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The ‘Right’ to Education Is Bad

The United Nations ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ states:

Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.

To some, this specious quote may sound fantastic at first – it may give the impression that the UN wants no child left behind. But the effect is the opposite, as a ‘right’ to education hurts both children and others.

1. It’s a ‘right’ to enslave others

In this regard, the quoted article is similar to the one that precedes it, which grants even more ‘rights’ to people:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Healthcare, food, clothing, housing, social services, and so on, don’t grow on trees; someone has to provide them. The same applies to education: teachers have to be paid. If children had a right to education, they would have a claim to the labor and money of those who pay the teachers – the taxpayers.

Therefore, taken to its logical conclusion, a ‘right’ to education would give children (who are perfectly innocent in this mistake and do not want this anyway) a ‘right’ to the wallets of every taxpayer. This is nonsensical, but that’s a criticism of that ‘right’, not of the logical conclusion itself.

Philosopher Ayn Rand explains the problem by analyzing the Democratic Party platform of 1960, which is similar to the preceding quote and promises voters the rights to a job, food, clothing, and more. She says:

A single question added to each of the[se promises] would make the issue clear: At whose expense?

Jobs, food, clothing, recreation (!), homes, medical care, education, etc., do not grow in nature. These are man-made values — goods and services produced by men. Who is to provide them?

If some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labor.

A ‘right’ that curtails the rights of others is not a right at all. As she explains:

Any alleged “right” of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right.

No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as “the right to enslave.”


2. It’s not a ‘right’ but an obligation forced upon children

It gets worse. The ‘right’ to education is not just an unchosen obligation on taxpayers but also on the children themselves.

While ‘rights’ to food, clothing, medical care, etc., compel others to finance or produce them, they do not compel the rights holders to consume them. You may have a ‘right’ to medical care, but you cannot be forced onto the operating table.

Not so for the UN’s ‘right’ to education, which dooms every child to “compulsory”, “[e]lementary education”. It’s like force-feeding a Christmas goose by reference to its alleged right to food. In reality, the goose is stripped of its ability to turn down food. While the above “printing-press rights”, as Rand calls them, are typically of the sort ‘I have a right to food, so I can force you to feed me’, this other type of ‘right’ is an even greater perversion: it claims, in effect, that ‘you have a right to food, so I must force-feed you’.

The ‘right’ to education is of this more perverted kind: by definition, “compulsory” education means children have no right to turn it down, no way to escape it. The declaration of human ‘rights’ does not grant children a right but violates their rights. How did its authors not see this?

A ‘right’ that curtails one’s other rights is not a right, either.

The ‘right’ to education is a contradiction in terms – it chains children and adults together in mutual, cross-generational enslavement. The UN promises a guarantee of education but guarantees only misery.

What should education look like instead?

Those arguing against the ‘rights’ to food, housing, etc., are typically accused of wanting others to starve and be homeless, even though that does not follow. Likewise, when first learning about the emancipation of children, some inevitably clutch their pearls in horror and gasp: ‘Does this mean you do not want children to have an education?’ No, of course not. Those of us who take children seriously are not arguing that. We merely want no one to be forced to provide an education, nor do we want any children to be forced to receive one.

Even if you are open to these ideas, you may have succumbed to the old misconception that children will not learn unless forced to. Let me disabuse you of that notion. Children are natural learners, as evidenced by the knowledge they amass well before any compulsory education begins. Their language abilities alone provide proof of their extraordinary ability and willingness to learn. This process would continue if it weren’t forcibly shut down by teachers. The unwillingness people describe comes later, once children are forced to learn things they are not interested in, in which case they display a natural and healthy reaction to an unwanted, unchosen activity.

We need something better than a ‘right’ to education. We can again look to Rand for guidance, who references the American Declaration of Independence:

Observe, in this context, the intellectual precision of the Founding Fathers: they spoke of the right to the pursuit of happiness — not of the right to happiness. It means that a man has the right to take the actions he deems necessary to achieve his happiness; it does not mean that others must make him happy.


Any undertaking that involves more than one man, requires the voluntary consent of every participant. Every one of them has the right to make his own decision, but none has the right to force his decision on the others.


Man may or may not count getting an education among the “actions he deems necessary to achieve his happiness”. By “man”, Rand means ‘humans’, so children are already included. But let me make the application to children and education explicit by rephrasing those paragraphs and additionally addressing Christmas-goose ‘rights’:

Children have a right to the pursuit of education — not the right to education. It means that children have a right to take the actions they deem necessary to achieve the education they choose; it does not mean that others must educate them, nor that children must endure any education hoisted on them by others.

Once you phrase it in these terms, you see how unwanted education can only interfere with a child’s pursuit of knowledge, since such a pursuit is necessarily self-directed and consensual. It is precisely this right to the pursuit which the UN declaration strips of children, leaving them defenseless against indoctrination and authority.

For these reasons, the UN’s ‘right’ to education deserves to be singled out for special criticism and ridicule, as it is arguably the worst and most perverse of any of the ‘rights’ that the UN promotes.

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