultural Activist that serves his community on various levels.
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