Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Right to Literacy

Some Detroit Michigan students are suing Governor Snyder “charging that the State of Michigan has violated their right to literacy.” Right to literacy? How? Who is ultimately responsible for a person’s literacy? Even if a teacher is forced at gunpoint to teach children to read, will they all learn? Will they even show up to class? Detroit Public Schools has a truancy problem with almost 50 percent of its students chronically absent. Can’t learn if you’re not there.

And education is not something you’re born with or can be given to you. It’s something you build or develop – or not. Going deeper, how does one have a right to the gathering of knowledge, the cultivating of ability, the development of skills? There is no right to an education. There is only a responsibility to get an education, to work for an education, to teach your children so that they will value education and work for their own.

As the Talmud says, “Anyone who does not teach his son a skill or profession may be regarded as if he is teaching him to rob.” (Talmud Kiddushin 29a) Teach them as much as you can so that when they are not only ready but willing to do the difficult, sometimes tedious, but always rewarding work of learning.

A right? No. No one can give and no one can take away an education. There is only on way to get one: work for it. Spend the long hours at study or practice. There is no “magic bullet.” There are no short cuts. Turn off the TV, the video games, Facebook, etc. Pick up a book, a pencil, paper, and get busy. Do you have any books in your dwelling? Or do you spend your money on expensive gym shoes and electronic toys? Put your money where your “rights” are.

Can teachers and schools help? Absolutely. But don’t mistake going to school for getting an education, even if that school is a big time university. Millions have gone to school without getting an education. Some have spent their school days actively fighting against getting their own, and interfered with others who wanted to learn, thereby robbing them of needed learning. You may have met some of these idiots. Can they be sued for infringing on my children’s rights? (Of course, mostly my kids were in AP courses and didn’t have to deal with the idiots. The one class my one child had to take because it was the only one that fit into her schedule that wasn’t AP and that had some of the afore mentioned idiots, left her repeatedly angry until she figured out how to ignore them.)

Ray Bradbury said in a 2013 interview, “I didn’t go to college, but when I graduated from high school I went down to the local library and I spent ten years there, two or three days a week, and I got a better education than most people get from universities. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-eight years old.” Entitlement? Doesn’t sound like it to me. It’s funny how people who actually achieve something in life don’t wait for it to be handed to them because they’re “entitled” to it.

Eric Hoffer, another great mind who, rather than demand that he was entitled, worked as a longshoreman as he wrote his philosophical tracts. He too, spent many hours in the library and reading outside of the library. From his biography on The Eric Hoffer Project, “Through ten years as a migratory worker and as a gold-miner around Nevada City, Hoffer labored hard but continued to read and write during the years of the Great Depression. The Okies and the Arkies were the “new pioneers,” and Hoffer was one of them. He had library cards in a dozen towns along the railroad, and when he could afford it, he took a room near a library for concentrated thinking and writing.”

So go ahead and insist that you have a right to an education. Attack the government with lawsuits. Give statements to the newspapers. Protest. Seethe. Scream. Stamp your feet. Hold your breath until you turn blue. You will still be ignorant. Or you can pick up a book. Meet with friends to read and discuss the same book - not some trivial best seller, but maybe a classic or two. Explore the questions that have baffled mankind since the beginning of rational thought. Attach yourself to people who have the knowledge and skills that you want to learn. Then you can start your education.

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