Thoughts on Citizenship, Education and Disability

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Thoughts on Citizenship, Education and Disability

Postby Bilbo25 » Wed Jan 24, 2018 6:06 am

In 1944 Judge Billings Learned Hand addressed a crowd of a million and a half people who had gathered for the annual “I am an American Day” rally in New York City’s Central Park. Judge Hand’s thesis argued the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the citizens of the United States of America and which form the foundation for the unique American meta-culture that embraces the multitude of distinct cultures present within the Republic are the progeny of Liberty. He contended that the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution of the United States, the constitutions of the states and the laws flowing therefrom reflected tangible, albeit imperfect, efforts to codify the intangible perfect ideals of liberty, and its offspring freedoms, and rights. Judge Hand asserted that the purest and noblest forms of these principles exist within the spiritual realm composed of the hearts and minds of every American, See: (Hand 1960, 189-191).

President Kennedy’s address to the delegates of the eighteenth regular session of the United Nations General Assembly Plenary given on September 20, 1963 extended Learned Hand’s argument to include peace. Paraphrasing the “Spirit of Liberty” address President Kennedy asserted that those human rights, constitutional freedoms and privileges enjoyed by Americans are the children of peace and liberty. The President averred that peace treaties and other accords aimed at achieving sustainable peace within the international community were and are Imperfect attempts to manifest concretely the perfect abstract ideal that is peace. He, like Judge Hand before him, maintained that the ideals of peace and liberty in their most perfect forms reside within the conscience of the individual, Id: (Kennedy 1963).

The manner in which an individual chooses to exercise his rights to life, liberty, and to ultimately pursue happiness is a function of the freedom of choice bestowed by God upon humankind. Thomas Aquinas maintained that God endowed humankind with a rational mind comprising the intellect and will and a spiritual soul made manifest through the conscience. The combination of these elements, permits humankind to exercise their freedom of choice, (Aquinas, Sum I, Q. 83, Art. 1). Aquinas defined freedom of choice as the capacity to react positively or negatively to the abstract and immaterial universal. The ability to react either in a positive or a negative way constitutes the action of the will as instituted and moved by the intellect Id: (Aquinas, Sum I, Q. 82, Art. 4). Consequently, humankind has been rendered subject to the choices that they make, the only qualification being that an individual cannot act in a manner that is discordant with his intellect and will because, to do so is unnatural. Every act undertaken by an individual is weighed and adjudged to determine the permissibility and imputability. These attributes are ascertained through the application of the Principle of Double Effect. The Principle of Double Effect states that an act is moral if it meets four prerequisites, a morally acceptable act requires the fulfillment of the following conditions: One, the act must be either morally good or indifferent. Two, the good effect must not be achieved by means of the evil effect. Three, the proper intention exists when the intent underlying the act is the achievement of the good effect, with the evil effect construed as a tolerable unintended side effect. Last, the good effect and the evil effect must be proportionate to each other, id: (O’Keefe 1987). It is this freedom of choice that enables humans to order their world, and to engage in the decision making processes that characterize everyday life. The freedom to choose the manner of our existence permits a person to develop his own system of ethics; one that accounts for his own cultural inheritances and personal experiences.

In Brown v. Board of Educ., 347 U.S. 483; 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873, (1954) hereafter (Brown), Chief Justice Warren characterized education as being necessary because it prepares a person for the responsibilities and duties of citizenship. As such he argued that development and maintenance of educational systems were among the obligations entrusted to state and local governments.

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms, Brown v. Board of Educ., 347 U.S. 483, 493 (1954).

A generation removed from the decision in Brown, the federal courts extended the holding in Brown to cover individuals with disabilities. In 1972 the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia held in Mills v. Board of Educ., 348 F. Supp. 866, (D.D.C. 1972) hereafter (Mills) that a school district could not exclude or otherwise deny disabled students access to a free and appropriate public education on the basis of the disability. Additionally, the court held that a school district cannot plead insufficient funding as a reason for excluding a student, excluding a student on the basis of disability ran contrary to the express purposes of the Education of the Handicapped Act of1970 (EHA), Pub. L. 91-230, April 13 1970, 84 STAT 121 (1970).

The District of Columbia shall provide to each child of school age a free and suitable publicly-supported education regardless of the degree of the child's mental, physical or emotional disability or impairment. Furthermore, defendants shall not exclude any child resident in the District of Columbia from such publicly-supported education on the basis of a claim of insufficient resources, Mills v. Board of Educ., 348 F. Supp. 866, 878 (D.D.C. 1972).

The EHA and its progeny the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (EAHCA) Pub. L. 194-142, November 29, 1975 89 STAT.773 (1975); and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA), Pub L. 101-476, October 30, 1990, 104 STAT. 1142 codified as 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., (2017) provide legal framework to ensure that the holdings of Brown and Mills decisions requiring a free appropriate public education be made available to students with disabilities.The mandate enshrined within the EHA and enhanced by its successors the EAHCA and the IDEA governing the development and regulation of special education regimes has been lauded as being a successful exercise in concurrent federalism in the main.

Under the auspices of the IDEA , the federal government works in tandem with the individual states to create educational frameworks for the disabled. The federal government entrusts the responsibility of creating the educational systems to the states; but it enacts regulations and guidelines to ensure that the systems developed by states are consistent with the federal mandates established under auspices of the enabling legislation and relevant legal precedent. Justice O’Connor emphasized this point in the majority opinion that she authored in the case of Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S. 49 (2005).
IDEA is “frequently described as a model of ‘cooperative federalism.’” Little Rock School Dist. v. Mauney, 183 F.3d 816, 830 (CA8 1999). It “leaves to the States the primary responsibility for developing and executing educational programs for handicapped children, [but] imposes significant requirements to be followed in the discharge of that responsibility.” Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist., Westchester Cty. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 183 (1982). For example, the Act mandates cooperation and reporting between state and federal educational authorities. Participating States must certify to the Secretary of Education that they have “policies and procedures” that will effectively meet the Act’s conditions… Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S. 49, 52 (2005).

The continued sustainability and viability of the IDEA and its directives is of particular interest on a personal level not only as a concerned citizen but, as an individual born with a disability. Shortly after my birth I went into cardiac arrest. During the resuscitation process one of my lungs collapsed briefly depriving my brain of oxygen. The damage resulting from the disruption of the oxygen flow to my brain manifested itself in the form of Hypoxic Encephalopathy. Outwardly, my condition is characterized by an irregular gait and speech patterns, accompanied by slight diminishment of my reflexes, and coördination. Despite these physical deficits my disability has had no discernable effect upon my autonomic functions or on my mental and intellectual capabilities.

Neither my education, nor any of my achievements would have been possible without EAHCA and IDEA. These congressional acts together with the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Pub. L. 93–112, §2, as added Pub. L. 105–220, title IV, §403, Aug. 7, 1998, 112 Stat. 1095 codified as 29 U.S.C. §701 et seq. (2017), ensured my access to a free appropriate public education tailored to meet my needs through the employment of a carefully crafted Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).

I would argue Americans with disabilities have the potential of becoming productive citizens possessing the capacity to assist in sustaining our society; if we are permitted to exercise our right to a “free and appropriate public education” as provided by law. Divesting handicapped American citizens of their right to access educational and vocational opportunities under any guise would be tantamount to consigning them to a perpetual state of involuntary servitude, in which, any hope of the security that disabled people possess would rest solely on alms granted to them by the able bodied members of society, thereby returning the American disabled community to the nineteenth century.

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiæ. Aquinas Institute. ed. Rochester: The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine 2012. Internet resource. 24 Oct. 2017. <>
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiæ. Aquinas Institute. ed. Rochester: The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine 2012. Internet resource. 24 Oct. 2017. <>
Hand, Billings Learned. The Spirit of Liberty: The Papers and Addresses of Learned Hand. Third Revised Expanded Edition. Edited by Irving Dillard. Vol. One. One vols. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1960, p. 189-191.
Kennedy, John Fitzgerald. "Address before the Eighteenth General Assembly Plenary of the United Nations." New York City, New York, September 20, 1963.
Kroeber, Alfred Louis, Clyde Kluckhohn, Wayne W. Untereiner, and Alfred G. Meyer. Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. First Edition. Vol. One. One vols. New York City, New York: Vintage Books, 1952, p. 355 et seq., while not explicitly defining meta-culture as concept, Kroeber and his colleagues infer the existence and validity of such a phenomenon.
O’Keefe, Martin D. Known from The Things That Are: Fundamental Theory of the Moral Life. First Edition. Vol. One. One vols. Houston: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1987, pp. 118-119.
O’Keefe, Martin D. Known from The Things That Are: Fundamental Theory of the Moral Life. First Edition. Vol. One. One vols. Houston: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1987, pp. 50-53.
The Education of the Handicapped Act of 1970 (EHA), Pub. L. 91-230, April 13 1970, 84 STAT 121 (1970).
The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (EAHCA) Pub. L. 194-142, November 29, 1975 89 STAT.773 (1975).
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA), Pub L. 101-476, October 30, 1990, 104 STAT. 1142 codified as 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., (2017).
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Pub. L. 93–112, 87 Stat. 355, September 26, 1973, codified as 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq.(2017)
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