Do I Have a Right to an Education?

[Guest article by Doug Cannon of Lindon, Utah. Doug is on the school board at Timpanogos Academy and has been involved in education issues for over a decade.]

The simplest answer is: No, you do not have a right to an education. Before getting deeper into that question, it is important to discuss the definition of “a right.”

Natural rights are also sometimes called negative rights, or unalienable rights (God-given rights). These rights are things that a human has already, and no other human has given it to them. Free speech is a natural right. You already had it, and I did not need to give it to you. You can talk all you want and say whatever you please. I don’t have to listen to you, but I cannot stop you from speaking without using force.

Realize, that exercising your own natural rights will not always be without consequences. Your right to speak freely does not mean you can threaten the life of another, or speak lies about someone in public without suffering consequences. That is a different topic.

Positive rights are rights given to you from another person, business, government, society, or some entity outside of yourself. A better word to use instead of “right” or “positive right” is the word privilege. They are real rights or privileges, but you must depend on that outside entity to provide it to you. It will always cost money to provide you with a positive right, and if it doesn’t directly use money, it will cost time or resources provided by that outside entity. We live in a society in Utah where our government provides a (somewhat) free education. As a Utahn, I can receive an education, but it comes with stipulations. A government must agree to give it to me, and pay for it by taxing its citizens. If I am too old for high school, I cannot attend high school. Therefore, it is a privilege, or a positive right.

A good test to decide whether a right is a natural right or a positive right is to put yourself on a deserted island and then ask yourself if you still have that right. If I were with my friend on a deserted island, perhaps he will say to me, “I have a right to an education!” and I will say, “Fine, go get one.” If he says to me, “But it is my right! Give me an education!” How did he get that right? If he does not have a right to an education when alone on an island, or if it would cost me time or money to give it to him, then he does not have that right when living in a society.

If that same friend on a deserted island says to me, “I have a right to speak my mind”, then I might reply, “No kidding. I can’t get you to quit talking about your free education.” Without using force, I cannot stop my friend from exercising his right to free speech. He can talk all he wants. I did not give him that right, nor did any government. The right of free speech is a natural right. Same with his right to life, right to choose a religion, right to make choices, right to perform his own labors, right to protect his own property, and so forth. Those are all natural rights, and no person or any government gave them to him.

The reason why so many people believe that education is a right is because our society voted long ago to give education to people and to pay for it with tax dollars. This brings us back to that Thomas Paine quote, “a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.” Thus, we have so long enjoyed free public education that if you or I try to tell people they do not have a right to it, they will raise the “formidable outcry in defense of custom.” This means that in Utah we can claim that education is a positive right, it was given to us by the government, and it is paid for by taxes. But, in the purest definition of the word “right”, education is clearly a privilege granted by an outside source, and not a right.

38 Responses to “Do I Have a Right to an Education?”

  • Matt:

    Good article Doug. Just to clarify a few things… I do have the right to engage in education activities. I have the right to educate myself. I have the right to educate my children. I do not have the right to force you to pay for my education. Correct?

  • Dougc:

    That is the way I see it, yes.

  • Jo:

    …..and then there is that whole issue of what I consider an education, and what someone else considers it to be and who gets to choose, and what limits there should be on the expense and how much I can afford to pay …oh, wait a minute, we lost the personal right to choose when we decided that it was a ‘right’ to have the government provide the ‘education’. It would be nice to have a discussion on what is the constitutional basis for the establishment of this very open ended, extreemly expensive right. Even if there was justification in the argument that everyone benefits from a “educated” populace, (which only bears out if they resist the temptation to impliment an indoctrination agenda and actually achieve a level and quality that can actually be identified as competent and moral) I do not believe that the writers of the state constitution ever had in mind the size and scope and economic burden of the current system. I also do not believe they ever foresaw that conflict between public funding and the inclusion of their moral system in the training of youth, the degeneration of academic discourse from lack of competition and the general decay of mental capacity, morale and self-control. Thank you for some great points Mr Cannon, Matt. As people multiply these positive rights they diminish personal freedom. The end result of believing you have the right to something for which someone else pays is a belief in bondage.

  • Dougc:

    Jo,

    I think you are absolutely right. Perhaps the first two points many people need to consider is that they don’t have a natural right to education, and that our current out-of-control system must be changed (or abolished). The education we think we are getting for “free” is not very high quality considering the cost. If I were given only half of what ASD spends to educate 1 child, I can easily do better. But, I get the feeling that you know this already.

    Besides the problem that most people think an education is a right… we have been doing it this way for so long, it is hard to see why it isn’t the right thing to do.

  • Jennifer:

    I like to illustrate it thusly: I have a right to bear arms, so when is the government going to give me a gun? I have a right to practice my religion, so when is the government going to build my temple?

  • Ezra Taft Benson agreed with the premise of this article in his speech-The Proper Role of Government. A few lines include:

    “The important thing to keep in mind is that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place. Obviously, they cannot give that which they do not possess. So, the question boils down to this. What powers properly belong to each and every person in the absence of and prior to the establishment of any organized governmental form? A hypothetical question? Yes, indeed! But, it is a question which is vital to an understanding of the principles which underlie the proper function of government.”

    If people agree with the Benson Test (that we cannot delegate to government powers which we don’t properly have by ourselves) then how can they believe it’s just to promote a mandatory, tax-based education system? I think it’s great that people are trying to fix Utah’s education system but if people were true to their principles there would be a lot less people supporting a socialist education system which forces everyone to pay for the “education” of other people’s children.

  • Anonymous:

    Perhaps you could convince the Senate Education Committee to propose a bill removing the compulsory education requirement.

  • Corruption, sorry but based on your history of posts, I have to ask if you are being facetious or serious? :) If you are serious what would you propose the education system look like without compulsory schooling?

  • Anonymous:

    If we as a society were to stop ensuring that all children rich and poor get an education we would fall with more force than the Soviet Union. Their government fell, our entire society would fall.

    I believe education is a right but regardless we better treat it as a right or we are foolish indeed.

  • Anonymous:

    mingju,

    The government only has powers that we give to it.

    Let’s say that I lived in early western America, and owned only 1 horse. I used the horse to plow and harvest my field. What if my horse gets sick and dies? Can I go to my neighbor (who owns six horses) and take one without his permission to plow my field? No I cannot. In the wild west, there was no government. But, what if we (as neighbors) hired a sheriff to protect our property. We already had the power and right to protect our own property, so giving that power to a hired sheriff is perfectly fine. Can I ask that sheriff to take a horse from my neighbor without my neighbor’s consent and bring it to me so I can plow my field? No, I cannot.

    Then, why can the government do this? Just because we gave it the power to do it?

    If you are claiming that Benson is “wrong”, then perhaps you should first present a logical explanation about why he is wrong. Above, I have presented a logical explanation about why he is right. It is basically the same explanation that Benson gives himself in the essay “The Proper Role of Government” If you haven’t, you should read it. I also highly recommend _The Law_ by Frederick Bastiat. Both are available online for free.

    The government does have the *power* to tax for welfare because we gave it to them. The government, however, does not have the *right* to tax for welfare. There is a distinct difference. We can give government powers, but we cannot give it rights we do not have ourselves. It’s impossible.

    America was built by an educated populace. However, I completely disagree with you that America would fall if we quit funding education through tax dollars. If that were true, then how did America rise in the first place? There was no free education then, yet the common farmer was educated enough to read The Federalist Papers… something that is only understood best at a college level today.

    I am honestly interested in hearing your reply.

  • Jennrc3:

    I agree completely with therealdougc. I would just add one thing. The reason many people feel that America would “fall” without a government education is because most people haven’t experienced anything else. It can be frightening to do something different than you have been doing all of your life, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong or that it won’t work. If we look to history, we will know that we can teach our children without a government system in place. We need to not be afraid of taking that leap of faith it takes to be responsible for yourself. We have been depending on government education for so long, it is hard for most people to imagine life without it, however, up until the early nineteen hundreds most people knew it was their responsibility to teach their children themselves or find tutors and mentors for them. They were not taxed like we were today, so they had a bit more of their hard earned money to select the appropriate education for their children. They often traded services to pay for these types of things too. 1913 was the year our right to own property was infringed upon by voters allowing the government to have the power to tax our income. There is not a limit for which they can tax us. This was done irrationally out of fear.
    We should not make decisions to change the Constitution based upon our need at the time. We must base our decision on what is right and how it will impact the natural rights of the future generations. If the impact will be a heavier debt or have the ability to cause damage to the future generations, we must find another way.

  • The_Patriot:

    Whenever people accuse me of belonging to the “extreme right” or of being a “radical conservative,” I simply refer them to this website, where actual far-right radicals reside and frequently post. God help us (and save us from the far-left, communist China, and Islamic Jihad) if your plans to eliminate public K-12 education ever come to fruition. And I thought it was Pelosi and Reid who wanted to turn us all into uneducated mindless minions. Ha!

  • Anonymous:

    to The_Patriot: That was a pretty large leap you made there. Instead of jumping to conclusions, let’s ask these questions:

    Who has presented a plan to eliminate K-12 public education? This is a discussion about rights and whether we have a right to tax paid education. Do you have anything to add to that discussion? Logic says one thing, liberals and democrats another. I haven’t ever heard a well-laid logical reason that we have a right to public tax-paid education. It is probably because the argument does not exist.

    I would not agree with abolishing K-12 public education at this point, because too many people are dependent on it. It would be like abolishing the social security system instantly. Although the SS program is legal plunder and should have never been set up, I am not so foolish as to think it would be beneficial to our nation to remove it cold-turkey.

    Education is the same way. It needs reforming, and in fact, I agree with Thomas Jefferson that some education should be paid for through taxes. We no longer live in colonial times, and the societies do need some basic support. I believe that the benefits are worth it. However, I do not agree with funding K-12 regardless of the students performance.

  • Anonymous:

    I am being somewhat facetious, but I’m taking the debate to its logical outcome if folks really believe that education is not treated as a “right.” If education is not a right, then logically, you should support the removal of the compulsory education requirement.

    Without compulsory education, dropout rates would skyrocket in the lower socio-economic classes, and to a progressively smaller extent in the middle classes. I really don’t know what the education system would look like, but I wonder what society would be like with having a larger populace of uneducated people. I suspect prison populations would drastically increase as well as social unrest and exacerbating economic problems. Maybe further down the road, people (students and their parents) would value educational opportunities rather than squander them, but that may only be wishful thinking.

    I know a true story of a person who has kept her children out of school for the supposed fear of diseases spread by other children. Homeschooling is not happening. Nothing is happening to educate those children. The mother thinks it is her right to deny her own children an education, but what about the children? Don’t they have a say? They aren’t going to be children forever and soon they are going to be adults with an elementary school education. The children want to go to school, but they are forbidden. I know it seems hard to believe, but it is true and there are many seriously dysfunctional people out there teaching their children to be dysfunctional. What do you think about that true scenario? What is your solution in your ideological world?

  • Jennrc3:

    I find it peculiar that the progressive movement has been more successful at fulfilling their agenda (to bash our Founding Fathers and the Constitution of the U.S.) since the government has played a larger role in educating one generation after the next. Before then, our country had a lot more people who worked hard and knew the proper role of government. They all may not have had college degrees, but most of them had common sense. I wish I could say that for our time. Look at our country’s debt, the moral decay in society, the willingness of people to allow government to invade every part of our lives, and the votes that have put progressives into the offices of President, congress and senate. There is a proper role of government…it should be very small. I believe most, if not all of our country’s problems could be solved if we truly educated our children on the proper role of government, and their own personal responsibilities in life. Education is key to freedom, but not government education.

  • Anonymous:

    Mr. exposed,

    There is one thing certain about government intervention. As soon as the government steps in to make something better, historically it is always worse. When the government decides to provide welfare benefits, generally people have less benefits than before. Sure, some portions of the population have more benefits, but I’m talking about the population as a whole.

    Let’s look at the dole in England, for example. The people in England are taught by their government to drop out of school, get pregnant early (without a spouse) and then to expect welfare help for “free”. Whenever you take money from the people who work and give it to the people who don’t work, you corrode and destroy your society. Don’t take my word for it, there are dozens of examples world-wide you can learn from.

    You say that if our government didn’t force us to partake of the free government-run education that, “dropout rates would skyrocket in the lower socio-economic classes, and to a progressively smaller extent in the middle classes.” I hate to break it to you, but that is already happening. My argument is that it is happening BECAUSE of compusory education and that forcing us to have an education is not making those numbers smaller.

    When the government teaches you that you don’t need to do something for yourself, then it is precisely those groups of people who do that very thing less, not more. Again, history proves this always happens. It’s not a theory.

    Jennrc3 said it perfectly, “I believe most, if not all of our country’s problems could be solved if we truly educated our children on the proper role of government, and their own personal responsibilities in life.” Especially the last part — our OWN responsibilities in life. It is MY responsibility to get an education. It is MY responsibility to make sure my children get an education. It is MY responsibility to provide for myself and my family and to help those around me. It is MY responsibility to provide for a retirement income. When the government ostensibly takes away those responsibilities, the situation gets worse nationally, not better. Look around, the evidence is everywhere.

    I would love to hear a logical explanation about why I am wrong. I don’t think one exists. If you can find can match the historical examples one-for-one with situations when the society does not decline as I have described, then I’d be satisfied.

    I know your story about the goofy family that took their kids out of school. Everyone knows a family that is neglectful. Your example doesn’t show that government run education works, it only shows that you know 1 family who is neglecting their children. I can tell you dozens of true stories about school systems who have failed the children. There are anecdotal stories on both sides.

    The point is this: Compulsory education is NOT the proper role of government, and shame on us for making it so. Education will always get worse until the people take back that responsibility and put it squarely where it belongs: On the shoulders of individuals, families, and communities who band together to make it happen. The higher up you go (state, national, etc) the more you lose control until you’ve lost nearly everything.

    I went to public school, but that’s not where I received my education.

  • Anonymous:

    You ignore my point. Do children have the right to request an education, even though it is against their parent’s wishes? If parents shirk their responsibility to provide an education for their children, does government have a role to intervene at some point if the child is desirous of an education?

  • The_Patriot:

    therealdougc,

    You wrote, “I know your story about the goofy family that took their kids out of school. Everyone knows a family that is neglectful. Your example doesn’t show that government run education works, it only shows that you know 1 family who is neglecting their children.”

    The ONLY homeschooled kids I have ever met belong to goofy families. They are ALL total oddballs and don’t function well in society. EVERY homeschooled kid I knew growing up had troubles reading. There are two homeschooled kids from different families in my ward now. I’ve taught them in Sunday school; both could barely read. I have a cousin who homeschools her kids. Their reading is below average. And, once again, ALL these kids are quite strange. I’m convinced the sample size of homeschooled kids I’ve seen is indicative of what homeschooling does to kids socially. It also stunts their education much worse than the public school system (at least here in Utah). Sadly, this is the only intelligent homeschooled kid I’ve ever come across: http://www dot youtube dot com/watch?v=xhXKXQeLYKc. (Replace the “dots” with periods.)

  • Anonymous:

    I haven’t ignored your point, corruption, that point is addressed in the main article.

    Natural rights and positive rights are described, and the child has every natural right whether living with their parents or living on a deserted island. But, positive rights, or privileges only exist within an outside entity that provides it for you, and at a cost. They are not rights at all. For good and bad, the fundamental family unit does and should carry more weight than government power. Where health or safety of a child or denial of natural rights is concerned, or criminal activity by the parents, then government should intervene, but not until then. Do you believe differently? Where does it end otherwise? What about parents who teach their children a religion you don’t agree with (and are therefore neglectful in the religious education of their children). What about parents who are neglectful of a political education? An art education? A sports education? gun rights education? Sex education? entomology, biology, origin of species? Should the government step in with all of these cases, or only for reading, writing, and arithmetic? How much is too little? What methods, what curriculum should be used? Should the government always step in if it is deemed inadequate? Obviously, my opinion is that it is far from the proper role of government to intervene in a family unit where education is concerned. It’s not covered constitutionally, and it’s not covered logically.

    Now, if you’ll be so kind to address my other points and questions that I asked of you in my post above, it would only seem fair.

    To The_Patriot: If the only home schooling families you have met are sub-par, then I invite you to meet more of the majority of home schooled families. Maybe we’re each meeting a disproportionate type for some reason, but my experience is obviously much different than yours. Have you met a handful, dozens, or hundreds? I still participate in a number of activities where large numbers of such families are present, and you are invited to come if you’d like to see. Even if I were to present you with hundreds of examples of good home schooling families (which would be easy to do), the point is still relatively moot. Do you know just as many kids failed by the public educational system? Would it surprise you, or even matter, if I knew far more that are failed by public education than by homeschooling? As I said before, stacking your anecdotal evidence against mine accomplishes little.

    We’re not putting home schooling on trial here, but we can certainly discuss it, as it will fare well enough on its own. The real trial is about the proper role of government as it relates to education.

  • Jennrc3:

    I started homeschooling this year, and both of my boys read well before Kindergarten. My oldest read Moby Dick at age 5, and Harry Potter at age 7. My 7 year old read White Fang when he was 6, and is now reading classics and enjoying them. My 20 month old wants me to tell him every letter he sees. My oldest 3 are each studying a foreign language of their choice (Germa, French and Spanish). My oldest 2 are playing classical music on the piano. They have friends at church and at their extra curricular activities.
    Keep in mind that some homeschooling parents don’t teach their children to read until they are about 8 on purpose, unless they think they are ready or interested. They tend to focus on skills like working together as a family, spiritual strength, and responsibility. They tackle more academic subjects as their child is ready.

    I have met a few odd children who were homeschooled, but I saw a lot of wierd and disfunctional children at school growing up. For example: Gothics, Nerds, Jocks who have to impress everyone, cheerleaders who sleep around with the whole football team, druggies, punk rockers and bullies. If these are normal, please correct me.
    Sometimes parents homeschool their already odd children because they don’t want them to be mutilated in a school setting. Some children are extremely shy, which can appear as though they are weird or rude. Often, these children are loved at home unconditonally, are taught social skills and turn out fine.
    The older homeschooled children I have met in our neighborhood are very nice and very smart. They are not weird. Unlike many of their peers who attend public schools, they tend to have more respect for their elders, and they don’t mind having a younger brother of sister hang out with them. They don’t act like rude, abnoxious teenagers. They tend to not go through that “stupid teen” phase that so many kids go through while trying to impress their peers.
    There are weird people everywhere, so there is no way to know if they were weird because they were homeschooled, or because their parents were weird, or because they were just born that way. Homeschooled kids just tend to be under the magnifying glass for doing something different than most of the kids, so people are critical of every move they make. Just something to think about.

  • April:

    Why must we be forced to ensure that all children rich and poor receive a sufficient education? I’m perfectly capable of assisting many children in their education, and would be even more so if I were able to keep more of my money. It’s the risk that people are uncomfortable with; they feel better with a guarantee. In addition, many like to give the job to care for the poor to “the rich.” I think it’s the man in the mirror’s job personally. How about having the average person giving up some modern standard of living expectations? I don’t know if that would be enough to relieve genuine poverty, and neither does anyone else. No one has enough data to know how much money is needed. It makes no sense to me when people are sure that we need “the very most rich.” Really? I could come up with a thousand bucks a month to charity. What would happen if everyone over $50,000 a year chose to do that or more in America. I guess we would have to bid farewell to class warfare. It’s a very deceptive thought to believe that it’s charitable to be free with someone else’s property. Surely, it’s only charitable to reach into one’s own pocket. I think that if we didn’t care for the sick, and the hungry in general we would fall. What’s the difference over how we go? Simply because we would fall, were we not to be charitable, does not mean that it’s moral to compel everyone to share what they have. I vote for the freedom to choose whether or not to be my brother’s keeper. I vote for risk, because the possible gains are worth it! I believe that this was the entire intended purpose of America, and frankly planet earth. Isn’t this the right to pursue happiness–to choose to be your brother’s keeper? Happiness doesn’t come from a full belly, or facts in your head. It comes from giving everything you’ve got to your brother and forgetting yourself. That’s why the constitution is great, because it gives each individual the freedom to pursue true happiness.

  • April:

    Why must we be forced to ensure that all children rich and poor receive a sufficient education? I’m perfectly capable of assisting many children in their education, and would be even more so if I were able to keep more of my money. It’s the risk that people are uncomfortable with; they feel better with a guarantee. In addition, many like to give the job to care for the poor to “the rich.” I think it’s the man in the mirror’s job personally. How about having the average person giving up some modern standard of living expectations? I don’t know if that would be enough to relieve genuine poverty, and neither does anyone else. No one has enough data to know how much money is needed. It makes no sense to me when people are sure that we need “the very most rich.” Really? I could come up with a thousand bucks a month to charity. What would happen if everyone over $50,000 a year chose to do that or more in America. I guess we would have to bid farewell to class warfare. It’s a very deceptive thought to believe that it’s charitable to be free with someone else’s property. Surely, it’s only charitable to reach into one’s own pocket. I think that if we didn’t care for the sick, and the hungry in general we would fall. What’s the difference over how we go? Simply because we would fall, were we not to be charitable, does not mean that it’s moral to compel everyone to share what they have. I vote for the freedom to choose whether or not to be my brother’s keeper. I vote for risk, because the possible gains are worth it! I believe that this was the entire intended purpose of America, and frankly planet earth. Isn’t this the right to pursue happiness–to choose to be your brother’s keeper? Happiness doesn’t come from a full belly, or facts in your head. It comes from giving everything you’ve got to your brother and forgetting yourself. That’s why the constitution is great, because it gives each individual the freedom to pursue true happiness.

  • Reagatronic:

    I don’t really see the importance of distinguishing between positive and negative rights. The fact that I don’t have a right to a public education won’t change the fact that I want my government to provide one.

    An issue that I don’t see addressed here is that people have a RESPONSIBILITY to have a standardized education. The government provides a lot of infrastructure that can only be sustained if our country has a well-educated workforce. Many of the people who want to privatize education are concerned with making religion a large part of their child’s curriculum. I can immediately see two problems with this. One is that any religious training will be functionally useless in any career. The second is that too much focus on religion often leaves people lacking in critical thinking skills. The fact that a large percentage of Americans reject evolution means that we’re automatically going to be outpaced by other countries in the field of biology. Curriculum is best decided by people who study the relevant fields or education in general

    Also, I agree with The_Patriot when he says that homeschooled kids are “goofy”. I think a more descriptive term would be “socially retarded”. By this I mean that they never have enough exposure to develop the social skills needed to deal with other people in a comfortable way. Public schooling forces children to learn how to deal with each other in a controlled environment. It prepares children for adulthood in more ways than are immediately obvious.

    I guess I’m saying that you shouldn’t get so aggravated over what people say in public schools. Part of their effectiveness is in exposing kids to multiple viewpoints. At the very least it helps them develop critical thinking skills. You’d actually be doing your children a disservice by not allowing them to talk to anyone who disagrees with you. I agree that public schools are a mess right now, but it’s worth it to try and fix the system rather than throw it away entirely.

  • Jared:

    Do we have a right to roads? No, but they sure are an awefully nice thing for the government to provide. Moreover, it’s unlikely any entity besides the government could adequately plan, build, regulate, and maintain roads. The same goes for public K-12 education. Public education helps poor kids (like me growing up) have a shot at the American Dream. It keeps kids off the street. It provides kids with tools to succeed in college. It helps kids develop social skills. It makes sure we are educating our kids at least as much as communist China educates its kids. Some on this website have suggested that all kids in America will somehow receive an education, somehow reach the American Dream, somehow stay off the streets, somehow develop critical social skills, somehow go to and succeed in college, and somehow out-compete China if only we eliminate public education. I refuse to take that wild gamble.

  • Jared, what I have maintained on this site is that public education in its current form is broken. We need true local control with parents at that school paying for their children’s education, and if someone can’t afford it, to have “scholarships” set up where people can contribute to help the poor receive an education. I don’t know if you’re LDS or not, but this type of program does work in the form of the Perpetual Immigration Fund, and the Perpetual Education Fund. We also need to restore market forces in education. Continuous improvement only works in the face of competition.

  • Anonymous:

    Jared, I like your comment. It brings up an important point. Yours, like many other comments brings up the question of “What is the proper role of government?”

    Whenever a law is made, there should be 3 questions always asked. (1) Is this the proper role of government?, (2) How shall this law be enforced?, and (3) How shall this law be paid for?

    Unfortunately, determining the proper role of government is not always a black-and-white issue. Some items are easy, like protection of property (police protection). That is one of the main reasons government was created in the first place. What about fire protection? Also important, but probably not as important as police protection.

    I have found that rating services on a scale of 1-10 is a little more helpful. Police protection probably rates a 9, maybe fire protection a 7, and roads would certainly rate high on that scale, probably a 7 or 8. Social security? i.e. taking money from the people working and giving to those who used to work is probably a 1 or 2. The service provides some benefits, but does not logically fit within the proper role of government.

    It’s fairly easy to prove that building roads will benefit everyone. You can’t purchase food from a store unless there are roads provided to use while shipping the food. You can’t provide good police and fire protection unless there are roads, etc.

    With Social Security, you cannot prove that it benefits everyone. In fact, it harms many without ever any real benefits at all. Despite the issues of being a bankrupt system, and all of the other problems, it clearly is not as important as roads and police protection.

    Where do you think education falls on the scale of 1 to 10? It can’t be as important as police protection, but I don’t think it is as bad as Social Security either?

  • Jared:

    Doug,

    I think you have a good system for distinguishing between rights (which the government MUST protect) and those things that the government probably should do, but which aren’t rights. I’m going to take the bait and assign a number to public education. I think the right number to assign is 8. (I would assign things like First Amendment guarantees as 10s and police protection as a 9, where you have it.)

    In graduate school I lived in the middle of one of America’s largest cities. My wife and I attended probably one of the most African-American wards in America. I think I got a pretty good idea from that experience of the crappy situation many of those kids are living in. Without public education not a single one of those kids would have a chance of going to college. You know how exciting it is when someone in your ward goes on a mission? I found it to be 10x more exciting when someone in that intercity ward graduated from high school. The ward threw a party for those who graduated each year along with their non-Mormon friends who graduated. It was pretty cool.

    I also grew up poor. We weren’t as poor as intercity kids, but my parents certainly were in no position to pay for a private education for me and my siblings. Without public education, I certainly wouldn’t be engaged in this discussion board.

    I honestly don’t see how Oak’s Perpetual Education Fund for the millions of underprivileged kids in America would work. It would likely fail 1) for a lack of funding, and 2) for a lack of an enforcement mechanism to ensure kids actually attend school.

    Above I mention several other reasons why I believe public education is important. For example, I think it’s a national security issue. We know China is educating its citizenry. The same for the rest of the world. We’ve already slipped in recent years in education rankings; do we really want to slip further and risk the future security of our country because we didn’t want to spend our precious dollars on public education?

    Like I said before, education helps keep some kids off the streets. It’s certainly not a guaranteed thing, but I don’t want to see what happens to our major cities when we suddenly stop providing public education. Is public education perfect? Of course not, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing. And if nothing else, it does ensure a literate population. Even the dumbest kids can at least read somewhat decently by the time they graduate (with a few minor exceptions).

    Hopefully that helps you see where I’m coming from. What number would you assign to public education?

  • Jared:

    Oak,

    I’m pretty sure you read every comment on here, so I’m going to assume you’ve seen that I mostly have responded elsewhere on this website to your last post on this particular topic. I agree that “We also need to restore market forces in education. Continuous improvement only works in the face of competition.” I’m a big supporter of vouchers; if we chip away at a school’s purse, you better believe that school is going to do what it can to become more competitive. However, where we disagree is where you say we need to completely privatize public education by having “true local control with parents at that school paying for their children’s education, and if someone can’t afford it, to have ‘scholarships’ set up where people can contribute to help the poor receive an education.” As I’ve explained a million times before, eliminating public education is not an idea I agree with for a plethora of reasons.

  • Jared, I don’t always see all the comments on the board, especially when it gets really busy. Thank you for this civil response. Although I haven’t explained this “a million times before,” I have mentioned more than once that there are two things I discuss on this board, the ideal, and the practical. Your comment to Doug about what to do with inner city schools is a valid concern. What I’m posting about when I say all schools should be locally controlled and paid for by parents is an ideal. Realistically though, we can split up the districts so they are more local (like my other post on making High Schools and schools that feed into them the districts), introduce partisan elections at the state level and at large districts till they are split into ones small enough to have non-partisan elections be meaningful, and empower school community councils to function as the board for the school including budgetary control. That doesn’t destroy public education, it empowers parents to have greater involvement, which I think everyone would agree is a good thing.

    .

  • Anonymous:

    Jared, I like your reply. I agree with you as well.

    I wouldn’t put public education lower than a 7 on that scale of 1 to 10. In fact, putting it at an 8 like you suggest is probably about right. However, I would like to see many reforms in the system first.

    I respect and agree with Thomas Jefferson more often than not. He seemed to be a strong advocate for public education. I have read that he and Alexander Hamilton debated a lot between who should be educated. Hamilton believed that only the most wealthy should receive an education, but Jefferson disagreed. At the time only the wealthy could receive a high quality education, but Jefferson believed that would only lead to an aristocracy, much like France was suffering from. Jefferson believed that our greatest leaders would come from the wealthy as well as the common man, and he proposed a system of public education in Virginia many different times.

    In 1813, Jefferson wrote to John Adams, “And had another which I prepared been adopted by the legislature, our work would have been complete. It was a bill for the more general diffusion of learning. This proposed to divide every county into wards of five or six miles square, like your townships; to establish in each ward a free school for reading, writing and common arithmetic; to provide for the annual selection of the best subjects from these schools, who might receive, at the public expense, a higher degree of education at a district school; and from these district schools to select a certain number of the most promising subjects, to be completed at an university, where all the useful sciences should be taught. Worth and genius would thus have been sought out from every condition of life, and completely prepared by education for defeating the competition and birth for public trusts. ”

    I agree with that idea.

    Jefferson once wrote to George Wythe in 1786, “Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests & nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.”

    Those seem to be his comments about taxation for public education. Again, I agree. But, I don’t think that Jefferson was envisioning the runaway inaccountability that we have today.

    Jared, you will probably like this quote from Jefferson, he seems to be agreeing with you, “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowlege among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness.” That seems to mirror your statements about our national level of education when compared to the security of our country. I agree.

    Obviously, I don’t think the public education system should be abolished. I do believe, however, that the federal government should not have anything at all to do with education. They should be removed completely from it. Educational standards should be set at a state level, and no higher. Local school districts should have some power to modify those standards according to the needs of their local areas. Parents, should be involved in those decisions through a school board. A school district should not be larger than a single high school with the other schools that feed into it (Oak and I agree here).

    Looking at our drop out rates and judging mostly by some of the kids I had to sit next to in public schools, I think a HUGE amount of money is wasted on those who aren’t learning anything anyway, and they don’t want to be in school. I would prefer to see many changes in this area that are a little bit radical based on how we do it today. Many of you may not agree, but I invite discussion. Each of these ideas needs a long discussion, but I’ll just briefly mention the ideas. I think kids should start school at 8 years old. They should be taught reading and writing before that by their mothers and families. No public education should be available before 8 years old for any child. I would like to see competency tests or some kind of petition or proof from the children and families that they want to continue with public education. Perhaps at 11 and 14 years old, or something similar. If they cannot prove that they are taking their education seriously, then the citizens should not be required to pay for it.

    I have more ideas, but I think this post is long enough.

  • April:

    I don’t think any of us suggested that everyone will somehow receive an education. We said that we think that things would improve for most. I think it’s worth the risk to allow people the freedom to choose to be charitable or not. The restitution of all things in the next life will take care of poor choices. Why isn’t that good enough? Why isn’t planet earth now a better place if with more freedom not less?

    In addition, I don’t believe that most Americans would stand by while kids go uneducated. If we cut all gov. charity, I bet that education in poor areas would drastically improve. Capitalism, and free will charity would produce something vastly greaty, IMO. Think what you will, but the fact remains, that neither of us know what would happen if wealthy AMERICANS could choose. We can only speculate. Please don’t tell me that we don’t have enough money to do it on our own, it makes no sense. My qualm with liberals, is that they need to notice how conservatives are statistically much more charitable than their political opponents. Liberals talk the talk, but conservatives are actually being charitable. It’s convenient that liberals are generally poorer than conservatives, but I believe that controlling for income, conservatives still come out on top statistically. I’ve got to go back and check on that. Perhaps I’m wrong… Even so, I still think that freedom is better than compulsion no matter what the price is. No matter what, it would be infinitely more moral to educate my neighbor’s kids of my own choice, than to endlessly be forced into a collective automatic system. Where is the value in automatic deductions, and property ransomed taxex? It hampers our collective ability to reach our human potential, by not allowing us to choose, learn, choose again, change our minds, and continue to improve and grow in our understanding of morality.

    Now, we’re on a path where “the sick” will also AUTOMATICALLY be taken care of by by state enforcement. Great. How’s a person supposed to care for the sick, when it’s already taken care of FOR YOU? Note: I do not capitalize to suggest emotion; I just like to emphasize where I’m making a point. Again, if we got rid of all gov. health safety nets, and frankly improved our diet and exercise by about 10 trillion times, I do not believe that Americans would not step up and take care of their neighbors. Liberals expect the worst in human beings. Conservatives aim high for human capacity.

  • April:

    Retired teachers could also voluntarily offer free schools in addition to a perpetual education loan system. Parents could donate used textbooks to upcoming needy children. Online schooling could be offer at an even cheaper price than the bargain that private education is already selling. The possibilities are ENDLESS. There is no limit to human creativity, particularly when they are engaged in doing the right thing.

  • April:

    It seems self explanatory why it is important to know what rights God gives us, and what privileges we give ourselves. The difference means that you can persuade Americans to participate in state education, but it’s a bit presumptuous to suggest that humanity can’t think up anything better than what liberals currently have to offer. Nobody is evil, selfish, or stupid if they try to come up with a better idea than some other human. Natural rights are not up for intelligent discussion. Many liberals are obsessed with the idea of education as a right. How could it be? It is a privilege to have access to my money to educate your kid, or your poor neighbor so he is not on the street. If your program is rotten for the poor, which it is, than I can challenge your privilege to promote a failure. I challenge it along with Justice Clarence Thomas.

    An important point is that most Americans believe in publicly funded education, but they are completely capable of being sold on, at least, privately produced education. I’m not a voucher fan, but I do believe that America could buy that option, if they were more educated about private schools. Everyone should read Education Myths, by Jay P. Greene. Greene’s evidence that was sited frequently in the landmark Supreme Court’s voucher case opinions in recent years. I’d have to go back to look up the details, but nonetheless, the only thing that protects failed public education for poor children, is public ignorance.

  • April:

    Why do Liberals tell conservatives what benefits education has? I’ll never understand this phenomenon, other than the suspicion that liberals believe that conservatives don’t want to provide education to the poor voluntarily. I feel like liberals listen to the first few words, and then assume that they understand the rest. Perhaps they assume that they understand the rest because Liberals are statistically stingy, and so they expect conservatives to be as well. Liberals would do well to learn what conservative principles actually are. They don’t involve cold hearts to needs, they involve the real act of charity.

  • April:

    Why do libs always assume cold turkey? As if it has to be that way, or even that any significant percentage wants it that way. How about gradually transitioning to a voucher system with a ticking clock that will transition into lower and lower tuition assistance. Hmmmm. I’d be more than happy to make huge sacrifices to make that prospect successful. Are you? Or would you prefer “the rich” to provide for less fortunate kids. In my world, it would be my job to drop the cell phone, the cable, the high speed internet, the nice clothes, and be a Christian.

  • April:

    Here’s a link to a facebook discussion (I was thrilled to have him respond to me!!) I had with Jay P. Greene (Greene’s evidence on vouchers was cited 3 times in the recent voucher Supreme Court case that officially approved vouchers as constitutional) and his associate about vouchers vs. tax credits:

    April:
    Jay, there was one thing that you did not thoroughly explain in your book. Once government is funding private education….won’t it then eventually seize control over it? The book is spectacular, but you have got to admit that vouchers may have some unintended effects in the future. I am sold on private education, but not vouchers.
    April 28, 2009 at 9:25am · UnlikeLike · · View Feedback (4)Hide Feedback (4) · See Friendship

    You like this..
    Jay P. Greene:
    You raise a good point. But remember that the government can and does regulate private schools without vouchers. There is nothing stopping the government from expanding that regulation other than the politicall vigilance of those opposed …to excessive regulation.

    The same could occur for private schools with vouchers. yes, the government could attempt to expand regulation of those private schools. But opponents of excessive regulation can resist those attempts.See More
    April 28, 2009 at 10:48am · LikeUnlike.

    April:
    I would prefer vouchers to the current circumstances. It’s been a while since the voucher issue came up in Utah. I copied about 5 % of your book and passed it on to a lot of people. (hope that was ok) I even persuaded a few liberal folks to… vote for vouchers in Utah using parts of your book.

    Conservative Utahns were MOST worried about lax private school regulation. If the gov. funds it on a large scale their will be a LOUD cry of a lack of quality in private teachers and schools.

    I believe a local tax decrease would work better. I also would like to see a significant private effort to create scholarships for underprivileged children. I would donate, and I think millions of others would as well if they read your book. It seems to me that all of our current troubles stem from dependance on the state for education. Thanks so much for your tremendous work! I would love to have a condensed version of it in a pamphlet to pass on to everyone I know.See More
    April 28, 2009 at 12:42pm · LikeUnlike.

    Andrew J. Coulson:
    It’s a valid concern. Following feedback from Jay and Greg Forster at a conference we all participated in last September, I did a regression analysis to see if vouchers impose more intrusive regulations on participating schools than tax cre…dits do. The answer is yes. Even after controlling for program age, tax credit programs impose a significantly lighter burden.
    So there is an alternative to vouchers that is more promising from this standpoint.See More
    April 28, 2009 at 8:57pm · LikeUnlike.Write a comment….

  • Jared:

    April,

    The things you’ve written and the way you write them lead me to reasonably infer that you are a very uneducated person who nevertheless has many strong opinions that you struggle to articulate regarding education in America. You’re proposal that we eliminate public education would, if implemented, endanger our country. I’ve already articulated on this and other recent threads why it’s not worth the gamble to eliminate public education and cross our fingers that charity organizations would fall from the sky and begin funding private schools for all underprivileged American children. Go back and read them.

  • Reagatronic:

    I agree with everything Jared just said.