Rights and Responsibilities

As many know, I’m a teacher at a college, and this morning I marked 60-odd final essays as part of the communal marking system our school uses at the end of the term to make sure each WRIT course essay gets a fair grade. Each paper is marked at least twice by people who don’t know what the other marker gave it, and if the marks are the same it’s official. If they’re too different, then a third marker steps in and gives their 2 cents, and if even they don’t agree we just give the student an A+ and go out for a beer. (Well, not really, but it’s the thought that counts…)

Anyhoo, the topic of this semester’s final essay (we all the use the same topic to keep things simple) was that students should have a dress code at the college. Now, as you may imagine this produced something of a negative reaction from many students (although not as many as you might think) and while they were supposed to give logical reasoned arguments to support their positions, instead they almost all defaulted back to that universal rallying cry of students today: it’s against our rights!

Having been teaching at the college for 3 years now, I’m starting to get really really sick of hearing about “our rights” from students. I don’t know for certain (but I have a pretty good idea…) who etched the idea into their heads  that they’re all empowered with rights and privileges, but I’ve begun to think that perhaps they weren’t done much of a favor by those who did so. In fact, I think all of us may end up paying the price for this one as a society.

Now, before cries of “fascist” start to ring out, let me explain this one a little more clearly. I have no issues with human rights, and am a total supporter of the idea. That said, I think there is a second “R” that we’ve forgotten in our rush to empower our children- Responsibilities. Like anything, “human rights” are something that can be taken too far and need to be balanced out by the needs of the societies into which those individuals belong. Empowering children is wonderful, but just as much as we need to empower them to fulfill their potentials we need to teach them that their “human rights” are not a selfish excuse to freely inflict themselves on those around them. It seems that for too many of the students I see at the school “human rights” means “I can do whatever I want, and you can’t stop me”. Which is fine if they lived alone, but we’re not alone, we’re a society, and being a member of that society means you can’t do what you want, and sometimes need to make sacrifices for the greater good.

I wish they’d take a little of that power they use to defend their own rights and use it to think about how they could do a little good for others. Society only works when people are not just empowered, but responsible citizens.