Children Have a Right to be Educated?

by Kyle Lehman


In 1852, Massachusetts rallied the troops for a headlong charge down the compulsory education path. Since that time, America has been functioning on the basis that every child has a right to an education.

One hundred fifty years downstream, we must ask ourselves where “education as a child’s right” has taken us. This 27-year veteran and many other public-school teachers like Kerstin Westcott have one response to this question. I find their experiences nearly irrelevant to mine. With that said, we should not be ignorant of their perspective since Anabaptist culture in areas outside of education has already proven to tag along behind American culture. In fact, we are increasingly skilled at tagging along with our newfound technological literacy.

I would like to present several ways that the “education as my right” perspective may manifest itself in our own culture. I recognize that I am sort of preaching to the choir, but If I may humbly do so, I would also like to respond to each manifestation.

Manifestations of the belief that education is a right
(overstated for clarity’s sake)

Observations

“My child has a right to be in school because I’m paying tuition. I could send them to public school for free.”

From that perspective, a community’s teachers should also be paid the average wage of the community’s business men and tuition should probably be higher. Any discussion that leverages teacher pay or tuition fails to remember that we are in this together.

Post-High School Expectations vs. High School Expectations:

Expectations for-post high school performance are distinctly different from expectations placed on high school performance. It is OK to fire a 19-year-old for pathetic performance on the job, but an F on the report card is surely a result of a bad teacher, pathetic school, or broken system.

Society recognizes that a job is a privilege rather than a right, but it does not view a good high school education in the same way. A school should nurture a young person in the ways of life far more gently than a post-high school job. However, if the gulf between the expectations grows too wide, the parents arguing that high school is a waste of time are probably right.

Teachers are partly at fault here. It is uncomfortable to see a student fail. I look for ways to avoid giving an “F” on an assignment.

A full life is a gift that requires the best from all of us. High school is the same. We should not use “real life” as a term to describe life after high school. Any high school education worth its salt is as much “real life” as any experience after school.

Educator attempting to convince a 16 year old to find a way to finish high school, even if it is against their parent’s will.

This communicates to a young person that they have rights that trump their parent’s authority. Some parents do not support finishing high school. The educator should take this up with the parent rather than the student.

“We have a right to be included even if we don’t like or support the rules:”

For many people, Conservative Anabaptism is now presented as an option on a smorgasbord of many great ways to follow Christ. Some believe Anabaptist schools should teach Anabaptist values, but not make rules that ask too much of a student in the same arena. They feel it is especially harsh for a school to exclude someone just because they don’t want to follow the rules.

Teaching a value without the freedom to ask the pupil to live out that value is like paying the rich to give to the poor. In the end, you communicate the opposite of the value you set out to communicate.

Our schools should be able to assume that it is a blessing and a privilege to live out Anabaptist values. Any parent who wants their child to learn Anabaptist values should naturally want help holding their child accountable to living out those values. The disconnect between these desires is growing with new parenting styles, and it is communicating the opposite of the intended value.

Children missing chunks of school for vacations and hobbies

A clear communication to our children that our vacations and hobbies are a much greater blessing than the gift of an education. “You have a right to an education and can demand it on your own terms.” A community should decide together on the terms, and patrons and educators alike should honor and submit to those terms. Most employers would not put up with the same practices regarding vacations and hobbies as some parents expect schools to have. (See the second manifestation above).

Conclusion

While the Bible speaks often of gifts and blessings, it is nearly silent on the idea of rights. Scripture presents life itself as a gift rather than a right. As Anabaptists, we should generously offer the gift of education to our communities but refuse to accept the worldly ideal of education as a child’s right.

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CONTRIBUTOR: Kyle Lehman

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