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Political rhetoric falls short on real substance

A large, spirited crowd gathered on the Voorhees Mall yesterday at 2 p.m. to protest tuition hikes. Caught up in the chants, applause and occasional boos — particularly whenever a speaker mentioned Gov. Chris Christie — I felt quite proud to be a University student.

I must admit, I am not usually one for protests. However, the recent upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa have made me shirk my apathy in favor of tentative participation. I was swept up in it. At one point, I even found myself chanting along, "You can't raise our tuition without our permission" and so on. One particular chant took me sharply out of the moment: "Education is a right. Fight, fight, fight."

I have no qualm with the latter exclamation. Keeping tuition at a manageable level in the face of government irresponsibility and corporate meddling is a fight — and a difficult one at that. Rather, I take issue with the assertion, "education is a right."

What does it even mean to say that education is a right? No one chanting this phrase could give me an answer. What is a right? What does it mean to have one? Does someone or something give us rights, or are they something we just have?

Like those in the crowd, I have no answers to these questions. But that doesn't mean they can go unanswered. My only thought on the matter is that it is unlikely that education could be one of those unalienable rights that we are so accustomed to hearing about in the United States. Education, at best, might be some sort of weak, derivative constituent of the pursuit of happiness — though I am similarly unsure of what it means to even have this right.

Yes, I understand that "right" rhymes with "fight." I am not so pedantic that I cannot acknowledge that chanting, "Education is something that we all should have access to because it would be beneficial to the future of this country" would not get a crowd excited. But if those involved in the cause of affordable tuition are motivating their position by claiming that education is a right, it is certainly in their best interest to figure out what that means. To claim that something one is in favor of is a right, simply because one knows that we, as a culture, are sympathetic to talk of rights, is at best unproductive and at worst, disingenuous.


Austin Hennelly is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in philosophy with a minor in comparative literature.

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