Individuals do Not have a Right to an Education

This is meant to be a more comprehensive (ie. longer) document explaining the notion of rights in education. Approximate reading times:

Part 1 & 2: Executive Summary and Essay (6-10 minutes)
Part 3: Answering Arguments (7-11 minutes)

Part 1: Executive Summary

Education does not rise to the level of a basic human right. The value of an education is high both individually, as well as socially, but society has no right to enforce its collective desires on others. Society can encourage but not compel. If a person cannot force their neighbor to come educate their child, they cannot by force of law tax their fellow citizens to pay for their child’s education. Declaring it to be an interest of society to have an educated populace doesn’t raise it to the level of a natural right such as protecting life, liberty, and property.

It is the responsibility of parents to educate their children, and the right children do possess is to expect their parents will fulfill that obligation. When parents shirk that duty, society has no right to penalize the parents. They will be held accountable to a higher-power for not fulfilling their obligation. It can and should be the concern of family and friends to help ensure children of such a family are educated, through persuasion, love, and charity, not governmental force. Those who engage in the use of law to enforce their desires on others they deem negligent in their duties, are violating basic human moral agency.

Policies should be supported and/or enacted by legislators that protect and preserve family rights, not rights redefined by a majority.

Part 2: Essay: Does anyone have a right to an education?

I believe this is an important discussion to have so that we lay a framework for how a foundational issue is explained using principles of Agency-Based Education.

Ever since reading Peter and Andrew Schiff’s excellent economics primer, “How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes,” I sometimes put topics into perspective in the following manner: “If my family crash landed a boat on an island of the sea that had an existing population, what would I have the right to demand from them?”

If they attacked me, would I have the right to defend my family’s lives? Yes.

If they captured us and held us in bondage or put us into slavery, would I have the right to try and escape? Yes.

If they took our property would I have a right to try and reclaim it? Yes.

These are obvious basic human rights.

On the other side of the coin…

If I was injured, would I have the right to demand the island’s inhabitants provide us the best medical attention available? No. I am an outsider and have no right to make demands on them. I can only request and plead for assistance or offer to compensate them appropriately.

Without shelter, would I have the right to demand they provide a hut or whatever housing possible to give my family a roof over our heads? No, for the same reasons listed above. I can request or pay, but not compel them.

If we were to be on the island for a lengthy period of time awaiting rescue, would I have the right to demand my children be taught and educated by these people? No, there is no natural right I possess to make such a demand on anyone else.

Under the above scenario, common sense dictates that a stranger to a society has no right to make demands on that society.

Should it make any difference if I am a member of that society instead of having just crash landed on the island?

Do you have the right to go to your neighbors and demand that they pay for your housing, health care, or education? What about going to your neighbor not for yourself, but for others down the street who you feel are in need, and taking from one neighbor to help your other neighbor? Obviously not. To enforce your views on others in this manner is a violation of the law and simple theft. It would require force that you yourself cannot bring to bear on your neighbor, therefore, you do not have the ability to assign that power to the government to perform on your behalf simply because you can vote for a lawmaker who will carry out your desires, or have similarly minded executives appoint similarly minded judges, who may declare such an ability to exist.

The island principle holds.

Lets flip the coin though and assume a person does have a natural right to an education. If a person has a right to an education, when does it begin? At birth? Age five? When does it end? After twelve years of school? After college? After a career choice doesn’t work out for someone? If it’s a right, why would it end? How could it be a right if it terminates? Who can be imposed on to cover the cost of it, particularly if you return to college to pursue a different career choice? Who is obligated to teach my children since they must also have a right to a teacher? Can I compel the smartest person I know (in spite of them having other dreams and aspirations) to be their teacher? If it’s a right, why can’t I choose the private school I want my child to attend and have others pay for it?

Once we start down an incorrect path, it’s immediately apparent that we get into a labyrinth of questions about how to handle these unprincipled excursions (ex. Contrast the IRS tax code (unprincipled redistributions of wealth with numerous loopholes to benefit special interests) to the size of the U.S. Constitution (principled protection of rights). Life, liberty, and property, have no such problems as this “right” of education. They begin at conception and end at death and they are always clearly understood when we have a grasp on the principles of agency and freedom. You and I both have the right to choose what are the best uses of our time and resources, and we do not have the right to compel each other to act in ways that violate our personal desires.

In a past era, these principles were held inviolate. Then along came “free and compulsory education,” under the excuse that it was for the good of society, and government took away from parents the responsibility of educating children. As a result, parents who didn’t need to be involved in making the hard decisions about how to educate their children, became apathetic and wound up powerless to the dictates of those who would make those decisions for them about how to raise their children.

My friend Lisa Cummins recently posted this excellent question on Facebook: “If education is a right afforded to everyone, why is it mandatory and accompanied by penalties?”

Any time government imposes mandatory requirements on our lives, they strip us of freedom and assume responsibility over things they have no right to control. How many children are driven to suicidal or dangerous thoughts as a result of being forced to attend school and obey what others tell them each day about what to think, study, and plan their lives around? How many others are spending adult years looking for someone to just tell them what to do so they can get an ‘A’ on their project? There is never a time when mankind is justified in imposing force or compulsion upon someone who is not violating someone else’s rights.

Education must be based upon persuasion and inspiration. Unless children know why a subject is important for them, and they are drawn to it, they will not learn it, and forcing them to will not make them a better citizen. To the contrary, it will create the desire to control others and return in kind what they have received. Freedom cleaves to freedom, and bondage cleaves to bondage. The right to be educated is a claim a child can only make upon its parents, never society, for the parents brought forth the child to bring joy to their lives and prepare that child for responsible adulthood. Citizens of a community may choose to support a parent in this responsibility in various ways, but can never supplant parents in their God-given role no matter how poor a job society may feel the parent is doing.

(This article does not contemplate the issue of child abuse which is a separate matter.)

Part 3: Answering Arguments

Now lets look at a few of the arguments in favor of “education is a right so it must be free and compulsory.”

1) The needs of society outweigh the needs of a family or individual so we must tax communities to pay for education. There is a moral case to make that all should be educated.

Effects of this Position:

  • The governing taxing body determines what is best for students in the school system (Unfortunately that means federal, state, county, and city control, instead of local parents).
  • It results in a lowest common denominator effect as all children must be treated equally.
  • It results in an atheistic secular school where “separation of church and state” is imposed when a child who believes less than others is set as the highest bar allowable in the school.
  • Personal agency of students is violated when they desire to pursue different courses of study in preparation for their own future.
  • Parental rights are violated because the government determines what will be taught to children instead of parents and enforces the system with criminal and civil penalties.
  • History shows an effect of this system is that those who gave freely of their means to pay charitably for youth to attend a local school and ensure they were educated, quit giving because now it was taken by taxation. This hurt both the giver and the receiver. The giver because they no longer freely gave, which gave purpose and meaning to their life, and the recipient no longer had someone to be grateful to, and began to view this new system as an entitlement.

An Agency-based Response:

Certainly, society benefits from an educated populace, but who is it that benefits from education? Individuals who then utilize that education to do what they choose to pursue. Making education free is in essence, the largest corporate (Education establishment) welfare program in the country. If someone opposes corporate welfare as a system that picks winners and losers and subsidizes mediocrity, why would they not oppose the massive education system which is totally dependent on receiving government tax dollars and then not held accountable to taxpayers who must deliver their children up by force of law, to be schooled in ways contrary to their desires? When legislators tax and fund, they trump the accountability schools should have to local parents who should rightly pay for their children’s education and thus hold the full accountability reins.

The alternative to a taxpayer funded school system is to allow people to keep their tax dollars, band together with other like-minded individuals in their community, and pay for a school where the parents dictate the curriculum, hire the principal and/or teachers, determine the length of school days, determine what they will pay a given teacher, and so on. This results in local control, parental rights being honored, personal agency for students and families being respected, the natural obligation of parents to take responsibility for their children’s education, the release of the obligation of educating children from government and society, and with appropriate changes to the law, a restoration of charitable giving from one person to another to provide for their education where their family may not have the means to pay for it. Everyone’s agency is respected.

If we can tax property, for which there is a natural right to possess it according to the Declaration of Independence, then life and liberty are also fair game to come under similar government control policies.

2) Some parents will not choose to educate their children unless they are compelled to. This is educational neglect so society must step in.

Effects of this Position:

  • This thinking immediately assumes that forced public schooling is good education. In reality, being schooled is not the same as being educated.  In award winning teacher John Taylor Gatto’s book (which I highly recommend as a mind-opening read), “A Different Kind of Teacher,” he writes:

“Schools were designed by Horace Mann, E.L. Thorndike, and others to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce, through the application of formulas, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled. To a very great extent, schools succeed in doing this. But in a society that is increasingly fragmented, in which the only genuinely successful people are independent, self-reliant, confident, and individualistic, the products of school and “schooling” are irrelevant.” (pg. 15)

  • Certainly, attending school will impart some worthwhile skills and knowledge to students, but you cannot force someone to learn something they don’t want to.
  • Another impact of forcing children to school is no two children are alike. Forced schooling is one-size-fits-all education which is harmful to children.
  • When we compel learning and behavior and a student isn’t ready for the task required of them, a rebellious attitude develops just like it does in all human beings. Dangerous thoughts may develop with ways to strike back at the symbols of the legalized bullying: teachers, administrators, fellow students, and even family members.

An Agency-based Response:

Although disappointing, some parents will not choose to take their parental responsibilities seriously, including the responsibility to educate their children. Weighing this notion against the notion of agency and freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible asportation and education of the infant against the will of the father.”

Rare it is that a parent doesn’t want their child educated, and as one of my friends has noted, we can’t take the exceptions and make it the rule. So how do we deal with this issue? Do we just callously ignore the plight of those children, particularly those who live in high poverty areas? I don’t believe so, but neither do I believe society has a right to impose its own solution upon the family.

Respecting the rights of the family out of concern for their children should be the primary motivator. Unless a parent and child can be persuaded that school is both worthwhile, and a better alternative to what they are currently doing, then society has no right to compel them no matter what the ultimate long-term consequences may be. The family must be inspired to act, not acted upon by society in a violation of their natural rights. I would recommend giving families in this situation a copy of the Ben Carson story, “Gifted Hands.” That is an amazing movie that shows that an illiterate mother who loves her child can help that child become one of the most brilliant individuals and greatest brain surgeons the world has known. Social workers in a new non-threatening role, or better yet, friends and neighbors who genuinely love this family, could visit and help explain the benefits of becoming educated and help the family achieve this goal for their children (and perhaps help the parents along the way). Non-violent (governmental force) programs could be developed to assist the family in achieving a better dream. This is why charities exist to do the things government shouldn’t do and allow individuals to step forward and make a difference in other people’s lives.

3) The United Nations and United States have declared that education is a right.

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed in December 1948, and ratified by the United States says:

“(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

Effects of this Position:

  • All learning is beneficial. It’s hard to argue that countries that don’t provide education for their citizens shouldn’t start doing something. However, if the government provides education, they control it.
  • Stating that “education shall be compulsory”, and is “of respect…for fundamental freedoms,” is an oxymoron.
  • Dictating what an education “shall” do (point two above) to “further the activities of the United Nations” agenda is not an education, it is indoctrination.
  • Declaring in point three that parents have a prior right, which I interpret to be prior to all man-made laws, to choose the education their child shall receive (even if that education is anathema to society), is good and appropriately stated.
  • Note the indecision in stating “…at least…” in point one. In the essay above I raised the concern that something cannot be a right if it has to have unique constraints set up about it. It’s either a lifetime right or it isn’t.

An Agency-based Response:

I understand the desire to state the position that education is a right when millions of children around the world do not receive any formal education. Their families are poor, conditions are poor, and in some instances, their governments are corrupt and based on models that value the uneducated slave labor their societies provide. However, unprincipled declarations by officially recognized entities doesn’t make their positions correct.

Human agency being what it is, when it is coupled with freedom, always produces the best results possible. We have the greatest example of this in our own country after we broke away from England and formed a society with 5% of the world’s population that eventually created over 50% of its production. The proper education model for the world would be one in which freedom, local control, and agency are respected for families. Families should be able to locally come together, explore educational options, fund an education model that works well for their families, and proceed with total local control over the system they are part of. True local control is family control over their children’s education and the removal of government restrictions and impositions on the family. When I see home school co-ops, and very creative private schools being formed, there is no doubt in my mind that parents have the ability and resources to join together to accomplish this without the intervention of government. The homeschool movement itself is testament that at a fraction of the cost of a government funded education, children can get a good and appropriate education.

4) I feel like education is a right.

Effects of this Position:

When feelings govern decision making instead of principles, freedom suffers. Feelings are appropriately handled through charitable decision making.

An Agency-based Response:

Your family is on a boating trip and crashes on a populated island…

Individuals do Not have a Right to an Education

About The Author


  • Steven Adams

    While I agree with much of what you have expressed, I do think there are some points that can be further clarified. First, I believe a distinction between government provided schooling and education is important. Education happens all the time to everyone. It may be formal or informal, but it is always happening. While government schooling is not a natural right, education is a natural right. It is tied to the larger concept of liberty, and the individual ability to choose what you want to believe and achieve. The right to pursue individually selected values and goals (liberty of conscience) requires the right to be educated, but also requires that the education be selected, not forced by a larger society.

    Also, just as there are not other forms of social rights, there are not family rights. There are individual rights. Parents are the best stewards of the rights of children, and until a child is of age, they exercise those rights on behalf of the child. If society at large were to do so, the goals and values of the education would have to be selected by society at large and liberty of conscience would no longer exist in a meaningful way. Now, government in its proper role as a protector of rights, can restrict certain actions of parents to protect the child’s rights, but a liberty based government cannot be the steward of every child’s right to be educated.

    I also think we need to be careful about judging that some parents don’t want to educate their children. More often, it is us looking at what someone else values and wants to pass along to their children and judging it as not a “real” education. This is exactly what many in the large society have thought, and still think, about home schoolers. Freedom needs to really be freedom, or it isn’t freedom.

    One last clarification. The idea of “local control” can be misleading. If we think replacing state, or federal, control of education with a local school board is the solution we are walking down the wrong path again. A local school board is a local government. It is just as much a controlling institution as the state or federal governments. Government control of education violates individual liberty of conscience no matter what level has that control. Local control of free will choices such as home schooling, and private schooling is a real solution, but we no longer need “control” if we have the freedom to pursue education as we choose.

  • M Jenkins

    The US Supreme Court would agree with you to a point: “Education, of course, is not among the rights afforded explicit protection under our Federal Constitution. Nor do we find any basis for saying it is implicitly so protected. As we have said, the undisputed importance of education will not, alone, cause this Court to depart from the usual standard for reviewing a State’s social and economic legislation.” San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 35 (1973).

    The fact that all or part of every one of the Ten Planks of The Communist Manifesto is now practiced within this country should tell everyone where we are headed!

  • Jim Inman

    If teachers were given their basic right to say, “Johnny, you don’t have to be here; we’d like you to stay, but you’ll have to behave,” Johnny would most likely decide to behave. This would end the chaos that permeates schools. In conjunction, the law against employing minors would need changed; it defies common sense. I began chopping cotton and driving tractors for my farmer Dad when I was age 10 and it felt good. But it also made me want to be in school with my friends. I was a public school teacher: 25 years in Texas & Oklahoma. Every issue I encountered would have instantly melted if the student (or the child’s parents) had to make the choice between school and work. Isn’t it telling how many graduates are today on the street corner with a cardboard sign! How much did it cost us to educate them enough to scribble a note on a sign? It is not my responsibility to educate your child anymore than it is your responsibility to feed mine. Why is America so detached from common sense? How long can stupidity survive?

  • Ryan T.

    As a right wing libertarian myself, education IS NOT a human right in the same way that healthcare and housing are not human rights. It’s not my job to pay for your child’s knowledge. It’s the PARENTS’ job. And contrary to leftist belief, teachers receive a very decent salary at public schools. Here in NJ, a teacher caught for sending inappropriate messages to an underage student had a salary of around $80,000. Teachers are not underpaid at all.

    If you have a child, homeschool them or send them to private school. I refuse to pay for other people’s education. It’s ironic how leftists will call the right “fascists” yet leftists believe people must pay for other people’s education. As if that’s not fascist behavior in itself. Please.

    Also, I refuse to pay for a public school system that mistreats boys while giving special attention to girls.

    I’m 25 years old and I hope more young men leave the left.

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