Rights to Public Education?

The discussion of human rights limps along on the Forum:

Political theories are often too abstract--too etherial to stand fast in the high winds of everyday life.  Let us turn to some everyday topics where human rights might be invoked.  I'll put a simple one on the table, and others, I hope, will up the ante.  Once upon a time it was assumed that parents were obligated to provide for their children's education, either by teaching them at home, paying for the private schools they sent them to, or, by the later 19th century in some parts of the US, by pooling resources with other families to establish a community or neighborhood school, hire a principal teacher, and pay his or her salary.  By the later 19th century, a number of classical liberals (T.H. Greene) acknowledging the reality that for everyone to able to fulfill his aspirations as a liberal, the people (through the government) would have to provide free (that is, paid for by the taxpaying citizens) for little boys and even little girls.  Eventually, access to "free" government provided education came to be regarded as a right.

I am not interested in the question of whether or not government schooling is a good thing, but  only in whether or not the rights-based argument has any validity or any essential utility.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

3 Responses

  1. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    When did free public education start and what was the justification for it? I cannot think of any justification. The reason might be to equalize education for everyone, but the education gap in local schools proves that does not work.

    All of my property taxes go for education. They have also allowed state-sponsored gambling to provide additional funding. They now want to eliminate a referendum-approved tax cap to raise our property taxes above the limit. The law requires a maintenance of effort so education costs are out of control. If parents or families were responsible for educating their children, they would save money in the long run and the children might get a better education too.

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    This is a very long story. One has to distinguish, for example, between schools established by communities and government schools. And between schools designed to educate the best kids of the lower classes from egalitarian schools. In America, state controlled schools systems began in New England, and while Midwestern towns imitated NE schools, they only developed state systems much later.

  3. Robert Reavis says:

    “I have a right …..” is probably one of the most used lines of my generation.

    “I have a duty …” (perhaps along with honor) were the most often used words of Robert E Lee and his class at West Point in the early 19th century. It’s a contrast worth considering in my opinion