Education is not a right

As a college professor, and before that as a student, I have never heard a student complain about his rights being violated because a class was cancelled. Nor have I ever heard a student thank a professor for protecting her rights by assigning a heavy workload. But, if there is a proposal to raise the interest rate on college loans, cries of rights violations are heard from the halls of Congress to every university and junior college in the nation. The claim that education, a college education, is a right confuses a right with an entitlement.

Quick, define right. Most of us can provide examples of rights, but hardly anyone can define what a right is or distinguish a right from an entitlement.

A right is anything that is constituent to my being. Reasoning, communicating, moving around, these are rights. I should be able to think and say what I want so long as it does not harm another. I don’t need a government to give me the capacity of speech or thought, but I do need the government to protect me from some brute who doesn’t think I should be able to think or speak freely.

This makes formal education not a right but an entitlement. This definition puts education on par with Social Security, not the First Amendment. This means the government can stop backing student loans or increase loan interest rates without violating anyone’s rights.

By any reasonable measure, a nation of educated people will be a better nation than one that is populated by uneducated people. But this does not transform education into a right; it simply makes it a choice. If we know the costs and benefits of education then we can debate whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

To say that everyone has a right to an education because it will help them move up the socioeconomic ladder is political pandering. You know what else will help someone move up the socioeconomic ladder? Being born into a well-connected family. So is it my right to have the government find me a new mom and dad? I’ll take the Romneys or the Clintons.

But even if I were to drop the argument that education is not a right and agree with the status quo that holds it to be a right, government funding of education is not protecting that right unless it can prove students are being educated at the institutions they attend. Loaning someone money to pay tuition is not protecting a right if there is nothing in place to make sure that education is what’s going on in the classroom. To say otherwise is to say college admission, and not education, is a right.

But that is exactly what politicians who are using the promise of low student loans are doing. They are promising low student loan rates because that’s what young voters want to hear. Students don’t want to hear a politician say the government is going to step in to make sure courses will become rigorous in order to make sure the right to an education is being protected.

This is an election year and this is what politicians do in an election year. They promise goods and services to people whose vote they need. Our declining education system is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, and throwing money at it is not the answer.

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