Doofus Of The Day #937

Today’s award, accompanied by a dozen brickbats served with a sauce of blinding rage, goes to the Attorney-General of Michigan.

Attorneys for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder are asking a judge to toss out a lawsuit against the state of Michigan filed by students in the Detroit school system and claim that literacy is not a legal right in the state of Michigan.

Seven children filed the lawsuit in September, saying decades of state disinvestment and deliberate indifference to Detroit’s schools have denied them access to literacy.

The plaintiffs say the schools have deplorable building conditions, lack of books, classrooms without teachers, insufficient desks, buildings plagued by vermin, unsafe facilities and extreme temperatures.

The Michigan Attorney General asked a federal judge to dismiss a class action lawsuit arguing that Detroit schools are obligated to ensure that kids learn how to read and write. The state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit says: “there is no fundamental right to literacy”.

. . .

State lawyers … say that “Michigan’s constitution requires only that the legislature provide for a system of free public schools”, leaving the details and deliver to specific educational services to the local school districts.

In other words, the state must provide for schools, but there’s no obligation to make them work.

There’s more at the link.  Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

If the last sentence in the report above is correct, then surely it follows that:

  • The state must provide for roads, but there’s no need to make them go from Point A to Point B – they can simply wander aimlessly across the countryside.
  • The state must provide for health care, but there’s no obligation to make it effective – after all, death is, by definition, the end of disease and injury, no?
  • The state must provide for administration, but there’s no need to make it work.  Thus, you can apply for a driver’s license, but if it takes six months to issue it, you can walk during that time.  After all, it’s not as if the state is stopping you traveling on foot while you wait, is it?

This is one of the most fatuous, ridiculous legal arguments I’ve ever heard.  If the Governor and Attorney-General of Michigan are actually behind it, they need to be expelled from public office, preferably covered in tar and feathers and riding on a rail – and they need to be blocked from ever again holding any public office, down to and including deputy honorary acting unpaid second assistant dog-catcher.




  1. Well, the lawyers are correct, from the standpoint of negative vs. positive rights. To say there is a right to literacy is accurate if you mean that you have a right to seek to become literate, to have freedom of action in acquiring literacy. The problem appears when you treat literacy as a commodity that you have a right to demand from others. That's a positive right, and is not qualitatively different from the supposed right to healthcare or housing and sustenance on the taxpayer dime.

    From a natural rights perspective you have no right to anything that anyone else is obliged to provide, only the freedom to seek to obtain it.

    1. I was going to say this, but you nailed it. I can't seem to find literacy in the Constitution. Seems to me that the only recourse here is to be found at the polls.

  2. I think the state is in fact correct here – the students have a case against their local Detroit school district but not the state itself.

    The state has a duty, per Article VIII section 2 of the 1963 state constitution, to "maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law. Every school district shall provide for the education of its pupils without discrimination as to religion, creed, race, color or national origin."

    If they have a case it would have to be demonstrated that the State of Michigan was responsible for curriculum, teaching decisions or line-item spending in the city of Detroit over the period of time the schools fell into decline, which is to say they should also have to prove the schools in Detroit were adequate before the second state takeover in 2009 (this seems unlikely).

    There is a distinguishing line from what the government should do and what the government is legally obligated to do.

    I have no doubt that the allegations in the suit – that the Detroit schools lack books, desks, have dilapidated buildings, have vermin, have outdated or unsafe equipment and are essentially unheated or cooled – are true.

    I also have no doubt that there is no money to completely overhaul the Detroit school district despite the seemingly enormous state education budget (FY 2015 had an education budget of approximately $15.4 billion for Michigan as a whole).

    The Detroit school district is in fact nearly $1.7 billion in the hole, in some part due to $900 million in unfunded pension liabilities recently included in its balance sheet. Since enrollment has plummeted (in the 1960's Detroit's school system had 270,000 students, today it has 48,000) the amount of money it receives from the state has also declined.

    The students involved as nominal plaintiffs for the lawsuit (any class action suit's main plaintiffs are usually the lawyers who pocket the lionshare of the judgement or settlement) are in fact poorly served by the schools but the problem is one of their parents' and grandparents' making by electing the kleptocratic Democratic machine to run what was once the most prosperous city on earth into the ground.

  3. I think they might have gotten some tainted legal advice. HOWEVER, there is no reason these kids could not have gone home to do their homework, or whatever they were assigned, AND what happened to all that United Way money that might have been poured into the city. There are ways to learn stuff if you really, REALLY want to learn it. This is not a good way to get money from State government. BUT, yes, I am sorry they didn't become literate. Are there not billboards and ads on TV?

  4. Reworded slightly, the state is saying that students are required by law to go to school, and can be punished or parents jailed if they fail to comply, but the state's not responsible for providing/doing anything while they're in school. The students are saying they want to receive some value for their mandatory attendance and the money their parents pay in taxes. (OK, maybe that last one is a stretch)

    No, there's no right to literacy called out in the BOR. Of course, those are not rights given by government, but rights the government is obligated to not infringe in any way (yea… right). So is literacy a pre-existing right that got left out of the BOR, a right which comes from being human (or granted by God; your choice)? The BOR itself says it doesn't address all rights, and provides a mechanism. Which makes literacy a right reserved to the states or the people. If it's a right delegated to the people, doesn't that change things?

    Personally, I come down more with Rusty Gunner, that a right can never require someone else to behave in some way, but I'm concerned that the States mandating that children attend school complicates things. The suit isn't that the state doesn't provide schools and pay teachers to staff them, it's that those teachers stink on ice at it. They simply seem to be asking for something out of the state. It would be very interesting if the jury were to essentially say, "state you're right, you're not obligated to do anything, so shut down the state mandated education system and send everyone home" (if they only could).

    It will be interesting to see what a jury says.

  5. Saying the department of education is not required to teach literacy is like the citizens of Michigan saying: "OK, I have a duty to pay taxes, but not with actual money"

  6. Then of course, literacy is subjective. One might read on a 3d grade level and be considered literate, one might read on a 9th grade level and be considered literate. How might one measure the literacy that the students achieve?

    I can't speak to Michigan law, but around here, education is the province of a local School Board. It's small government all the way.

    Lots of problems in this suit.

  7. Conflation opportunity, means, and outcome.
    Opportunity versus outcome: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. Etc.
    Means: education isn't a commodity you can receive passively, it must be actively earned and teachers =/= instruction, seat-time =/= education, money spent =/= something functional bought, etc.

    If there was ever a clearer case for vouchers, I'm not aware of it. Clearly the educational-indoctrination complex has failed the people of the state. Give the student families a voucher, tell them to find a school, teacher, or whatever (or even home-school and pocket the money as long as reasonable progress can be demonstrated), tell the teachers and administrators that as a consequence of their fraud (failure to teach) the retirement is largely gone, and will be paid out from the current funding level (but only to people living within the state, at a reduced level if you move away), and let the free market open up to chase voucher money. If your kids don't learn, you have only yourself to blame for not finding a good school and instilling enough discipline to keep them at it.

  8. Is there not a school? Are there not teachers in that school? Are not all children required to attend the school or certified instruction provided elsewhere? What then is the problem? Is failure to learn not an individual failure? It sounds like a personal problem. They should start small and work their way up to The Cat in the Hat. Maybe Goodnight Moon is more their speed.

  9. If I go to a school provided by the state, but don't study, and I remain illiterate as a result, am I allowed to say that the state failed me, and must pay up ?
    – Charlie

  10. Mr. Grant,

    Please consider the case from the action of the principle in the opposite direction; i.e. if the state provides schools, if there is a right to literacy, what other rights then must follow? If the state provides healthcare, what rights then follow? What must the state do to reach the stated right? Control eating behaviors? Eliminate genetically unsound individuals? Mandate exercise?

    In this kind of state, everything that is not compulsory is forbidden. It's North Korea. That's why the argument actually is correct; without extreme state control to change black families and children's behavior into white families and children's behavior, through behavior and environmental control, the state will not reach the goal to provide the "right" of literacy.

    No amount of funding to Detroit schools will change the outcome with their current population, and that population's culture, still in place. Most seek an external outcome without making the internal changes or putting in the effort to achieve the goal.

  11. Folks, I think some of you misunderstand me – or perhaps I failed to make myself clear. I'm not arguing that the state should become an even Bigger Brother in education than it is already; nor am I arguing that the state should be the arbiter of what is, or is not, a 'good' education.

    My problem is the specific argument used by the Governor and Attorney General of Michigan. If there is a constitutional obligation for the state to spend money on education, but there is no "fundamental right to literacy", then where is the obligation on the state to ensure that the money it is obliged to spend on education is, in fact, well and properly spent? The examples I provided were intended to show this conundrum in other fields.

    If the state is mandated by law to provide a service, surely it must, repeat, MUST be mandated or obligated to ensure that the service in question is appropriate, and provided in adequate measure to all who are entitled to receive it? If that's not within its purview, how can it possibly be mandated or obligated to provide the service at all?

  12. So you think the state should be obligated to determine that the Detroit school board is not providing the mandated services and therefore strip the Detroit school board of their authority and take over running the schools with no authoritative input from the local community?

    As far as I can tell, it seems that as long as the locals in Detroit are permitted to govern themselves, they are likely to continue to provide services in the way they have been doing for some time: corruptly and incompetently.

    Maybe the state should eliminate all self-government for Detroit on the grounds that they have been unable to handle it, but that doesn't seem like something that a judge should be deciding.

  13. Well, the Dems have been in charge for a long time in Detroit. Dis-incorporate them, turn all functions over to state/county, or perhaps private corporations with performance-requirement clauses that allow claw-backs for failure to produce. fire all the pols and educational admins, prohibit them from ever working for a gov't paycheck again. Fire the teachers and only re-hire after a harsh re-screening, and ban the unions. Then voucher, voucher, voucher!

  14. This is about money. Some enterprising lawyer figured out a new approach to a class action suit, found some plaintiffs, and is rolling the jury dice.

    You can lead a horse to water..

  15. "The state must provide for health care, but there's no obligation to make it effective – after all, death is, by definition, the end of disease and injury, no?"

    You've just described Britain's NHS! 😀

  16. but there is no "fundamental right to literacy", then where is the obligation on the state to ensure that the money it is obliged to spend on education is, in fact, well and properly spent?

    Let us say you are an individual with Trisomy 21, more commonly known as Down's Syndrome.

    What if you have an IQ below 85? What are the odds that you will actually ever be literate in a minimal sense (able to read, understand and fill out government forms without help) let alone in the same sense that I am (where I read an enormous amount of material each year with ease, ranging from books by Peter to technical documentation to government forms, and can also read some Chinese, but am not Chinese)? Something over 18M people in the US have IQs below 85.

    However, you are correct in another sense. They just shot themselves in the foot with regard to taxation being required to educate the children. Why won't anyone thing about the children?

  17. What the Attorney-General is done is set up a straw man argument. The issue isn't literacy.

    The students aren't wrong about the buildings, books, classrooms, teachers, or conditions. What is criminal is the amount of tax money poured into the system for so little result. What was the money spent on? Individually, no, there is no right to literacy, but in the aggregate, there should be accountability on the part of the gov't and the school system for outcomes.

    None of us would want our children to attend public school in Detroit.

  18. I see nothing wrong with the argument the state is making. They are obligated to fund, but not to operate. Teaching kids is an operational matter that the state does not engage in. As a consequence, DeJure, the argument is correct and some shyster Attorney is simply trying to enrich him/herself.

    I saw this type of trash among black attorneys often in Nashville in the 70s and 80s. One Lawyer was very well off when it was over, but Tennessee State and Metro Schools were no better off.

  19. @ASM826, there should be accountability but ultimately in a democratic system, accountability is to the voters, not to the courts.

    If voters vote in people who are ineffective and inefficient and don't manage to deliver the goods that the voters were promised or that it is the government's duty to provide, then voters should vote in different people. If the voters can't or won't do that, then the polity deserves to fail and be replaced by something else. As John Adams said, our form of government is designed for a religious and virtuous people and is unsuited for any other.

    The people of Detroit may or may not be unsuited for democracy, but that's not the judge's call.

  20. There isn't a right to literacy if you don't work to make yourself literate, but that isn't going to matter to Rick Snyder (R(INO)). Together with his inability to fight back against the Flint water issue his goose is cooked in this state and that means being saddled with another leftist governor. The Flint thing wasn't his fault at all, but when dems accused him all he could do is say "ummm, gee guys, can't we just get along?" with a crap eating smile on his face. I can already see the commercials the dems will make with this issue, Snyder is done.

  21. We know that 50% of the people are of below average intelligence. 50% of the people are more venal than the other half of the people. It seems that the worst aspects of both groups are more concentrated in Blue states and Blue cities. Why is that? What can anyone do about it except move away from the crooks and idiots?

  22. I think we really need to see the court filing here.

    Did the students claim that they had a right to be literate and that the state abridged that right? If so, the AG is perfectly correct to point out that there is no such right.

    I agree there isn't such a right, and there can't be such a right because being literate requires effort on the part of the person in question, the state has no ability to impose literacy on them.

    Now, if they are saying that they were let down by the school system, then they need to sue that school system, not the state. They went after the state because it has deeper pockets.

    I think they have a good case against the school district, but unless they can show that the state significantly shorted funding to the Detroit school district compared to other schools in the state, they can't put the blame on the state.

    I also wonder how deafening the outcry would have been if a Republican Governor had attempted to take over the school system of the Democratic stronghold of Detroit.

  23. Sue the district for fraud. they claimed they were providing education. They didn't. They are in breach of contract, I'd think. If there isn't a contract, then somebody else blew it in not establishing one, and fire them all for fraud.

  24. I'd appreciate it if someone could explain this to me:

    Where, in all the verbiage littering the landscape about government, citizens and rights – in this particular instance, government-delivered education – do we set quantitative performance standards against which government can be measured as achieving or failing to achieve those particular performance requirements? What percentage off my speech, or my writing, is guaranteed to not be restricted by the First Amendment? Can I count on 86.3% of what I say to be unrestricted, or is it a higher or lower percentage against which i can measure my "freedom of speech"?

    And, who has final responsibility for meeting those standards when that responsibility may have distributed obligations? Example: a highway has both maximum and minimum speeds posted, and compliance is achieved though application of fiscal penalties for non-compliance against the individual with responsibility for operating a vehicle within those maximum and minimum performance standards.

    Let's suppose, though, that I want to drive to Podunk on the limited-access highway – because it's a shorter distance, and demonstrated to be safer, than other roads – that has a 45 MPH minimum speed posted, but my car can't go faster than 35. Should there be a minimum established speed at all? Establishing – and enforcing – such a minimum speed prevents me from using the limited access highway without penalty, which places me at greater risk for accident or injury by forcing me to use less safe streets and roads, which are also longer, requiring me to consume more fuel at my expense. Who bears responsibility for enabling me to use the shorter, safer and more fuel efficient route? Is government obligated to repair my car, or give me one that will go at least 45MPH ?

    Remember, government owns nothing, it all has to come from the citizens in one form or another, so that means "you." (meaning: I'll meet you at the Lexus dealership, bring your check book…..").

    Rolf, above, touches on an interesting point that I think shows we've lost our way on this: He argues for vouchers as a solution to – at least partially – place responsibility back in the hands of the citizens.

    And, while it's acknowledged that it is in the best interest of a society to have well educated and informed citizens, whose responsibility is it to achieve that ? which also means: Who gets punished when that performance standard is not met? We've largely elected to make it government's responsibility by establishing minimum school attendance requirements, such as attending until age 16, penalties for truancy for those under 16, etc. It should be obvious that "attendance" does not equal "achievement" (and "graduation" does not equal "educated") so why do we persist in using that metric ?

    The real question is not "why are there not vouchers" but "why is government involved in the education business in the first place?" If education is a good that confers benefits it should be easily recognized that the advantages of being well educated are manifest and self interest should drive indivduals to avail themselves of those advantages.

    Of course, if that theory really worked in practice no one with school-age children would live in, or near, Detroit.

  25. The situation is ugly to understand (even without the education failure)

    The Federal Government provides funding and oversight to the states for Education, the State then sets some policies and oversight to the local schools boards, who are related to, but frequently independent of, the city/county governments.

    much of the local school district funding is from local taxes,but some is from the state (and frequently the local taxes end up being administered by the state so that they can be combined with state tax payments), and some is from the federal government.

    But most of the education decisions that are being complained about here (facilities, staffing, supplies) are entirely managed by the local school district. The higher level entities set some standards (teacher certification, standardized tests) and kibitz here and there, but they really are the peanut gallery, they make a lot of noise, but unless they decide to go after the local school district in court, they can't provide a lot of directly beneficial changes to the school (it's a lot easier for them to force the school to stop doing something they are doing than get them to start doing something effective)

    This is why suing the state over the education quality is not effective.

  26. Oh, yes. I forgot to mention the Teacher's Union, which frequently has a very large impact on the problem (or rather in blocking others from thinking outside of the box to solve the problem)

  27. Years ago, I though that teachers and their union were the problem. I was wrong. While it is true that, like any profession, there are bad teachers, by and large the blame lies elsewhere.
    A little over two years ago, I became a teacher. This is my third year, and I have learned a few things:

    – Parents don't want their children to receive an education, they want their children to receive good grades. Try to uphold a standard in your classroom, and the parent complaints will be many and loud. For example, I had the parent of a high school junior complain and then pull his child from my class because I demanded that students show their work on math problems.

    – Parents also condone cheating. My wife, who is also a teacher, caught students cheating, and she had a parent-teacher conference yesterday where the parent told her that her student wasn't cheating by copying another student's work, she was "using her resources by delegating time consuming work to others." That parent is a retired FBI agent.

    – The students don't want to learn. When I assign homework, on average only about 40% of them turn it in. About half of those students copy it from someone else. When students fail a test, they demand to be permitted a "retake" or ask for extra credit work to make up for it.

    – Cell phone use in class is rampant. They play video games, text, or use social media. Telling them to put it away gets you ignored. Take the phone away from them, and you will be called a racist, spend 10 minutes of class time arguing with them, or actually be physically attacked by the student.

    Literacy is an active process. It isn't something that can be given to someone like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, who became smart as soon as he was given a diploma. It requires work on the part of the intended recipient. Work that, in my experience, more than half of them just are not willing to perform.

  28. I, as a Flint grad, seem to remember the funding of schools to having its problems start prior to you others, I seem to remember the decline of funding of public schools and the push for private school funding in the romney era. Michigan was big time Republican then. I don't seem to remember any Democrats of power in Michigan. But, that was in 64, the year I got my draft notice.

  29. I was taught to read by my mother at home even though I was in school. As a school teacher she saw it as her private responsibility it teach all her children to read and to oversee that we each had a proper education.
    As I'm understanding it the children in Detroit may not all have parents who are able/interested in taking responsibility for their future. Yes, I do believe this is the parent's responsibility, however there needs to be, possibly, some safeguard for bright children of people unable/unwilling to act like parents to their own children.

  30. The police are funded to provide for public safety yet are not responsible for your personal safety as shown in Warren vs the District of Columbia. I would assume that reasoning would hold true here.

    How does Michigan hold the Detroit school system to task? Withholding funding if they do not achieve high enough average scores on a standardize test. Give me a break.


  31. I say Detroit should offer those children a complimentary course from hooked on phonics and the case should be dismissed.

    I do believe there was a time and place in America where children had to walk for miles to get to school in whatever the weather may be to sit and shiver in a one room school house, etc, etc… and I bet they got a better education too… then again, the boys would take their rifles to school so they could shoot rabbits on the way home too!

    …where did we go wrong?

  32. Most of you are missing the 2 most important points on this subject:

    1) our schools started on the downward path to mediocrity when the Progressives decided that the Nation didn't need intelligent citizens in the Industrial World, and took action to implement their ideology.

    2) Power/Money.
    Have you looked at the percentage of a state's budget that is connected with "Education"? It is the single biggest money pit a state has to deal with. And, there is NO WAY IN HELL that we are getting our money's worth, no matter HOW you examine it.
    Time to scrap the whole edifice and start over, and NO ONE currently involved should be automatically granted a place in it, as most of them will just want to replicate the mess, because that is how they have been taught. I lean toward a permanent ban, myself. How do you reprogram all those progressives? Might as well try to change their religion, you'll be about as successful, sigh…

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