On April 23, a federal appeals court ruled that American children have a right to a sound basic education. At the very least, a right to literacy.
We know, of course, that this is very likely to be overturned in the future. We understand the politics of it. But let’s put that aside for a moment to talk about how much sense this idea makes, and how good it is for everyone.
Because in the world we live in, the world we’ve created, a sound education isn’t just a right, it’s a necessity. Our world depends on it.
There are increasingly few jobs in the world that one can do without an education. Basic literacy is essential at this point: to be illiterate is to be forced to the economic margins. That’s why, as the Wall Street Journal noted last year, even factory floors are demanding workers with “white collar” educations. That alone should be reason enough to provide everyone with an education: surely we are responsible for giving children who enter the world the tools with which to engage in it?
But the other side of this equation is just as compelling: employers need educated workers. Without a sufficiently educated workforce, it is simply not possible for many kinds of companies, and even industries, to function. This is why so many companies choose to headquarter in areas with highly educated workforces – even though it is so much cheaper and more convenient to be almost anywhere else. It’s not just that the tech industry needs coders – it’s that as every industry becomes more dependant on new technologies; as disruption becomes a constant and the ability to adapt quickly is a key element of success; as the economy becomes less siloed and more and more jobs requires a wide range of critical thinking skills, then having an educated workforce is a need, not an option. Without the workers who can handle these things, our modern economy is paralyzed.
So it’s not just that every person has a right to an education – it’s that our economy needs every person to be educated. Education is a human right, and making sure that everyone has an education is a vital economic development strategy.
Colleges and universities educate a lot of people – but much in the way that we needed to develop free public education for all students, we also need “public education options” for adults looking to step up into the workforce. Too many people, especially working families who can’t afford to go into debt, are stuck in place. Too many companies can’t find the educated workers they need to enhance and expand their businesses.
This is a solvable problem.
Every student needs a sound basic education, and people who want to advance in the workforce should be able to get the education they need – not just for their own sake, but for the economy’s.