The Right to Education? (Pt. 3)

Last time I introduced the participants (so to speak) in our discussion about the right to education. Both participants come from pretty distinct backgrounds, nevertheless they share the judeo-christian tradition as their basis for thinking about this tough issue. Today lets take a look at what they actually have to say about education.

The Issue: The Failing Education System

The evidence that our modern education system in America is failing is quite ample. Grudem cites a study by Abagail and Stephan Thernstrom which reports the “glaring and tragic failure of American schools to educate children, especially black and Hispanic children.”[1] According to Grudem, the lack of educational skills perpetuates a permanent economic underclass in our society.[2] However, the issue is larger than mere economic inequality, this is a racial and justice issue. Grudem recognizes this, and says that if we are ever to achieve racial reconciliation in America there is a need to reform our educational system.[3]

Walzer notes that education is basic to every human society, that is, that every human society educates its children. However, what kind of education a child receives varies from society to society, in other words “education is always relative to the society for which it is designed.”[4] For instance, a child living in the Amazon in A.D. 1345 will receive an education very different from a child living in Europe in A.D. 2013. However this does not negate the fact that education is fundamental to a society, because education is intimately tied in to how future members of a society will fit in. Keeping this in mind, Walzer claims that education has mostly been plagued by domination perpetuated by the elite of the society.[5] In the past, and to a certain extent in the present schools have been elite institutions dominated by birth and blood, wealth, gender, or religious and political office. It is precisely because domination has plagued education and schools that some members of society have been denied a proper education. Walzer believes that it is in the best interest of the entire society that all of the future members of society are taught the basic skills necessary for active citizenship in that society.[6] He notes that one place in which society has failed to teach the basic skill necessary for active citizenship is in the ghetto and slum schools.  He says that in these schools “children are prepared, and prepare one another, for ghetto and slum life.”[7] Thus they are doomed to live a life of passive citizenship within their society.

There is plenty of evidence that there is something wrong with our education system in the United States. Not only do professional scholars agree with this, but it in my experience students at Fuller Seminary believe this as well. A while ago I interviewed two Fuller students, Jamal Scarlett and Randy Demary, and asked them a range of question regarding education in the United States. Mr. Scarlett, who is now an Anglican priest, told me that he thoroughly believes that “schools and communities have failed to educate and produce fair citizens.” Randy Demary, who did an MDiv with an emphasis on Christian ethics, believes that the failure to educate children is a justice issue. According to him the fact that children receive “drastically different educational experiences” is a justice issue especially because the “difference often falls along racial lines.”[9] Ron Sider, whom I cited in earlier posts, would agree with this statement, he says that “schools serving our poorest children, especially poor black and Latino children in our big cities, are simply not working.”[10] The threat is clear and is not up for debate, however what is up for debate is how this threat is to be addressed and resolved. This is the topic of tomorrow’s blog post.


[1] Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 253.

[2] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 254.

[3] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 256.

[4] Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 197.

[5] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 201.

[6] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 206.

[7] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 222.

[8] Sider, Just Generosity, 193.

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