Everyone has the right to education… Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages… Elementary education shall be compulsory.
If you think this sounds like something written by Americans for Americans, you might wish you had paid more attention in your 12th grade civics class. Of course, odds are you may not have been among the less than 25 percent of students who passed a basic examination at proficient or above level.
Those three lines are from the beginning of a document entitled Resolution 217. The resolution is from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted on December 10, 1948, by the United Nations General Assembly at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France.
But you don’t have to feel too bad if you didn’t know. Fewer than 20 percent of liberal-arts colleges in the United States include a course in history or government as part of their graduation requirements. So much for understanding much of anything about how our government works.
Our Founding Fathers Understood The Value Of Knowledge
As a nation de-prioritizes education, it risks giving rise to a government more dependent on growth and financial manipulation than knowledge. Ignorance and indifference can only foster more of the same. Our founding fathers were well aware of the fundamental truth that knowledge is the cornerstone of self-governance.
Thomas Jefferson and his nation-building colleagues cautioned against classifying any group of people based on color, ethnic background, religion, education level or any other factor deemed unacceptable. For membership in what would become one of the most powerful and diverse societies in the history of the world, an individual would simply have to conform within the same parameters as anyone else.
While drafting the history-changing Declaration of Independence, they didn’t specify that the ‘Truths’ were designated for a specific class of individuals, but rather self-evident for a much broader cross-section of the population – the people.
Wisdom Lights The Path To Democracy
Education does more than pack a brain full of facts and figures. It engages the mind and enhances the soul. Knowledge builds awareness. Awareness nurtures wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge grown up.
In 1787, another founding father, James Madison, acknowledged the importance of education for a young America. Referring to guidelines set forth in the Northwest Ordinance, religion, morality, and knowledge were fundamentally important for a growing nation’s well-being. Listed in the document were words prioritizing schools, advocating that education shall forever be encouraged.
Decades later, Madison’s sentiments regarding the importance of knowledge still echoed in his philosophy and writing. He was firm in his support of intelligent power, stating that a populace must fortify themselves with information and awareness if they desired to live in self-governance.
The argument for education is powerful, informed, and rooted in the very character of our country. To stand idly by while generations of young people fall helplessly into educational obscurity, is an affront to the pillars of our democracy and stands in direct opposition to the wisdom of our forefathers and all they envisioned.
Illiteracy is not a chosen way of life. It is a lifestyle born of inequality, frustration and lack of positive expectations. Our country was founded and built on expectations. The educational system foreseen by those who understood the intrinsic need for literacy is in disarray, struggling to once again offer the promise of hope and opportunity to everyone.
With intelligent debate, we can light the fire of academic promise that will inspire and encourage each of us to assure education remains a fundamental right alongside Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. To do nothing is true ignorance.