Fundamental rights to health care and education? I don’t think so.

About health care William Easterly once said that this could not be “a fundamental right, like, say, those of freedom of movement, speech, association, equal protection under the law etc.”

Why not? Because there would be no reasonable end point to that right. When, for example, would one have received all the care that could possibly improve one’s physical or mental health? There would always be another test one might undergo, another new treatment one might try, another medical opinion one might seek. And if no reasonable end point no end to the cost (that which seems to be happening to us right now).

Could one, I would ask myself, make a similar argument about education? There is certainly no reasonable end point to education. We don’t ever reach a point when we are educated, do we? Indeed, life long education is certainly what the schools say is the real goal (end) of schooling. So doesn’t that mean that there is no end?

Yet, you’ll say in response, but who would ever question the state’s right to provide an education for its citizens? Actually the state, by providing an education for its citizens, is doing what is absolutely necessary for its own survival. A right to an education? Rather the state is teaching, or trying to teach the children about the state, what it means to be a citizen of the state. Because by that means it would assure its own survival and continuation.

Does it make any sense at all to talk about the child’s right to an education. Isn’t right to education better understood as being much the same thing as right to life? Because education, in as much as education is learning, is really what life is all about. And it is no more given to the state the power to accord or take away learning, “the right to an education,” than it is to give or end that life itself.

Why are these “idle” considerations of mine of any importance? Because children by being told that education is their right might then expect and await for it to be given to them. It won’t be because it can’t be. Children ought rather to be told that learning comes right along with life, and that it is entirely up to them how and what they learn, no less than it is up to them how they live. The two may differ in that life was given to them, whereas what they do with that life, what they experience and learn, is primarily their own, not the teacher’s or the school’s, responsibility.*

Finally, why do so many schools fail, probably all of them in fact? The simple answer is that children go to school expecting to be given an education. They may be given words and numbers to memorize but what they end up knowing of what’s important will be what they have struggled with and learned mostly by themselves and often through that struggle. Give me a school where kids don’t struggle with their assignments and I’ll give you a failing one.

But I’m not at all saying that we learn primarily through some kind of great effort, through suffering. In fact, having raised children and grandchildren of my own I know that children learn even more from play than they do from work. Probably adults, too. Why is that? Because most often play is where they, and we, want to be, where they most commit themselves, and work is probably more often not. Although it doesn’t need to be that way.

The conclusion, remove from our talk about education, talk about rights. And hold onto the idea that there is no necessary connection between education and the school building, and that the school itself, being too often a distraction, may in fact bring a stop to learning.

Finally, education is what life is all about. Have you ever known, I’d ask, a child or young person who was not mostly learning all the time? Yes, I’d say, and he was in school.

*A footnote. The absurdity of grading the teachers on what the students learn, or don’t learn in school, —that’s going on right now and is being supported by our tax dollars.

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