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Jay Lemke is Professor Emeritus at the City University of New York. He has also been Professor in the PhD Programs in Science Education, Learning Technologies, and Literacy Language and Culture at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and most recently adjunct Professor in Communication at the University of California - San Diego and Senior Research Scientist in the Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition (LCHC). Professor Lemke's research investigates multimedia communication, learning, and emotion in the context of social and cultural change.

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Against the Establishment of Curriculum

Standardized Curriculum is a 21st century Establishment of Religion.

Its imposition by law on all citizens is a violation of Freedom of Conscience and of the Constitutional ban on establishment of religion in the United States.

The core of religion and of the freedom of conscience, which the Constitution seeks to maintain inviolate, is in modern times, as famously argued by christian theologian Paul Tillich, whatever matter is of “ultimate concern” to each of us. In past centuries, and still for many people, that ultimate concern is a God and our relation to it. Today for many more people our “ultimate concern” may be: our personal and political relations with others; how to live responsibly as one species among many on a planet of limited resources; our destiny in deep time as the seed to spread beyond our one planet of origin; understanding the origins of life, conscience, and the visible and invisible cosmos, or the workings of life and matter past, present, and future; or any other Ultimate Concern which motivates our lives.

Ultimate Concern, framed as knowledge and understanding, may be for its own sake or as a means to some ultimate moral end, be that a traditional religious one or some other: the welfare and happiness of our families, communities, or humanity more widely; the exploration of the Universe or the universe of possible ways of life; the creation of new forms of life or intelligence; universal social justice; or whatever our conscience determines.

In all these cases, it is an ultimate issue of conscience and individual liberty that each of us grow as quickly as possible into as full a capacity as possible to make these judgments. Without the tyrrany that Government shall choose them for us, or hinder us in their pursuit, at whatever age, with arbitrary requirements of time and study in whose choice we are allowed no voice whatsoever until the third decade of our lives, and little enough even then.

It is simply fact that we are all fully capable of meaningful choice and the exercise of freedom of conscience, in ourselves and in dialogue and concert with – and dissent from – our families and communities, in ever-growing degree, throughout our lives, from our earliest years.

Against this, the tactic of delay is ever one of the most common tools of oppression. Wait, we are always told, do as we say until we decide that you are ready to be our equals and make your own choices. So said the State Socialists promising the never-came freedom of true Communism. So the European races said to all the other peoples of the world throughout their colonialist tyrrany. So men have said to women all through history until recent decades and in many parts of the world say still.

True Freedom of Conscience and judgment regarding the Ultimate and all the other concerns of our lives begins with life itself, and we ever have the human Right to assume the maximum choice we are capable of with all the support and assistance others can give us, and not merely the bare minimum that powerful others choose to allow us, or more often not allow us.

To enforce by Law a compulsory schooling in which we the citizen students have no vote or voice in the subjects, times, or methods imposed upon us is not only an immoral tyrrany in itself, it is also a profound abrogation of our rights of conscience and an anti-Constitutional establishment of secular religion.

I do not hold that the very youngest of us are equally able to exercise their freedom of conscience, but it should be self-evident that like all capacities this one grows and develops through our efforts to make choices and judgments with the assistance of others at every age. It is not for them to make all our choices and judgments for us and to delay and hinder us in the development of our own capacity. I do hold that throughout the second decade of life substantial and growing capacity does exist and is sufficient to participate as, at the start of that decade, an equal partner, and by its end as the predominant judge in matters of what to study, when, and in large part how.

The principle of freedom of conscience is not compatible with the imposition on younger citizens of a total curriculum lasting twelve years or more without their consent, without consultation or regard for their conscience or concerns. We may legitimately disagree as to how much consultation and freedom of choice at is most appropriate at each age, but it is a moral and developmental imperative that there be some consultation and freedom of choice at every age, and substantially more with each passing year. We need to vehemently dissent from the totalitarian movement to impose a single, uniform, non-consensual diktat regarding the whole content, timing, and methods of schooling on every single citizen in complete disrespect of our common humanity and universal freedom of conscience. We need to accept that a uniform national curriculum, or indeed separate state or local standardized curricula, codified in law represent an establishment of religion and an abrogration of freedom of conscience contrary to our Constitution. And then, perhaps, we can return to the project of creating a genuinely democratic system of education worthy of a free people.





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