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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Education Isn't a Right

Listening to the diatribes of many in both the political community and the educational leadership community, one often hears the mantra: "Every child has the right to a quality education." That sounds wonderful, but reflects a great deal of ignorance about both the concept of rights and the realities of education. Education is not a right, nor could it possibly be so.

Rights are liberties endowed by our Creator (God as most believe) that would exist in a state of nature. They are sometimes referred to as the Natural Rights of Man. They include any liberty which would exist without interference from any outside force or agency. For example, freedom of speech fits because it is a right that would be enjoyed if there was no one there to infringe upon it. Freedom of religion fits as well. The freedom to pursue one's own material interests, to associate with those whom he chooses, and to labor or not labor depending on his own free will are essential rights every human being would enjoy in a state of nature.

We have dangerously expanded the concept of rights by including in the definition rights granted by a state rather than simply respected by it. Once we establish that rights are granted by government rather than preserved by it, we enable government to remove those rights at will. Education is a prime example of this. We have the right to pursue knowledge and education; that is a Natural Right of freedom of conscience. However we cannot, by definition, have the right to simply have an education. Education is not something that can magically be bestowed upon any individual. It is a process that requires effort (both mental and physical), self-discipline, and the willingness to be taught. It would be more correct to argue that education is a duty each person owes to himself. Americans are fortunate to live in a nation in which so much effort is expended to enable people to fulfill that duty.

Children cannot be forced to learn. This was once considered common-sense enough to go without saying. Schoolteachers were responsible for maintaining discipline (and were given a wide array of options for doing so), and they were required to instruct. However, a child who resisted the teacher's efforts was considered to be at fault himself. Parents held their own children fully accountable for their behavior and educational outcomes, and treated teachers with deference and respect. Sadly, the perspective of most people is quite the opposite in this day and age.

In modern educational literature, teachers are given 100% responsibility for the educational outcome of every student. When a school is loaded with antisocial criminals, the building is labeled a "failing school," as if it is the place itself or those who fight to instill knowledge in the unwilling that are at fault. It is no surprise that low-scoring schools are populated with children from high-crime areas. The mistake the public makes is to reverse the causality; it is not a poor education that leads to crime, but crime and the behaviors it engenders which lead to poor educational outcomes.

America needs to admit to itself that education is not a gift that can simply be handed out to someone. It is not like a welfare check or a packet of food stamps which can be doled out passively. It requires work, hard work, on the part of those who would receive it. It is not a gift others can give, or a right society can endow. It is an achievement made by those individuals willing to perform the required effort. When the public finally admits this to itself, perhaps remedies for the problems plaguing the U.S. education system will be possible. Until then, America is stuck in a paradigm which leads to more and more bad ideas based upon a false premise.

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