In a nation that seems obsessed with comparing our educational achievement with other nations across the globe, I think it is fair to ask if our nation really does love its children. It’s appalling that the U.S. is one of only three nations refusing to ratify the United Nations’ “Convention on the Rights of the Child” treaty. The other two nations rejecting the concept of the rights of children are Somalia and South Sudan. That’s really bad company!
Today is the 25th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the children’s rights treaty. In spite of the fact that the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations played a role in constructing the treaty and in spite of the fact that the U.S. is active all over the world in nation building and promoting democracy, we have refused to join hands with other nations across the globe in declaring that children have inalienable rights.
While on the campaign trail in 2008, Obama openly declared his support for the ratification of the children’s rights treaty, declaring, “It is embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. It is important that the U.S. return to its position as a respected global leader and promoter of human rights. I will review this and other treaties to ensure that the U.S. resumes its global leadership in human rights.” However, six years later, the rights of children seem to be another one of the dreams deferred.
The rationale generally provided for a failure to ratify the U.N. treaty typically revolve around concerns that it would erode U.S. sovereignty. Some voices on the far right decry the U.N. treaty as part of a broad conspiracy to control our nation’s children. Ironically, in 1993 Phyllis Schlafly asserted that the U.N Convention on the Rights of the Child was designed in part to be a “grab for power over education.” Schlafly wrote: “Suppose Congress were to consider legislation to set up a procedure for the Federal Government (or the U.S. Department of Education) to define the content of the education of every child. Imagine the howls that would go up as parents and concerned citizens protest that Congress has no business prescribing school curriculum. From all sides, we would hear citizens reassert their dedication to local control of education. Private schools would express fear that they would become an endangered species.”
Well, Phyllis, the federal government did it and the howls weren’t so loud, were they? As a matter of fact a number of your fellow conservatives have been the most stalwart proponents of the movement to erode local control of public schools, prescribe curriculum through national common core standards, and gift the corporate world with huge profits through efforts to privatize and “charterize” education.
Arguably, if the U.S. were to embrace the U.N. treaty and actually recognize the rights of children, it could impact the money-lenders, hedge fund managers, and corporate education reformers who can only seem to see the dollar bills that are atop every child in America. Consider, for example, Article 12 of the treaty which states, “When adults are making decisions that affect children, children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account.” This is clearly not the case in the United States where children are subjected to hours and hours of standardized tests and are used as data producing machines.
All of America’s closest international allies have ratified the children’s rights treaty. These are the countries that cause education policy makers so much angst when international education rankings are published. Or maybe it causes them joy — because they can keep perpetuating the lie that our schools are a dismal failure and in need of continuous reform that translates into ready profit.
How would education policy change if we truly loved our children in the U.S. and formalized our declaration of love by recognizing that they have the same rights as children in countries like Finland, France, Germany, and Sweden? Maybe this would, in the words of George W. Bush, help create a “kinder and gentler” nation for America’s children. It would certainly be easier to enact policies that favor families, providing the impetus to fund universal preschool programs and affordable childcare. It would certainly be easier to enact policies that help to eliminate poverty and result in genuine education progress.