Saturday, February 23, 2008

Should education be compulsory?

My last post was based on disagreements I had with Benny the Troll, who does not believe in public education at all. This post is based on something that I actually agree with Benny about--compulsory education. I not only think that education should not be compulsory, I think that it's impossible for it to be compulsory. The only thing that we can make compulsory is attendance, and I think it's a mistake to do that. So libertarians, unite! I'm with you on this one!

The idea of compulsory education is based on the idea that we can give someone an education. We can't give anyone an education, but we can give them the opportunity. In order to take advantage of that opportunity, however, young people are going to have to listen, they're going to have to read, they're going to have to study, and they're going to have to try. But what if some people don't want that opportunity? Should we force them to be in school anyway? I don't think so.

There are some parents who don't want their children given shots to inoculate them from certain diseases. Courts have ruled that the state can give children those shots anyway, because otherwise they might catch the disease and then infect other kids. Education doesn't work that way--in a way it is just the opposite. We can't inject anyone with education, and when we force people into our schools who don't want to be there, that is when they "infect" other children.

It's sad that there are some parents in America who don't care if their kids get an education, but I'm afraid they do exist. If some kids are unfortunate enough to have nitwit parents who don't want them to go to school, we should let the parents have their way. And I say that because the chances of those children getting any meaningful benefit from public education are either slim or none, and they will only make it more difficult for us to work with kids who we really have a chance to help. In reality, parents can do that now simply by saying that they will homeschool their children. I don't mean that as a slam on parents who actually DO educate their kids at home, but I know that in our district there are some parents who say they are homeschooling their kids where absolutely nothing of the kind is happening.

But what about kids who decide they don't want to be in school, regardless of their parents wishes? When should we allow them to make that decision? I'm not sure exactly how old they should have to be, but I definitely think it's something younger than it is now. I know many would argue that we can't allow young people to make such an important decision, but how many fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen-year-olds who have developed this mindset can we expect to "save"? I don't know what that number is, but I doubt that it comes close to equaling the number of kids who they end up dragging down with them.

All students in any school fall somewhere on a continuum of whether or not they actually want an education. At one end of the continuum, we have the students for whom getting an education is very important. Nothing is going to sway them. At the other end we have kids who have no desire to get an education, and don't want to be there at all. It's going to be very difficult to do anything to sway them, either. Most students, however, fall somewhere in the middle. Many of them have heard that getting an education is important, but they've never really given it much thought, and they're really not committed to it. These are the kids who are most subject to the influence of other students--they can be tipped one way or the other. If they hang around with kids who believe that education is important, they will begin to believe it's important, too. But put enough students who believe that education is worthless in classes with those kids, and we will tip a lot of them the wrong way. I think that's happening in too many places right now.

I want to emphasize that I am all for allowing young people to come back to school any time they make the decision that they want an education. I don't care how young or old they are or how long they've been out of school. Wouldn't it be a wonderful influence in a school to have young people who have left school for a while, taken a minimum wage type job, and then decided that maybe education is something they could use?

You want educational reform? Well, here is a revolutionary educational reform idea: Let's try reserving education for those who actually want it.


Blogger Michael said...

So, you favor compulsory education, but would lower the school-leaving age from sixteen to, say, fourteen?

2/23/2008 9:13 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Michael, I'm not trying to be a jerk here, but I'm trying to figure out how in the world you concluded from this post that I FAVOR compulsory education.

2/23/2008 9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dennis, this is probably the subject of another posting, but I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the mandatory cirriculium part of the trilogy. The aspect of the government being able to mandate what children should learn is, to me, the most troubling aspect of public education.


Daniel Simms

2/23/2008 10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And please forgive my spelling!


Daniel Simms

2/23/2008 10:17 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Daniel, to be honest, I have mixed feelings about having a national curriculum. I've read a couple of books by E. D. Hirsch who makes the case for that, and he has arguments that do make sense. After seeing what the state of Minnesota came up with for it's American History standards, however, I'm not very excited about having politicians involved in curriculum in any way.

A friend of mine just gave me FIRST, KILL ALL THE SCHOOL BOARDS, which is an article supporting the nationalization of education. I will do a post on it in the near future, in part because I'm interested in reading why you are so strongly against it.

Our hockey team is in the playoffs right now, and as long as we keep on winning, I'm not going to have a lot of time, but I will try to get to it soon.

2/23/2008 12:18 PM  
Anonymous cranky said...

Well said--I couldn't agree more.

2/23/2008 12:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take your time, Dennis. I'm not in any big hurry. And good luck in the playoffs.


Daniel Simms

2/23/2008 2:59 PM  
Blogger hick town teacher said...

I have typed a full page response in Word to this post, and I realized I am just a “long-winded” typist, so I boiled it down to these few statements.

For a teacher to teach, they first need students who desire to learn.

If students don’t wish to learn anything beyond themselves, than who are we kidding? We are nothing more than glorified babysitters.

2/23/2008 8:41 PM  
Anonymous guest007 said...

The best way to sell the idea is to make high school more like college. The reason that college works is that less than 50% of the entering freshmen ever finish. Those uninterested freshmen are third tier schools never go to class and thus, never finish. However, they do not disrupt the class.

If high school was voluntary, the disruptive students would not longer be around and thus, the students who want to learn would be able to learn much more.

2/24/2008 2:35 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

But what about kids who decide they don't want to be in school, regardless of their parents wishes? When should we allow them to make that decision? I'm not sure exactly how old they should have to be, but I definitely think it's something younger than it is now. I think I misread the above.

That said, I think your perspective might be different if you taught elementary school.

2/24/2008 8:33 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Guest007, what you say sounds a little like a suggestion made by Peter Brimelow in his book, "The Worm in the Apple." I disagreed with just about everything he said in the book, but one thing I did agree with was his argument that we should try to take the stigma out of the GED.

Michael, if you're suggesting that I would allow elementary school kids to decide not to go to school, I wouldn't go that far. By the end of eighth grade? Probably. Do I feel kind of ridiculous suggesting that kids so young should be able to make that decision? Yes, I do. But when I look at the benefits of keeping 14 year-olds who definitely don't want to be in school vs. the costs (the fence-sitters that they drag along with them and the damage they do to the education of kids who actually want one), I think it becomes reasonable.

2/24/2008 1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dennis, as you consider national education standards, I suggest you read "What's Wrong With A Little Tort Reform?", by John Hasnas, and apply his rationale for rejecting tort reform to the education industry. The article is 25 pages (double spaced type), but very easy and interesting to read.


Daniel Simms

2/25/2008 3:11 PM  
Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Listen, I've got no problem with being a glorified babysitter as long as I get paid to be a glorified babbysitter. I will gladly work for $5.00 an hour for each of my students. At the moment, I see my students for around four hours a week. I have a small class load of 85. That means if I were paid an hourly wage of $5.00 per hour for each kid, at a total of four hours per week for each kid, I would earn $1700.00 a week. There are about 40 weeks in a school year, so I would earn over $65,000.00 dollars to babysit. I wouldn't have to worry about NCLB, lesson plans, collaborating, Data Driven Decision Making, Interdisciplinary Meetings, Staff Meetings, Department Meetings, my printer not working, or any of the other fun stuff.

2/25/2008 5:33 PM  
Blogger hick town teacher said...

I would say the majority of teachers go into the profession to give students a high quality education, to make their lessons unique and awe inspiring, and to encourage the future to use their new found knowledge and wisdom to make a better world. We are here to inspire, but it seems that all the system wants from us is to baby sit.

What is wrong with the students these days? Where is their curiosity and desire to learn? If we didn’t have to fight the constant negative attitudes on a daily basis, our lessons would be more than spectacular. I have earned the respect of the classes I teach, but as soon as I tend to be less than entertaining, they begin to check out. It makes a long arduous day because no learning seems to take place unless I’m the sage on the stage. I taught in a private school for 3 years, and this was not the case. Students did their homework, worked in groups, and participated in class discussions. Public school is a different kind of beast; we have students who don’t want to be there, but need to be.

2/25/2008 8:41 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mr. M, and HTT, let's face it; society sees one of our important functions as being a place for kids to BE until they are eighteen. The right to an education actually means the right to be in school whether kids want an education or not. I think that has to change if the country is serious about improving public education, and it sounds like you do to.

HTT, I find your comment about your private vs. public school experience interesting. I know that there is a different cleintele, but I also think part of the difference is that kids don't have a RIGHT to be in a private school. They can't take it for granted that they'll stay there no matter what they do, and neither can their parents. In that respect, public schools need to become more like private ones.

2/26/2008 3:46 AM  
Blogger Charley said...

Would you consider doing a post on a working definition of "education" and what an "educated" high-school graduate would look like? Then would you take the answers to those questions and describe from your experience if the majority of children going through your school are achieving the status of being "educated?" This question is especially important given the content of your last couple of posts about the problems of having to deal with the students who don't want to be there.

I'll be up front... I'm a homeschooling dad (but had a mother who taught in the public schools for several decades). But this is an honest question of someone who appears to be thoughtful and straight-up with his answers.



2/26/2008 5:50 PM  
Blogger M said...

The difference between public and private schools is that private school children (for the most part) come to school ready to learn. Children who come from low socio economic areas have so many more things that are more stressful and pressing than education to worry about. I don't see how any child who doesn't have a) proper nutrition b) a support base of family/friends c) a stable roof over their heads d) money to take the bus or money to get around and buy warm clothes is ever going to be ready to face a day where they are asked to participate in all this arbitrary 'learning'. Yeah right. Money buys more than a laptop, it buys readiness to learn.

While I agree with your concept of not making school compulsory I know that in the end this will mostly effect children who already don't have a chance in life because they are poor/ghetto. They have nothing and without education they really have even less than THAT. The gap between rich and poor will only get bigger if the poor decide not to go to school...well that's my theory anyway. But yes, it's not like these are the kids that are all making the classroom a dream either. It's a hard one...

2/27/2008 1:33 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Charley, thank you for a good--and challenging--idea. I will say now that I would like to see public education improve enough to start winning back homeschooling families.

M, my hope is that poor kids would be the greatest beneficiaries of reserving education for those who actually want one. In his book, THE DEATH OF COMMON SENSE, Philip Howard argues that even in large inner-city schools where people have the perception that almost all the kids are "bad," it is a relatively small percentage of disruptive students who are ruining the education that is supposed to be taking place. I also have to ask, if a teenaged boy or girl have decided that they don't want an education, how much are they really going to benefit from being in school?

I have to admit that I'm not writing from first-hand experience on this. I've never taught in an inner-city school. On the other hand, Warroad is not exactly a suburban paradise. We definitely have our fair share of kids coming from trailer parks. Some of them are awful, but some of them want to learn.

2/27/2008 4:14 PM  
Blogger hick town teacher said...


Just one of the many differences I saw at the private school versus public school was parent involvement. At parent teacher conferences, I had a 98% parent turn out at the private school, and at the public school I teach at currently, less than 25% of the parents show up. The parents at the private school pay above and beyond, so they feel they should be involved. What we’re dealing with is a culture of poverty in my community. I didn’t want to believe it at first when I was hired. I always believed that a parent wanted their children to surpass them. This is not true in the public sector here. The students have actually said to me that their parents think that a high school diploma was good enough for them, so their kids don’t need college or tech school. In fact, several of the parents chastise their children for wanting to be something more. The stigma here is that education is for the weak. If you have seen the movie Idiocracy, you’ll know what I am talking about.

There are several of us teachers here discussing the possibility of opening a charter school. It would meet the needs of those families that can’t afford private instruction and provide a safe learning environment in which academics is promoted verses sports and social situations.

Have you heard of any positive examples of charter schools, and is this the path that public education will eventually have to follow? With charter schools, is their more freedom to expel the disruptive student who is determined to sabotage education?


2/28/2008 9:14 PM  
Blogger jowalker said...

Unfortunately, those students who are most resistant in school are the ones who need education the most. By ending compulsory education it is likely that they will have no chance to succeed in life.We never know how we truly affect our students. Something very important might accidentally sink in.
My preference would be for students to be allowed to choose either a college intending track or an apprentice program where they could choose to work with a plumber, carpenter, electrician, etc. I would want them to be able to change their minds at any time. By ninth grade, most students are mature enough to think about these things and make decisions with the approval of their parents.
I'm not sure we are headed in the right direction with preparing all students for college.

2/29/2008 2:28 PM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

jowalker's idea sounds like the German system. And I think that has some merit. The only problem is that our kids are maturing emotionally later now than ever before, and they often don't know what they want to do with themselves until they're ready to move out of mom and dad's house at 25. Yikes.

As the years go by, the idea of compulsory attendance becomes less and less satisfactory to me.

What do you think would happen to parents' attitudes toward schooling if kids could drop out after 8th grade? What would they do with junior all day?

Perhaps the desire to inculcate a desire for learning would be a bit stronger... or perhaps they would be glad that the eldest kid could stay home and take care of the smaller children. I don't know.

But the kids who don't want to learn hold back those who do.

2/29/2008 5:34 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

HTT, there are no charter schools anywhere near where I am, so my familiarity with them is definitely lacking. I'm not sure what the answer is to your last question, but I'd be interested in finding out.

My goal is to see public schools get better, rather than turning to charter schools, but I know that there may be places where the public schools are hopeless. You know the situation where you are better than I do, so you have to go with whatever you think is best for most of the kids.

Jowalker. you and I have different approaches to the problem but I definitely agree with you about one thing: the idea that all kids should be prepared for college is wrong and totally unrealistic.

2/29/2008 5:39 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Ms. Cornelius, you snuck your comment in while I was typing the one above, but I couldn't agree with you more!

2/29/2008 5:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My goal is to see public schools get better, rather than turning to charter schools..."

Perhaps a nit, but charter schools *ARE* public schools. It may be that charter schools are one of the mechanisms that see public schools get better.

-Mark Roulo

2/29/2008 6:58 PM  
Blogger Carmelite Helene said...

Have you guys heard anything about the Harlem Children's Zone? What I find interesting about that program is that they are confirming in practice the research that shows that kids in lower class families are disadvantaged far before they enter the public school system. The Harlem Children's Zone's "Baby College" begins educating the parents of infants on the premise that it is the first 3 years of life that have the most profound effect on those kids and on their ability to learn once they enter school. The program has been profoundly effective.

I think I'd like to see universally available Baby College programs, universally available schooling with a variety of options (charter schooling perhaps) and no compulsory education.

By the way, it is not legal for the state to force you to give your child vaccines, you just can't send them to public school without vaccinating them:) Some states do allow for religious or other exemptions even for publicly schooled kids.

10/16/2008 1:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a question about this: would it be unreasonable for a student to go to school only sometimes-just to learn without wasting too much time? That's very realistic. I still value my education, but I also value my time to be productive outside of school. Just taking a few days off every now and then in a non-compulsory school enviornment-is that acceptable? I still want to learn, but I also have a life.

2/25/2014 8:44 AM  

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