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The Paradox of Protection Under the Law

“In attempts to improve the nation’s outlook, the Uninterrupted Scholars Act was signed into law by President Obama last January. The act lets foster care organizations look at educational records to better help support foster care youth and prevent educational turbulence.”


As I read the above article, I found myself thinking a lot about the role that the law plays in facilitating real, substantive change in people’s lives. Laws designed to protect are often paradoxical things. The construction of this article moves from Harold Sloke’s story of struggle, to the intervention of a change agent, a teacher who “saved him” from “prison” and helped him to graduate, to an ending statement about the law that President Obama signed in January that helps foster care agencies better work with students because they now have access to their educational records. While there is actually no formal link connecting the teacher’s advocacy and help of the student with this particular law, there is the assumption that knowledge of the student’s circumstances allowed the teacher to enact change in Harold’s life. For me, this creates a falsely singular narrative privileging the law as the tool used by the teacher to “save” the student. It often seems that human connection and empathy can never alone be honored as the agent of change in educational narratives, at least those popularized in media.

The idea that merely because something is enshrined in the law does not mean this equivocates to its enactment in practice, adoption in public consciousness, or reality in the classroom is not new. I think of the many parallels found in human rights laws that have ultimately, done little to meaningfully change the circumstances of the people for whom they were designed to protect. Until education about these laws exists, until consciousness is transformed, there is often very little real change in the everyday existence for marginalized populations. Laws without education are often rendered impotent. Laws without agents of change, such as the teacher who “saved” Harold Sloke, are often little more than words on paper. Essentially, while the law may be a starting point—and not one I want to disparage—there are many other pieces that will need to be acknowledged for real change to occur. As with many issues in education, it is never just one panacea that hinders or helps a student who is struggling. To paint it in this way, in broad strokes, I think simplifies a story that is far more nuanced.

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