Friday, January 24, 2014

An Important Insight On Human Rights For Parents and Educators

In a column of “Living Philosophies” perhaps it is not inappropriate to consider a little genuine highbrow philosophy from real philosophers occasionally.  I have been reading Immanual Kant’s little book/essay On Education.  I have been extracting and annotating some of the things that are important to me.  I will have occasion to refer to a number of these things in the days ahead, but today I want to remark briefly on what impacted me as a rather stunning, if obvious, insight about human rights.
Kant is discussing the education of children and says the following:
“Again, we see the advantage of public education in that under such a system, we learn to measure our powers with those of others, and to know the limits imposed upon us by the rights of others.”   [Immanuel Kant, On Education,  translated by Annette Churton, (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2003), p. 29, emphasis added.]
As you can see by the emphasis I have added, the phrase “the limits imposed upon us by the rights of others” greatly impressed me.  We live in a day when individualism reigns supreme.  Consequently, in discussions of human rights much emphasis is given to “my” rights and the limits those rights impose upon you.  Women argue for the right to abort a fetus if they do not want to bear children.  They have a right to engage in sexual intimacy for pleasure and abort the undesirable biological consequences.  The rights of the defenseless child are trumped by the rights of the mother.

For Kant human rights are a two-sided coin.  He asserts that in society part of our education as humans is to learn what limits are placed on our individual rights by the rights of others. Our rights are not total or absolute.  They have limits and those limits are at the border of the other person’s rights.  This is something we seem to only give lip-service to in modern education.  We are fond of saying that your right of expression ends where my nose begins, but the emphasis is on my rights and your limits, not on my limits and your rights.  The “me” generation has almost no conception of the rights of others and the limits those impose upon themselves.

I agree with Kant, this is a principle which needs to be taught to every child as part of his or her education about the subject of rights.  It should be reinforced through middle and high school and even into college. Because there are boundaries and limits placed on human rights, agreement on those limits and borders is not easy to achieve.  However, we could go a long way in illuminating this difficult issue if more thought and effort was given to teaching, examining, and discussing both sides of the issue equally.  But then it would not be the "me" generation, would it?  It might be the "you" generation, or at the very least the "us" generation. Not bad options in my opinion.

Let's think together again, soon.

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