Amending Colorado’s Constitution

Scholar perspective

By | Adria Padilla-Chávez

Seeking to understand the role of education in our society and in our daily lives has been a lifelong inquiry chronicled in my twenty years of teaching in public schools and most recently my graduate work as a doctoral student. In fact, my years as a teacher led me to graduate school with an intention to step out of the public school context to research and understand what children, youth, and communities deserve in order to thrive and flourish. The impetus of this inquiry into graduate school began when I joined the Right2Learn Dignity Lab (R2L) in 2019. It was within this group where I began to conceptualize human dignity through scholarship and experience which has cultivated an internal compass, my own sense of dignity, affirmed through my learning and participation as part of R2L. These humanizing and affirming learning experiences also incited internal tensions while I continued to teach within the structures of public schools that often felt contradicting. Thus began my journey in scholarship and research on pedagogical design that harmonizes with human dignity.

In 2020, when the world was isolated during the global pandemic and grappling with injustices and hopelessness, I found solace when R2L met weekly on Zoom collaborating and crafting an amendment to the Colorado state constitution education clause. The writing took shape over the course of the year as we collectively dreamed of an education that recognizes and affirms our human right to learn and grow. In November of 2021, we made our first appearance in front of the legislative council defending the language of our candidate amendment. Although there have been slight revisions to the language since then, the experience of participating in the drafting, revisions and appearing in front of legislative council has enabled an embodiment of the language transforming who I am as an educator. This process of transformation is a constant journey as the language of the amendment serves as a guiding light of reflection on how learning is organized for human flourishing.

My inquiry also grew when R2L began studying human rights’ instruments including  Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, “Everyone has the right to education,” followed by in Section 2, “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” I have wondered what kind of learning environment enables the “full development of the human personality”? Understanding what this means for human beings requires first-hand account of experience. I looked to children for these perspectives. 

As a dignity scholar and educator, I seek to understand how this transformational process as an educator transcends through pedagogical design and interaction with children. With the collaboration of six of my former students, we co-designed a summer workshop over the course of a month last summer in hopes of cultivating a space where learning activity might ignite a light within—our human dignity. We called it Buscando la luz (Looking for light). By choosing to co-design, I hoped the children would share how they experienced learning activity and their desires for learning as free and capable human beings. The approach to co-design was guided by the principle of respect for human dignity through the enactment of respecting every child-partner’s mind, ideas, contributions and desires—all that I have experienced within R2L. Pedagogically, this was enacted by taking time in every workshop to reflect and listen to the child partners’ perspectives, valuing what they shared by applying their reflections and contributions to the design of our workshop. 

The experience of co-creating a learning environment with children guided by the principle of respect for their dignity has provided a glimmer of possibility for the implementation of our amendment. This possibility is helping me understand education as a fundamental right as R2L believes it to be—the actualization of human potential. In this issue of The Denver Journal of Education and Community, one Denver Public School alumni expressed concern for implementation and accountability of the amendment systemically. As a fellow DPS graduate and an educator who has spent two decades of my life in under-resourced and underserved schools, conceptualizing and reflecting on the language of the amendment alongside my practice has transformed how I see my role as a “teacher” with a new and more clear lens. This kind of deep reflection or praxis, the theory of reflection and action coined by Paolo Freire, has enabled me to see teaching as a process of becoming who I need to be for my child-partners to enable the actualization of their potential—so that they may “sing their song in life” (words from Dr. Manuel Espinoza). 


Adria Padilla-Chávez is a mother, scholar and educator. She is on a journey of understanding her role in making educational and social justice realizable. Adria has been part of the Right2Learn Dignity Lab since 2019.