Education is a right provided by a social contract


We can all agree — as administrators and as students, as Democrats and as Republicans, as protesters and as members of the board of trustees — that education is a good thing.

However, these are difficult times, and convincing our state’s leaders of the merits of our case will require facts and figures, not “spirit fingers” and “human microphones.”

I respect the sincerity of student protesters, but, like my good friend Anthony Dent, a conservative voice on campus and columnist for The Daily Tar Heel, I would prefer a more reasoned discourse.

Indeed, if Anthony had limited his most recent op-ed on March 16 to an appeal for a more thoughtful debate, there would be no need for this letter. He argued not only that protesters should be more reasonable, however, but that education is not a right.

That is where he is wrong.

He tells us that education is “a right to another’s labor.” Yet education is no different than the police force, which protects our rights to life and property with the labor of police officers, who are paid by the labor of taxpayers.

Are we, then, to accept that we have no right to be protected by police from murderers and thieves?

No, because neither education, nor police protection is based on “a right to another’s labor.” Instead, both are based on a social contract, in which everyone offers some of their labor to everyone else, in exchange for benefits.

Education, police protection, health care and access to a fair and impartial court system are just some of the rights made possible by that social contract.

Education is one of the most important rights, because it is fundamentally necessary for people to obtain opportunity, understand their world and govern themselves.

In the words of Kofi Annan: “Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”

Wilson Parker ’15

Thanks for reading.

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