I begin by discussing the right to happiness and the right to the pursuit of happiness; two of the eight stated rights of the Declaration of Independence. Both rights give necessary context to the topics of reducing student debt and providing a free lifetime education.
What does happiness mean? If it is so elusive that we need to chase it, then happiness must be different for each individual. Philosophers and psychologists and lexicographers have given so many different views on the meaning(s) of happiness, that one definition is inadequate. Despite its ambiguity, the Declaration of Independence and many state constitutions proclaim happiness as an important goal.
Happiness and the right to pursue it are not found in the Constitution. But the Ninth Amendment reminds us that the people have retained rights, not written in the Constitution that are not to denied or disparaged because of their absence from the Constitution. Unfortunately, of the eight “inalienable” rights of the Declaration, only one, in diluted form, is included in the Constitution (Article Five). The constitutional omission of the Declaration’s other seven rights has, in effect, meant that the people have been denied the benefits of these rights in violation of the Ninth Amendment. Squeaky wheels get the grease. History demonstrates that If a fundamental right is absent from the Constitution (e.g., safety or equality) it will be ignored or resisted.
No one contests that Thomas Jefferson borrowed the phrase, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness from John Locke, the seventeenth century English philosopher. So what did Locke mean by the right to pursue happiness? He opined that the pursuit of happiness was not just the pursuit of self-gratification, but also the search for a higher truth. He believed that the “true and solid” pursuit of happiness was the foundation of liberty because it freed us from our lower, or “imaginary” attachments. “The stronger ties we have to an unalterable pursuit of happiness in general, which is our greatest good, and which, as such, our desires always follow, the more we are free from any necessary determination of our will to any particular action.”
What I take from Locke’s quotation, is that the pursuit of happiness is a search for the truths that bring out humanity’s greatest good which, in turn, affects our desires and our way of life. This belief sounds like the premise for a liberal education; an education that assumes there is always more to be discovered in our continuing search for individual and societal improvement. Therefore, I equate the right to the pursuit of happiness with the right to an education—the kind of education which would allow us to make choices and judgments beyond simple self-gratification.
The Right to a Free Lifetime Education
The Declaration’s right to pursue happiness is the right to an education; a lifetime right, clearly implied by the word, “pursuit.” (This comment may be redundant as all rights are lifetime rights.) Happiness is not a situation where you stop at the first level of fulfillment. You are born with multi-level and multi-faceted potentials. may enjoy being a lifeguard in high school, but your wants and needs change throughout life. Say, in your twenties you become a firefighter. In your forties you decide to become a teacher and, in your sixties, a poet and a musician. To accomplish those goals, education and training are indispensable. If all citizens are to have the potential for lives of varied work, discovery of newly realized knowledge, insights, potentials, and continued self-development, our government must provide a free lifetime education.
We have tolerated a system of government which affords a free system of education through high school, but, without having the right to an education enshrined in the Constitution, we have aborted a citizen’s lifetime right to an education–the right to pursue happiness.
The right to a lifetime education has become increasingly important due to the profusion of rapidly changing technology. Of what value is a higher college or university degree, without continuing education, when knowledge learned just a few years earlier becomes outmoded?
I taught continuation high school for eight years. Many of my students came from dysfunctional families, and in many respects were on their own. Many of these children were not given the assistance they would have needed to stay up with the majority of other students in elementary school. As a result, they were promoted to the next grade level without ever developing competence in their school work.
Many of my former students will work through the problems that were foundational to their lack of academic competence and by their twenties, be ready to apply their intellect to higher learning. But society does not provide them with a free opportunity to learn subject matter which will enable them to work at more interesting and skilled jobs. Is it fair to leave these citizens behind without the opportunity to replenish their education and reignite the hope that they can meaningfully change their lives?
How can we afford a free continuing education for every citizen? Obviously, a free lifetime education will not mean that every person is entitled to attend a brick and mortar campus. However, tightly administered classes via internet with augmentation by teachers when necessary, will make it feasible. We will have to change spending priorities as well. At a federal level, that will necessarily mean that we must reprioritize our national goals. We will, for example, need to reduce military spending. We must ask ourselves, do we need military spending of an amount greater than the combined military spending of all the countries of the world?
If our country were to recognize the right to a lifetime education, then virtually all student debt would vanish. Until that time, how can student debtors reduce their debt or come up with a feasible payment schedules? More bankruptcy courts are giving relief as to amount owed and revision of payment schedules; so filing for bankruptcy can still help improve a student debtor’s financial situation.
When Congress amended the bankruptcy law to make it nearly impossible for students to absolve themselves from student debt, it ignored the fact that students are not much different from their business counterparts who are allowed to shake off old debts and begin anew. Students with student loans are investing in themselves as businesses. They are improving their knowledge and skills in order to get a good income-producing job of their choice. Is that much different from a business which takes out a loan in order to make more money? We should revisit the bankruptcy issue with Congress to amend or repeal part of the law so that student debtors are given equal protection of the law and their debts are treated no differently from others.
The Right to Happiness
If the right to the pursuit of happiness represents educational rights, what then is the right to happiness? I believe that life is based on desire. Our fundamental rights are our basic desires. The goal of society and government ideally could be the same: to secure and encourage the human rights of workers and citizens. If we were to live in a world where a nation’s goal would be to give the opportunity for every person to achieve what they want, the accomplishment of that goal would be individual and societal happiness. And, if happiness could be achieved, only those nations securing and encouraging all rights of its citizens could make it possible.
If we are to become a happy society, then one of the first steps to take is to join a coalition of organizations of diverse interests whose prime objective will be to persuade the legislatures of 34 states to apply to Congress for an open Article Five Convention; where seven of the eight rights of the Declaration can be proposed as constitutional amendments. The addition of these seven rights to the Constitution will give us a foundation for a government based on all rights of the people. Of course, that begs the question: How do we determine when a government is securing and protecting all rights of the people?
Next: Boaz’s Blog 009. A Comprehensive Body of Rights for Government and Society
If you found this essay provocative, you will find Boaz’s book, Seven Rights for Citizen Slackers, revolutionary. Expected publication date: October, 2016. (Galley proof currently being reviewed by author.) Download here 3 Free Chapters