Education and Human Rights

I have recently written a number of articles about home education for a variety of sources. Although my children have since grown up, I have fond memories of the time we engaged in learning as a family.

But we were lucky. I began home educating my children when we lived in the USA, restarted (after a few years of trying the local schools) in Australia and finished in New Zealand. In all these countries we were legally able to choose this option. Not every country allows that much freedom to its citizens.

Bringing young people together to teach them the knowledge and beliefs of their community, even at primary school age, is something that has existed at least since the classical Greek period, but probably much longer. In ancient Rome it was certainly customary for children to go to school. There are recordings of schools in the Byzantine Empire, with the Aztecs and in ancient China and India. During the last millennium, the Islam began systematically schooling children, in combination with religious teaching, and the Ottoman Empire made education available to even those who did not have the means, by providing free meals and accommodation along with it.

In Western Europe education was often a privilege for the well-off, while many poor children worked on the family farm or, during the industrial revolution, in factories. Aided by the “Age of Reason” and its reliance on science and knowledge, some countries made education compulsory in an effort to reduce illiteracy and raise the general standard of living for ordinary people, and slowly the focus of education shifted from the instruction of mores and values to imparting knowledge and basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. For most children this meant attending the local church (or public) school.

Despite most countries already having laws or provisions for childrens’ education, Article 26 of the 1948 Human Rights Act of the United Nations, made “education” a universal right across all democratic countries.

Article 26

(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.

Now, let’s get picky.

The definition of “education” has changed throughout time, even within the last decades, but education comes from the Latin “educare” and has to do with rearing or upbringing. It has been defined as “to bring out latent capabilities” (Merriam Wester Collegiate Dictionary 1989), but is today generally accepted to deal with teaching factual knowledge, specific skills and the moral values of the community or state.

“Schooling” originated from a word that means a large number of people together (like a school of fish) and its connection with education thus only exists from the teaching or training of many children in one place.

Above I mentioned that the teaching of factual knowledge and basic skills went hand in hand with the teaching of religious or moral values. That is because it is impossible to educate or rear children without passing on your values. For example, if a parent says “you’re not allowed to hit another child”, they have expressed their ethical values. If teachers frown upon a child not sitting still or if they call the child who didn’t do his homework “lazy”, they are imparting social values; expecting patience, obedience, timeliness, responsibility, honesty, loyalty, competition and respect from its citizens means expecting moral values.

Thus, families have values, schools have values and nations have values, but these do not always agree. We are all aware that some nations have a basically Christian philosophy and others are known as “Buddhist countries” and we are all aware that not every family residing in these countries shares those beliefs.

The same with educational institutions. Most schools have some sort of philosophy: There are countless schools that uphold Christian values, each belonging to a different church. Other schools are based on other religious beliefs, like Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. There are alternative method schools, such as democratic “free” schools (Summerhill), Montessori schools and Waldorf schools, and schools that offer general education as a means to being able to train students in specific sports or arts (like ballet schools).

Yet each of these schools (like “public” or state schools) is obliged to follow the guidelines of the nation it is situated in with regard the aspects of general knowledge, basic skills and mores considered valuable by that state. – Today children are taught democratic values from early on: School books begin telling them stories with examples of brave soldiers fighting for “freedom”. “Equality” is emphasized in stories about gender and race differences and “brotherhood” is used to teach children to be team members and to sacrifice for the common good. None of these schools teach children the race-inequality values of the Nazis or Apartheid; none teach the retaliation values of the ancient Greeks, and all of them expect the children to internalize these values, regardless of the values of their home. Thus, family values are overruled by school values and school values are overruled by national values.

Most countries have made education laws based on article 26.1 of the Declaration, making it compulsory for all children between 6 and 16 to attend school, thereby forcing parents to subject their children to the moral values of the state. Yet, nowhere in the Declaration of Human Rights does it say that “education” has to be offered by schools.

Read again point two of this article. It says “Everyone has the right to education….Education shall be free… Elementary education shall be compulsory…”.

The first sentence is intended to stop children being denied an education and to prevent child labour, the second sentence refers to education being available for all children without them having to pay for it, but the third sentence makes it “compusory”, which is a contradiction to the first statement as well as the principles of the declaration itself, since “a right” is not the same as an obligation.

Besides, the Declaration was a moral law and not a legal one, so that it is used to turn into a crime for disobedience to the state that which was originally intended to guarantee people their freedom.

There is a reason that nearly every government interpreted the article this way:  Schools are institutions. It is much easier to influence groups of young minds directly than to rely on individual families to share the beliefs of the state and pass them on. Groups use competition and reward to encourage children to conform and they punish or outcast non-conformists. The aim of schooling children (always and everywhere despite any modern slogans about individuality, freedom and tolerance) is to ensure that they become obedient citizens.

But that is not all. Due to its use of abstract words that can be interpreted in any manner any nation chooses, the article causes confusion.

For example, under 26.1 it speaks about “merit”. But how do you measure merit? Is it grades given by teachers who may like or dislike a child? Do you go purely by the factual data of the hard sciences and mathematics or do you include those topics that include creative writing or art – and which cannot be objectively graded? Or do you consider as deserving merit those students that obediently repeat what they are told without thinking outside the box? So, if I am the ruler of a country that believes in teaching children how to use automatic weapons, I can claim that I educate my children according to the guidelines of the declaration, as I consider that a merit.

And under 26.2, the Declaration states that education shall include the UN values that are intended to promote understanding, tolerance and friendship for all racial and religious groups in the name of peace. Yet if education is about teaching mores and social skills and schools are state (or private) institutions that represent the culture (beliefs and customs) of the society they are in, they cannot simultaneously teach that everybody else’s beliefs are also valid.

Teaching the three Rs is pretty straight forward in the sense that there are certain rules to learning language or arithmetic and therefore they do not rely on the beliefs or customs of a culture, but once you talk more general knowledge this becomes controversial, as exemplified by the rise in arguments and law suits with regard the teaching of Christian beliefs versus teaching Darwinian evolution.

When we consider education as the teaching of the moral values of the state, we are accepting it as having preferences. You cannot teach one set of values as correct and simultaneously say that people who don’t believe that also deserve respect. This is something that happens, not just in schools and universities, but everywhere. People have adopted words like “equality” – which originated to mean equal rights, not “identical” – and “tolerance”, but they cannot put action to their words.

The writers if the declaration, having just come out of the Second World War, clearly promote a set of values intended to maintain peace with regard racial and religious beliefs, but without the realization that one’s personality type influences one’s ethical values, learning styles, manner of responding to the environment, level of conformity, individuality, scalability, as well as the way they interpret the abstract words the declaration is filled with.

My point is that “the human personality” (26.2) does not exist – unless you believe that all people are psychological clones of each other – so that each human being has its own ethical values (regardless of those of this family, school, culture or nation), which means that if those do not conform to those of the state (or school), they are not treated with tolerance, and “parents have the prior right to choose” (26.3) does not apply if the state promotes only one set of moral values, especially there where home education is prohibited or subject to limitations, or where home-education is not an option due to the need for the parent(s) to have a job for financial reasons.

My goal in life and with my writing is to alert people to the discrimination that occurs not based on external factors, such as religion, race or gender, but on the personality traits each person is born with and that cannot be changed.

The idealism of the declaration is in the number of abstract words that have no meaning other than that of the person reading and interpreting them according to his own beliefs, which allows schools to demand that individual children give up their inborn ethic for the morals of the group and nations to demand that families give up their beliefs for those of the state.

As a result, Article 26 of the Human Rights Act fails to respect inborn individual personality differences and thereby the human rights they say “everyone” is entitled to.