The recent court ruling in Detroit that literacy is not a basic human right
has stirred considerable interest and debate throughout the nation. It is particularly fitting that this discussion has happened as the nation celebrated the adoption of the Declaration of Independence 242 years ago.
The court case is primarily focused on the right to a quality education and the inherent challenges of public education funding. However, the issue of literacy as a human right is equally compelling.
While the court case will no doubt proceed further in the legal system and draw out a number of important funding issues, the question of literacy as a human right is equally vital.
The Declaration of Independence was clear on the human rights that our country’s founders felt must be protected for all. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” are emblazoned in our American psyche. While literacy is not articulated, it is clear that our founding fathers would have agreed that literacy is critical and necessary to achieving both liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A democracy does not survive without an informed and literate citizenry. The pursuit of happiness, including work, family, and community, requires a literate population able to contribute to its own well-being. The literacy requirements today are far in excess of what our founding fathers’ constituents would have required.
Is literacy by itself a fundamental human right? Perhaps not. But it is clearly THE essential element to two of the three founding human rights in the Declaration of Independence.
As such we owe it to our heritage as a free nation to consider the acquisition of literacy as vital to the effort to support fundamental human rights as outlined many years ago.
Literacy remains as important as ever and will remain as a right and need for the nation and the world in the effort to achieve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.