THOSE who have been sufficiently inter
ested to study the general schedule of rights which I have formulated in previous notes, may have been struck by one omission. I have said nothing about a " Right to Education," and that is something that is contained in nearly all similar efforts of this kind which have been made in recent times. My chief reason for saying nothing under this head is that I do not see how a natural right can exist to something of which nobody seems able to give an exact definition. Until we know exactly what is meant by education and what its purpose is supposed to be, it seems to me ridiculous to talk about a right to it.
Of course, modern compulsory State education is something with a very specific character and within certain limits a fairly specific purpose, but its predominant characteristic is certainly this—that it is a form of conscription.
I an: not sneering at modern State education and, unlike certain Catholic writers, I now believe that it is on the whole an immense source for good. But I think I can foresee a time, and that may not be very far off, when the really vital question will be not whether there is a right to education but whether there is a duty of submitting to it—which within certain limits I think there is.
I think it is well within the competence of the State to exact from its future citizens a certain standard of aptitude and to insist on their receiving a sort of elementgry training in citizenship. But I can also foresee circumstances arising, if our general civilisation happens to take a different sort of twist, when parents will consider these exactions to be a burden and a nuisance. It so happens that few people take that point of view at present, but they may well take it in the future. If they do, then talking of a right to education will sound very much like talking of a right to pay income tax, so that to include anything of this kind in my draft of the Chart would make it altogether too much the reflection of purely ephemeral trends.
In a recent broadcast discussion, one of the speakers very frankly and very honestly stated that one of the principal functions of modern edugation was to inculcate a greater refinement of manners and habit than was prevalent in many of the homes of the children and it is unfortunately all too true that many slum-dwellers after years of human debasement are quite incapable of fitting themselves into a more civilised environment. If education really fits them for environment, and I daresay it does, it is doing an admirable job of work. But I cannot help asking what would happen when the job is done. What will happen when the next generation have been turned into the type of people the education authorities want to turn them into? Will not the occupation of the education authorities then be gone, or at any rate largely gone?