Children’s Bill Of Rights – The Right to EducationThursday, May 3rd, 2012
The following is part of a series of articles on the rights and responsibilities of children and of families. On our site, we’ve published a Children’s Bill Of Rights, with all of the sections in the bill. You can take a look at Children’s Bill of Rights.
(To read additional articles about Children’s Rights and the specific rights recommended in the Children’s Bill of Rights, look through this blog, and at Homeschool Hows & Whys.)
Every child has the right to a thorough education to be tailored around the child’s evolving interests, skills, and needs. Every child has the right to learn about subjects that interests him. Every child has the right to work to develop skills that interest him.
Every child has the right to reject excessive study time, or excessive demands in regards to study. Every child has the right to reject the study of subjects which the child feels are not productive for him, within reason.
I don’t believe that most adults would argue against their own child’s need and right to receive a “quality education”. We do not often agree, though, on what a “quality education” exactly is. And we sometimes do not agree on the need for other people’s children to receive an education…at least not at our expense.
These are separate issues, though they do intertwine. The issues are 1) What would comprise a quality education; and 2) Should civilization be responsible for making certain that every child receives one.
Let’s take the first question up. And to answer it, we must agree on one important fact – the education we’re discussing belongs to and is for the child. The child will be able to use it (or not) to face the world, survive, and perhaps to improve conditions for himself and others as he grows into adulthood. The education he will receive will be useful to him, or it will not. But it should not be an education designed to be perfect for his mom or dad, his teacher, his future employer, or for anyone other than the student.
Each child will live or die, prosper or struggle, make the world a better or worse place, largely determined by what they know and what they can do. What a person knows and what he can do is largely a result and function of education. So when we talk about educating a child, we are talking about no less than designing the way his future is very likely to go. In determining what should be included and excluded from such an education, such a “mapping of the future” for that individual, we should make as our paramount consideration that particular child.
As we grow up, we each of us develop strengths and handicaps, interests and skills, dislikes and mistrusts. This is a large part of the maturation process. But for some reason, “standardized” education today, particularly as it is mandated in public schools, refuses to take any of this into account. The education provided in most educational institutions is “cookie-cutter” education. It’s “one size fits all”. It’s “national standards”. And it has little or nothing to do with the individual student and his potentials.
There is nothing so powerful as potential realized. The history books are filled with men and women who each had some overdriving interest, and who developed it until it shone like Venus in the night sky. (Venus is the brightest “star”, really a planet, obviously.) Almost every advance mankind has known in religion, politics, science, the arts, you name it, has come from some bright and driven individual living up to their potential. But institutional education today cannot alter its shape for each student, not with 20-40 students in a classroom. They have forced themselves into an education cul-de-sac, and cannot find their way back out to the highway where all the motion is happening. I’m afraid, given their views, they never will.
This entire Bill of Rights is based along one premise –the individual is potentially of infinite value. I believe that helping a child pursue and realize his own interests is the wisest investment a family or a civilization can make. It is wise for the child, as it helps guarantee a real future for him. He will be doing the things he loves, and is far more likely accordingly to have a fulfilled and accomplished life. It is wise for the family, as they are helping prepare their young to take a place of responsibility backed by ability and (hopefully) integrity. This not only gets the child out from “under foot” and the family manse, but speaks proudly of the parenting that was done. It is wise for civilization, if one understands our history in the slightest, to develop the fullest potential in each young person. They will be the future contributors and leaders, or the future drag.
What, then, would be the best educational course to take with each child? Well, first, that path must be elastic. It must be responsive to the interests and needs, the developing skills or antipathies of that particular student. If a child expresses an interest in something – anything, just about – that interest should be fed, fanned, explored and developed. When and if the child loses interest in that subject, well, so be it. We’re looking for whatever really sparks, whatever holds his attention and leads him happily into understandings and skills.
Conversely, if a child clearly hates a subject – and assuming one has made a reasonable effort to make certain that the child does at least truly understand what that subject is so that he knows what he’s rejecting – well, that subject and its study should not be enforced. Yes, a child should be exposed to as many subjects as possible, and to a reasonable degree. But such exposure becomes enforced when a child understands but dislikes the subject. At that point, enforcement of study will lead to hatred of all study. I’ve seen this happen many times.
When allowed to spend the bulk of his time on subjects that have and hold his interest, the student will be far more likely to enjoy his education, deepen it, and to build something he’ll be able to make good use of in years to come. It’s pretty simple math. When we hate a certain subject as adults, we discard it – but we expect our children to “do what we say, not what we do” and learn about stuff they could not care less about. This is destructive in the long and short term of a child’s education.
Education is for the child, and should be structured around his developing interests as he gets older. Early education might specialize in developing essential skills like reading. It might also introduce the student to as many subjects as possible, in a coordinated and careful search for those subjects that the student feels passion for. Then, as the child matures, that education should be re-tasked and targeted to his interests.
To question #2. Is it civilization’s job to make certain that every child receives this sort of education. Obviously, a caring parent will want something like the education described above to happen for their child. But should we care about the other guy’s child in the same way?
Most religions would tell you “yes”, you are your brother’s keeper, and that admonition would not stop at your brother but would obviously include his children. On a cultural level, it is patently to our advantage to see to it that every child meets something close to their potential. We all benefit from it! But does this mean that mandated, government-controlled education is the answer. Afraid not, folks. This failed approach cannot vary from child to child. Instead of assisting each independent student in meeting his potential, institutional education as seen at its absolute worst in our public schools has a crippling tendency to treat each child as a part of a huge system, one that thoroughly discourages individuality or individual interests and accomplishments.
So how can “civilization” meet the goal of seeing that every child receives a “quality education” which exposes and develops that child’s potential, if not through mandatory public schooling? That is a big question. I have authored several books answering it, and there are many posts on our blogs addressing it as well. In short, I believe in many form of private education, including homeschooling, homeschool groups, specialized tutoring centers, special interest clubs, leagues and organizations; and to a lesser extent private schools where national and other “standards”, grading, grade levels and labeling are not employed.
The point is that this can be done. And civilization must find ways to accomplish it, if we are to survive.