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.