So for the next 10 weeks or so, this blog will mostly be devoted to coursework for the Open Ed course.

For week 1, here is the question we’re contemplating:

QUESTIONS: In your opinion, is the “right to education” a basic human right? Why or why not? In your opinion, is open *access* to free, high-quality educational opportunity sufficient, or is it necessary to *mandate* education through a certain age or level?

I thought I’d do some thinking about this before I do the assigned reading, and then I’ll reflect further after the reading.

My first thought on this topic is that the right to education should be a basic human right. Having said this, though, I quickly find myself thinking about what a “basic human right” is. It seems to me that human rights are ones extended by governmental or other societal groups. So the discussion is really whether it “should” or “should not” be a basic right. (Clearly, in the current world, education is not extended as a basic human right in many/most places. I suppose that one could view human rights as those granted by God or nature, but for myself, I’m not sure that I think rights exist outside of a social structure. Do animals have basic rights in nature?

Regardless of this, by nature of us being socialized human beings, there are clearly basic human rights which we (probably) can all agree on. In the U.S., our Constitution enumerates the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. More broadly, the United Nations has set forth a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Interestingly, while the US Constitution does not guarantee a right to education, the UN declaration does. (See Article 26.)

I guess that I’d say that the right to education is highly desirable as a basic human right. However, I don’t know if it is necessarily economically feasible for every country to provide this. (Having lived in an extremely impoverished part of the developing world reinforces this.) More to the point, it may be useful to look at a continuum of rights in terms of priority.

Surely, the rights to the basics required for life (food, clothing, shelter) must be addressed before it makes sense to talk about the right to education. Many developing countries (and, some would argue, even developed countries, like the U.S.) have not been able to satisfactorily address those basics. In nations where many children die before their 5th birthdays from things like malnutrition, lack of clean drinking water, or readily preventable diseases, the right to education is not the most pressing concern. (I do believe though that money is often made to be an excuse for things that are not really economic issues, but rather issues of priority.)

Still, though, the right to education should be a goal. (I’m not sure that even makes sense. Can a basic right be a “goal”? Maybe not.)

It is also important to consider possible cultural relativism in light of this discussion. Is it possible to have a culture and society in which education is not important or valuable? Certainly, it is, though perhaps not for much longer in our rapidly flattening world. Increasingly, education is becoming a prerequisite to basic rights of life and liberty.

More questions…. Does a basic human right, like education, imply that someone (e.g. a government) has the obligation to provide for that right? Who is responsible for the cost? (This is an interesting debate that is currently being held in the context of the right to health care in the U.S.)

I don’t have the answer to this one, but more thoughts to come later this week after I do some reading.

OpenEd-Is education a “basic human right”? – Part 1
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