Tuesday, March 27, 2012

United Nations supports parental rights!

Or at least it did, in its own way, in 1948. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights addresses education:
(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.
Read section 3 again. “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” What does that mean? Exactly what it says. States should not compel public school attendance.

Johannes Morsink, professor or of Political Philosophy at Drew University, explains the history of that very provision in his book The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent.
Article 26 (on education) is one of the articles most clearly shaped by the experience of [WWII]. This article has three paragraphs, a nuts-and-bolts paragraph that is a standard constitutional item, a goal-and-purpose paragraph, and a paragraph that gives parents a prior right in deciding what kind of education their children shall have. The second and third paragraphs were put in the article as a way of condemning what Hitler had done to Germany’s youth and of making sure that it would never happen again…. 
The War Crimes Report that the Secretariat had drawn up for the Human Rights Commission explained to the delegates, as if they needed to be told, that “‘in order to make the German people amenable to their will and to prepare them psychologically for war,’ the Nazis reshaped the educational system and particularly the education and training of German youth, imposed a supervision of all cultural activities, and controlled dissemination of information and the expression of opinion within Germany as well as the movement of Intelligence of all kinds from and into Germany.” The second and third paragraphs of Article 26 were written in direct reaction and opposition to this Nazi abuse of state power. Paragraph 2 of the article states: “Education shall be directed to the full development of 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.” 
The first draft of Article 26, paragraph 2 was placed on the drafting table by Bienfiled of the World Jewish Congress because his organization felt that there was a need to spell out both the goals and the spirit of educational institutions so as to avoid all kind of brainwashing the Nazi state had engaged in. Article 26’s third paragraph was added for the same reasons. Both the Dutch and the Lebanese delegations submitted amendments about parental rights. It being the shortest one, the Lebanese amendment was adopted after a vigorous discussion. The defense again was that the Nazis had usurped the prerogative of parents when they demanded that all children enroll in poisoned state-controlled schools, the paragraph was especially necessary because the word “compulsory” had been used in the first paragraph. [internal citations omitted]
Now, of course, care must always be exercised when dealing with international documents of this nature. States are sovereign entities, and thus, are and ought to be wary of any international institution telling them how to treat their citizens. Recognizing that, the UN Declaration is not a treaty and is not directly binding international law. It was drafted and intended to be aspirational.

However, as a moral and aspirational document, the UNDHR carries great weight in our post WWII world. That it took the time to protect parents’ rights to select the education of their children, in direct and intentional response to a state forcing children into the public schools, is a huge statement.
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