I want to talk about a little known document called the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities.
Although the Declaration of Human Rights is very well-known, and we often hear people or groups talking about their rights, we very rarely hear about this other document. While both texts are necessary to build better communities, some people misread the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and think of it in a selfish light; almost as if they think that this document was written to advance their personal ambitions and desires, and stop people getting in their way. The Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities makes this kind of thinking impossible. It may surprise you to know that you have already read it. It is runs between the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I would like to mention only two articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities today.
Let’s start with Article 26 which relates to education.
(1) Everyone in society has the responsibility to ensure that education is free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Everyone in a society has the responsibility to make sure kids go to school until they reach the school leaver age. You as a citizen of your country must insist that technical and professional education is made generally available to all and that higher education is equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Everyone in a society must make sure that education is directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Every person in society must ensure that education promotes understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and furthers the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a responsibility to ensure that all other parents have some choice in where they send their children to school.
Everyone in society can ensure that these things happen by holding their democratically elected governments to account.
I think you can see that even taking onboard this single article by itself is demanding. A correct response to the problem of responsibility for education might be to lower the school age to four, allowing parents to cut childcare costs, and providing greater equality of access to all groups in society. Or it might be a good idea to increase one to one literacy and numeracy programmes in schools so that all kids get a help up if they need it. Certainly these measures demonstrate a sense of responsibility that National Standards totally and utterly fails to. National Standards is not an education policy it is a bureaucrats’ policy.
Article 25 has even more demanding expectations of citizens (who are unfortunately all men according to the pronouns).
(1) Everyone has the responsibility to ensure that all members of a community have a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection, and it is the moral responsibility of all citizens to ensure that this is so for all mothers and children.
Awkwardly this doesn’t allow us to punish people who are disadvantaged, and have made poor choices by cutting off their access to a basic standard of living, and it makes it the responsibility of all the citizens of a society to make sure that all of its members are taken care of. Cutting access to a benefit is not fulfilling this responsibility. Clearly when someone is harming others, perhaps their own children, or is out of control, or uncontrollable, more and more requirements should come with their money, and more and more support. Support does not mean money, it means support.
If a student comes to school with the wrong shoes and an empty belly because they can’t afford shoes, and there’s no food in the house it is the responsibility of the school to help them get shoes and a meal. Not because they have to by law, but because we should care for them. The larger weight of responsibility of course falls on that child’s parents. There needs to be contact and conversation not with the goal of seeking punishment, but with the goal of seeking a better more secure life for that family. That is a long journey with many backward steps. It is journey that is a little bit about money, but mainly about people helping people.
A sense of responsibility for each other.