The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Weigel: Education needs to be treated as a right

In the U.S., education is not a legal right. It is a human right entitled to everyone, according to the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. It’s time for the U.S. to amend the Constitution and start treating education as a right.
Lily Smith
The Old Capitol is seen on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017.

Summer is beginning to wind down (take a moment and let that sink in), and that means school is right around the corner. In fact, most local K-12 school districts and colleges/universities will be back in session in less than a month.

Thus, as we brace for the coming school year, perhaps a recent court ruling deserves our attention. Just a few weeks ago, a Michigan district court reaffirmed that education is not a legal right.
To many, including me, this comes as a bit of shock. Shouldn’t education be a right entitled to everyone? At least K-12 education?

Moreover, with political talk of “free” college education being floated by some Democratic candidates, how can it be that Americans aren’t even entitled to primary and secondary education in this country?

To start, it may be helpful to clarify what exactly a right is. Rights, also referred to as liberties, can be either positive or negative. As an extension of classical liberal ideology, negative rights are the rights that individuals inherently have. Put differently, they are freedoms that cannot be denied.

For example, the rights of “life, liberty, and property” in the U.S. Constitution are negative rights. They can’t be infringed upon by the government.

On the other hand, positive rights are liberties given to individuals from the government. Think of things like the right to an attorney or government provisions such as Social Security.
In either case, both positive and negative rights are entitlements that every citizen is bestowed.

Now, take education to task. In nearly every other advanced country, education is explicitly listed as a right in the country’s constitution or statutory laws. More to the point, Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states, “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.”

Clearly, many world leaders believe that education is a right that should be given to everyone.
However, the Michigan court ruling and a Global Perspectives course I’m currently taking this summer have made it abundantly clear that the U.S. is not among these world leaders. In the U.S., education is not a right. It’s legally treated as a privilege. Perhaps, this is one reason the U.S. frequently
receives mediocre rankings
in educational achievement when compared with international peer countries.

Ergo, it only seems reasonable to suggest that education be codified as a right in the U.S. Treating education as a right instead of a privilege could pay abundant dividends. For starters, it could foster a more civil society with an informed citizenry. As Article 26 of the U.N. human-rights document posits,“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.”

Hence, treating education as right would be a wise investment because it could not only boost students’ achievement but also have the side effects of a more informed citizenry.

Now, I’m not saying that I endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders’ proposal to provide free postsecondary education for everyone. That’s a whole other issue with many economical concerns. But I do believe the U.S. should certainly follow in the footsteps of other world leaders and codify education as a right.

By treating education as a positive right, the U.S. could ensure that all people have the opportunity to receive a high-quality K-12 education to adequately prepare them for the global economy and reach their fullest human potential.

The U.N. and other world leaders think education is a fundamental right. It’s time for the U.S. to step up and start treating K-12 education as a right, not a privilege.

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