Irami Osei-Frimpong

Nov 24, 2021

3 min read

My Right to Your Education

If I have a right to be a soccer player, but you refuse to learn the rules of soccer, your ignorance becomes a problem for me exercising my rights. Now, I do not have a right to play soccer, but I do have the right to be a citizen, to form a labor union, and to enter into family relations.

These rights are realized through participating in certain institutions, and the exercise of my rights partially depends on a quality of generalized knowledge among the institution’s participants. This quality of knowledge does not determine universal agreement within the institution, but rather, this knowledge is a condition of debate and substantive disagreement. Furthermore, a worldview that is coherently formed in the absence of basic knowledge will militate against new information that requires a reconciliation with the old. If you have been taught certain pieties in school about what it means to be career and college ready, and none of them have included labor organizing, then that aspect of career development is going to seem an extraneous distraction, incoherent relative to everything else you’ve learned about the work world. There is a reason why it’s easier to change a house’s roof than it is to change the house’s foundation.

I spent a stretch in Corvallis, Oregon, and I asked around about why there were so few Black people in Oregon. The residents shrugged their shoulders and said that Black folks simply didn’t settle there. There was a mass ignorance among Oregon’s Whites that the state was founded as a White territory and banned Black people from buying land until 1926. That’s an important bit of history, if we are going to appreciate not only the racial limits of Oregon’s “progressive” political culture, but also if we are going have a productive national conversation about what Oregon’s residents owe to America’s Black people. Considering that so many of the wealth and resource flows and levers of social power were established when Oregon was explicitly anti-Black, without substantive intervention, it’s possible that Black Americans will be locked out of full participation in Oregon’s social and political life, insofar as the norms were established under this regime:

Early 20th Cent. Portland

The situation with labor education is particularly disturbing because students are fed so much content around what it means to be career and college ready that they have a coherent ideology around work in America that excludes the rights and responsibility to secure institutions of worker power, like unions.

What is important is that the quality of education I am advocating for is going to be politically charged, but it is not going to determine the outcome of the student’s thought. Rather, it will be an education into competently having the substantive debate. It’s an education into the conditions of institutional participation.

The Democrats have an aversion to arguing for political content in public education. The Republicans don’t have a problem saying, “No union talk in schools”; Dems can’t respond because they can’t pretend union history is “just science." There is no hiding behind the veneer of scientific objectivity, which is the Democrats’ default position.

To be clear, the family is an institution of freedom and the immediacy of family relations means that parents do have a vested interest in what their children learn. But the public administration of justice requires that the content of a citizen’s and civilian’s education not be overdetermined by the particular sphere of right that is family rights. While family should properly have a say in the content of the compulsory schooling of their children, since the family members have to immediately deal with the student as a family member, those of us who have to deal with the student in other institutional affiliations, e.g., fellow citizen in the project of self-government, or civilian in the project of participating in civil society, also have a vested and rightful interest in the compulsory schooling of that student. That student importantly someone’s child, but that student is not merely someone’s child. The student is going to be someone’s work colleague, someone’s neighbor on the Home Ownership Association, someone’s fellow citizen. If a neighborhood parent had a moral opposition to their kid having driver’s education, I still have an interest in making sure that the student knows the rules of the road because my freedom depends on the safe roads that we all share.