It may be hard to find a bigger word than universal. The universe is infinite and infinitely curved back onto and into itself in an infinite number of ways. When we consider the human condition in the universe there are certain self-evident rights that are universal. The articulation of these rights has a long history and agreement is far, far from universal. One attempt with international standing was published by the United Nations after passage by the General Assembly 10 December 1948. Member nations of the UN have a very uneven adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This may be the most severe indictment of education as it has been practiced.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes Article 26, which in abbreviated form is simply a “Right to Education.” The details are devilish. The full statement does not refer to schools, classes, teachers, textbooks, tests or technology. However, in the nearly universal practices of education and in its traditions globally, all or nearly all of these are characteristic of education. It is time to rethink education as a universal right.

This may be particularly true with regard to the universal declaration that all human beings are born free and equal. That declaration is nuanced and worthy of questions that entail dialogue in order for meaning to emerge in a way that leads to meritorious action on the part of humanity writ large.

First humans are born not free but dependent. Unlike many other animals, humans are unable to survive without parental support, which means for the most basic part, nourishment from the body of the mother. We are mammals in a fully biological sense. Dependency endures from the moment of conception inside the body of the mother until such time as a mother decides to begin weaning an infant to other nourishment. Being “born free” is poetic. Freedom is an acquired state of mind for which education may or may not support.

Education is a planetary imperative for human life no less than is ecology. Environmental dependence is universal for life as it exists on earth and as it must exist anywhere in the the universe. Life itself is dependent if it is to be self-perpetuating in its organization and metabolism. An ecology of education exists that is universal. Learning, however we may define it,  is ubiquitous. It is the direction and intensity for learning that is diverse. Diversity is an investment in stability but is rarely honored by those who make education a focus of their lives and livelihood. Rather education is conceived as a qualifier for sameness; the opposite of diversity. The result is a lack of dignity and a violation of a basic human right that is said to be equality in dignity.

Dignity and equality are rendered in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). All human beings, UDHR states, are endowed with reason and conscience. They then should act towards (sic) one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Dignity and rights are linked as free and equal properties of all human beings. The  endowment is universal and unattributed to a supreme being or a creator, but nevertheless recognizes a spirit and is part of a universal relationship, that is mistakenly referenced as brotherhood.

Relationships are a universal part of humanity, our ecology, education and our economy. It is the management of these relationships that a declaration of human rights must be about. Our relationships are certainly intellectual, involving our reason and consciousness of the planet on which we are dependent for life. We are, first and foremost, material beings living in a material universe and our brains reflect material needs of food, water, air, shelter, and safety essential for physical survival. Yet our relationships extend beyond reason to the mindful constructs of pleasure and pain as well as a spirit that assures self-perpetuation for some finite physical time.

Human rights have to be stated in universal terms because humanity has heaped upon existence so much that is inhuman. All the violations of what are intellectually recognized as universal rights are the result of inhumanity of humans toward one another that advance either pleasure or pain or ignore our universal spirituality; a spirit for living — a will to live — that we share with all life. We humans almost universally adopt religion and accept dogma for reasons that so far defy understanding but should be honored as a worthy and dignified quest. Perhaps it is our time on this beautiful planet to ask with intention and intensity the universal and enduring questions of our human existence. Through those questions we may stumble forward as a species to a new understanding of universal rights.


© Bruce Lindgren 2017.

Original drafted on September 1st, 2017.