I was working through some ideas for a paper I’m sketching out, and I thought I’d share a little bit of what I’d been thinking about. Now, we’ve all heard about inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
And most of us have probably heard (ad nauseum) that education is a right. We know because, among many other organizations, the United Nations tells us so.
Education is a fundamental human right and essential for the exercise of all other human rights. It promotes individual freedom and empowerment and yields important development benefits. Yet millions of children and adults remain deprived of educational opportunities, many as a result of poverty.
Normative instruments of the United Nations and UNESCO lay down international legal obligations for the right to education. These instruments promote and develop the right of every person to enjoy access to education of good quality, without discrimination or exclusion.
- (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
- (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. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
- (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
There are manifold state Constitutional provisions, and a small host of legislative statutes and court decisions establishing various rights to education here in the United States, as well.
So what, exactly, is the extent of this right? There’s an obvious legal-realism sort of answer that I want to put aside for now: I’m not interested in hearing how the extent of the right is whatever the courts say it is. My question is aimed at the right not as a legal phenomenon, but as a moral one. Let’s assume there’s a moral right to an education, a right that one holds against one’s parents, or against one’s society. How far does such a right go? [Read more...]