Posts Tagged ‘Free Speech’

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.