Old-Timey Classroom

Compulsory Education: An Idea Whose Time Has Gone

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the US education system is messed up.  Opinions differ as to what — precisely — is wrong, what can be done to fix it, and whether fixing it is possible or even desirable.  One thing we should all be able to agree with is that making education compulsory in today’s world makes no sense.

I am not arguing that education is bad.  I am not arguing that attendance at school should be officially discouraged.  I am arguing (among other things) that forcing the most vulnerable in our society — the children of the poor in the inner cities and deprived rural areas — to attend institutions that we know do not work (or that are actively harmful) is a colossal waste of resources that actively prevents better things from happening.

What would happen in a state that repealed its laws on compulsory education?  For one thing, there would no longer be a need for a legal definition of “education” that homeschoolers, religious academies or on-line course providers would have to comply with.*  For another, the vast majority of children would continue to attend schools.  At the margin — older children for whom the last couple of years of high school are a waste anyway, and children in areas with terrible schools (or terrible parents) — there would be a drop in school attendance.

But it is at the margin that the market provides discipline and innovation creates value (yes, those are basically the same things.)  Humans like to learn — otherwise there wouldn’t be non-fiction sections in book shops (or Amazon, if you’re reading this next year) — and people need to know stuff.  A free society is particularly good at providing things people like and/or need.  I won’t pretend to know what might replace the inner-city public schools where boys are more likely to get shot and girls more likely to get pregnant than to acquire a taste for learning, but I’m willing to bet it’s not worse than the alternative.

Old-Timey Compulsory Education Newspaper HeadlineOne can imagine other effects of removing the gun pointed at the heads of our children.  If there is no legal definition of “education”, then there is no legal definition of “teacher” (or, indeed, “school”).  As in other areas where human ingenuity is allowed to respond to the needs of actual people, the types of services available to parents and children might multiply as the entrenched interests lose power.  Who will be the first to build the Uber or Airbnb of K-12?

In this day and age, compulsory education laws restrict the middle class’s choice of educational possibilities while entrenching the lower class in a corrupt (and corrupting) government education system.

It’s time to say no.

* Although this might be embedded in child labor laws e.g. “no one may employ someone below the age of X who has not imbibed Y years of statist propaganda.”

Photo Credit: Flickr User crackdog.

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  1. Pony Convertible Inactive
    Pony Convertible
    @PonyConvertible

    I agree. Well said.

    • #1
  2. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    It’s not central to my post, but it is interesting where the concept of compulsory education leads.
    One direction is the need for a definition of what an education is, which ramifies out into a ‘one-size-fits-none’ centralized and generalized set of criteria.
    Another direction is the ‘safety net’ of government-supplied education for those who cannot otherwise afford this compulsory purchase.
    Since government is involved in both setting criteria and supplying the product, the criteria and the product end up partaking of government-approved virtues. And both the criteria and the product end up being captured by the technocracy established to administer it.

    • #2
  3. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Wow, just wow.  I’ve been arguing this very thing with friends for years.  I presented this concept in my coursework in Secondary Ed back in the 90s and my classmates (though notably not my professor, burned as she was by public school bureaucracy) thought I was nuts.  We just take is as granted that education be mandator for “the greater good” without looking at the historical underpinnings of the Compulsory Ed movement.  

    Its proponents were jingoist socialists who had a burning hatred of private education as being “unfair” and “separatist”.  Compulsory Ed was promoted as a way of leveling, of not only bringing up the poor but bringing down the “unfairly advantaged” and putting the Catholics in their place.  It’s results have been what you always eventually get with socialism.

    • #3
  4. raycon and lindacon Inactive
    raycon and lindacon
    @rayconandlindacon

    skipsul:

    Wow, just wow. I’ve been arguing this very thing with friends for years. I presented this concept in my coursework in Secondary Ed back in the 90s and my classmates (though notably not my professor, burned as she was by public school bureaucracy) thought I was nuts. We just take is as granted that education be mandator for “the greater good” without looking at the historical underpinnings of the Compulsory Ed movement.

    Its proponents were jingoist socialists who had a burning hatred of private education as being “unfair” and “separatist”. Compulsory Ed was promoted as a way of leveling, of not only bringing up the poor but bringing down the “unfairly advantaged” and putting the Catholics in their place. It’s results have been what you always eventually get with socialism.

     You have nailed it.  Compulsory education in America is a rousing success.  It has socialized our youth to compliance towards the state, transferred taxpayer funds to a reliable constituency, the teachers unions, and reduced the pupil knowledge level of subjects like history, to the point that they are unable to independently challenge the authority of the state.

    Don’t mess with success.  You will have few allies.

    • #4
  5. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    I sympathize with the goals, but I doubt it will work. The kids who are currently being harmed by going to the public school building will just stay home. Instead of being socialized and trained by one Leftist bastion, i.e., public school teachers, they’ll be socialized and instructed by the other Leftist bastion, the media.

    Besides, if they don’t go to school, who’s going to babysit them? In the inner city, more than half of the kids are born out of wedlock, which means single mothers, which means if the mother is watching her kids she isn’t working, and if she’s working she isn’t watching her kids. At least sending them off to school means that someone is watching the kids while giving the mother a chance to work. (Fathers going off to work while mothers stay home? Don’t be so old-fashioned.) Taking the compulsory out of education means putting compulsory into welfare.

    • #5
  6. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    If we give up on compulsory education, it will have meant that Bismarck’s dream was all for naught!

    • #6
  7. The Mugwump Inactive
    The Mugwump
    @TheMugwump

    The primary purpose of public education is to keep a legion of bureaucrats employed.  We stand in the absurd situation today where administrators at the federal, state and local level nearly equal the number of teachers in the classroom.  The needs of teachers come second, and students a distant third.  Public education is simply another bulwark of the administrative state.  Ultimately, any institution dominated by government is expensive to run, arbitrary in its demands, and counter-productive in pursuit of its stated goals.  If you don’t mind driving a Yugo, put your kid in public education.  If you want a Cadillac, turn loose the power of the marketplace.

    • #7
  8. St. Salieri Member
    St. Salieri
    @

    Well, I’ve worked in those poor rural schools, and will be returning to my classroom in a week.  I sympathize with the idea, and as someone who wants to eventually start a private school I’d be thrilled if you ideas would work.

    However, with the current welfare regime we have in place, those kids would be even worse off, without our welfare system, I’d agree with you 100%.

    A case in point, several of my friends and one colleague at my current school teach or have previously taught in some of the worse inner-city public and in innovative private charter schools in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

    While schooling is often minimal, for many of these poor kids, school is one of the few places they are even marginally safe, have anyone that seems to care about them, and  they have a hot meal.  

    Also, as a conservative-Christian-reformist public school educator, I get a little tired of the whole “all public schools are bastions of socialist, progressive indoctrination” from my fellow conservatives.  Yes, some of that goes on, but far less than you’d like to believe, and it makes reform harder when you do it.

    • #8
  9. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    KC Mulville:

    Besides, if they don’t go to school, who’s going to babysit them? 

    Anyone!

    Under compulsory education laws, if you want to provide something to occupy the time of children and teens during the week for most of the year you have to be a government accredited school staffed by government accredited teachers doling out government accredited propaganda.

    In the absence of such laws you could be anything. Let your imagination run wild! (OK, some of it could be quite bad, if you have an imagination like mine…)

    • #9
  10. St. Salieri Member
    St. Salieri
    @

    The Mugwump:

    The primary purpose of public education is to keep a legion of bureaucrats employed. We stand in the absurd situation today where administrators at the federal, state and local level nearly equal the number of teachers in the classroom. The needs of teachers come second, and students a distant third. Public education is simply another bulwark of the administrative state. Ultimately, any institution dominated by government is expensive to run, arbitrary in its demands, and counter-productive in pursuit of its stated goals. If you don’t mind driving a Yugo, put your kid in public education. If you want a Cadillac, turn loose the power of the marketplace.

     I agree, but simply ending compulsory schooling first won’t get us there.

    Opening up as many opportunities to the poor now – giving them the economic tools, or the educational to compete with the public schools is what we should focus on…in time then compulsory education can go away.  In the meantime we need to be busy reforming welfare, and then killing off the public schools that don’t succeed.  As well as simultaneously killing the bureaucratic beast that helps drive this nightmare by devolving power.

    • #10
  11. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    One reason to undo the mandatory education laws is they’ve proven to be unenforceable. Given the graduation rates and general inability to either make change at the checkout or pass a naturalization test (by natural born citizens, no less), it seems the state can mandate until it’s blue in the face, but very few are actually “educated” in any meaningful sense of the word. And those are the “students” who show up! 

    Barring repeal of the laws, we might agitate to rename them: Mandatory Indoctrination.

    • #11
  12. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    I am in favor of eliminating compulsory education beyond the 8th grade.  Additionally, it is not just inner city and rural schools that are doing a poor job.  They all are.  A big problem was the self-esteem movement which led to lower standards and a bimodal distribution in grading (i.e. A’s and B’s for every kid that genuinely attempted the work, D’s and F’s for the kids that do not.  No more bell curve centered on C.

    • #12
  13. user_936298 Member
    user_936298
    @Juliana

    I guess I’m questioning the ‘harm’ that is being done to the children in public schools. The quality varies so much from school to school and from classroom to classroom that it’s not helpful to paint with such a broad brush. 
    I work in the public schools (not a teacher). And yes, one of the schools is an environmental magnet school – put in place in order to re-integrate white students of the district into what was fast becoming a minority-only school. While I don’t agree with tree-hugging environmentalism, and there is some of that among the teachers, I do see the benefits of the focus on science and the partnership with the nature preserve across the street.
    That particular school is about 75% free and reduced lunch – very low socioeconomic status. Would the students come if not required? Maybe, maybe not, depends on their parent’s view of the value of any education. We have a high illegal alien population, very transient. Requiring attendance at least gets the kids some basic education – hopefully they will have the opportunity to learn enough to become productive members of society.

    • #13
  14. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Western Chauvinist: Given the graduation rates…

    Actually, the drop-out rate has been cut nearly in half since 1970.

    For African-Americans, it’s been cut by more than half in that same period.

    http://www.statisticbrain.com/high-school-dropout-statistics/

    • #14
  15. user_129539 Member
    user_129539
    @BrianClendinen

    Also you have perverted laws because of Compulsory Education such as not being able to take your GED until you are 17 or 18. So if you are an above average 8th grader, sorry you can’t skip high-school even though you can pass the GED.  Forget vocational training for a 13 or 14 year old who does not want to go to college, sorry you get to waste your time for another 4 years.

    In other words, liberals have replaced education with schooling and certification via legal code.

    • #15
  16. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Juliana: Would the students come if not required? Maybe, maybe not, depends on their parent’s view of the value of any education.

    And I would think their parents’/’s view is a pretty strong determinant of what, if anything, they learn whether they come or not.

    Teachers are wonderful. Having them try to teach a room full of people who are there because the alternative is fines or imprisonment for their parents seems a less than ideal set up for all involved.

    Again, I’m not making schooling illegal, just not compulsory. Many non-compulsory things in this world are very popular – even some which are good for you.

    • #16
  17. user_1938 Inactive
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Republicans won’t go for it. But if it was going to be done, it would have to be done suddenly and not gradually. Otherwise, it would be juggled every term like tax cuts and hikes. 

    Parents and kids would adapt. Was mandatory education introduced gradually? Were students only required to show up once per week? I doubt it. If it could be introduced suddenly, it could be abolished suddenly.

    • #17
  18. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    genferei: I am not arguing that education is bad.  I am not arguing that attendance at school should be officially discouraged.  I am arguing (among other things) that forcing the most vulnerable in our society — the children of the poor in the inner cities and deprived rural areas — to attend institutions that we know do not work (or that are actively harmful) is a colossal waste of resources that actively prevents better things from happening.

    For clarification’s sake, would you repeal all compulsory education, or just — for instance — high school.

    Excellent post, BTW.

    • #18
  19. FloppyDisk90 Member
    FloppyDisk90
    @FloppyDisk90

    KC Mulville:

    I sympathize with the goals, but I doubt it will work. The kids who are currently being harmed by going to the public school building will just stay home. Instead of being socialized and trained by one Leftist bastion, i.e., public school teachers, they’ll be socialized and instructed by the other Leftist bastion, the media.

    At least sending them off to school means that someone is watching the kids while giving the mother a chance to work. (Fathers going off to work while mothers stay home? Don’t be so old-fashioned.) Taking the compulsory out of education means putting compulsory into welfare.

     Those people are already on welfare.  The short to mid term impact on welfare roles of genferei’s proposal would be minuscule.  And in the long run perhaps a few people manage to escape the vicious cycle due to the additional choices.

    Ultimately, your objection rests on the same thinking that animates the Left:  people are too stupid, ignorant, lazy, self-interested, etc….to make good choices.

    • #19
  20. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    This may be a side discussion, but I’ve learned significantly more about history, grammar, rhetoric, and literature from Teaching Company/Great Courses CDs than all of my classes in K through 12 and college combined.  It would be a lot cheaper to just buy these CDs (or download digital files online), and make kids listen to them (with no exams) than to perpetuate this massive public education infrastructure.

    • #20
  21. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    I wrote about this idea way back on Ricochet 1.0, and I’m sure that post is long gone to the Internet Gremlins.

    • #21
  22. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    There are at least three different issues here that do not need to be directly intertwined: compulsory attendance, government schools, and governmental control of curriculum. These are three different things, and one does not mandate the other two, nor does its elimination obviate the other two. We could have a wholly private educational marketplace while still having compulsory attendance and minimal curriculum standards by state or local governments.

    However, nowhere in the United States Constitution do I find any authorization for involvement in education.

    • #22
  23. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: For clarification’s sake, would you repeal all compulsory education, or just — for instance — high school.

    All compulsory education.

    • #23
  24. virgil15marlow@yahoo.com Member
    virgil15marlow@yahoo.com
    @Manny

    genferei:

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that the US education system is messed up. Opinions differ as to what — precisely — is wrong, what can be done to fix it, and whether fixing it is possible or even desirable. One thing we should all be able to agree with is that making education compulsory in today’s world makes no sense.

     I am arguing (among other things) that forcing the most vulnerable in our society — the children of the poor in the inner cities and deprived rural areas — to attend institutions that we know do not work (or that are actively harmful) is a colossal waste of resources that actively prevents better things from happening.

     Interesting, but I will have to disagree.  A population of complete illiterates will cost the nation dearly in the long run with who knows how many dysfunctionalities.  School, while not perfect, at least socializes them better than the parents of those who would drop out.  You would be pushing the problem along, and probably magnifying it.  I want to eliminate government education, but not dissolve it entirely.  Privatize education and provide school choice stipends that have to be spent.

    • #24
  25. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Manny:

    A population of complete illiterates will cost the nation dearly in the long run with who knows how many dysfunctionalities. School, while not perfect, at least socializes them better than the parents of those who would drop out.

     Very few would drop out. Parents who valued education would continue to send their kids to school. Parents who didn’t would keep them home . . . for about three days before they got so tired of them they sent them back. There would not be mass dropping-out, and those who do may be better off for it. (Especially if we also stop pretending that four-year college is necessary for everyone.)

    The deal is, putting the responsibility for education on the parents means that schools have a lot more freedom to place expectations on attendance. Because schools require attendance, they act in loco parentis whether they want to or not. And a student (or parent) can say that since attendance is compulsory, the school will just have to deal with bad behavior.

    When school isn’t compulsory, the school can say “Get that kid out of here until he shapes up.” Responsibility returns to the parents and student where it belongs.

    • #25
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