“When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better. So tonight, I am proposing that every state — every state — requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18,” declared President Barack Obama at the 2012 State of the Union — old news for political analysts and journalists. Yet it highlights one of the least questioned and most cruel of government restrictions: compulsory school attendance.
From around age six until eighteen or so, a school-age child is left with few alternatives but to eat government-prepared lunches, live in a government-run building, participate in government-run activities, and study material vetted and chosen by the government—why not put bars on the door and make the children wear prison uniforms with numbers on them?
Parents, students, teachers, and legislators argue and protest about class size, curriculum content, school lunches, and standardized tests, but they cannot see the forest for all the trees—while other school issues are important, the root cause of them all is the idea that the state should control a child’s physical location, what he learns, and how he learns it. Abolishing compulsory school attendance laws is a good place to start bettering Americans’ education.
Perhaps it seems that compulsory attendance laws can effectively be considered null and void, since alternative school choices (private, online, and home schooling) are available; on the contrary, government has an intentional near-monopoly on education, requires children by law to attend some form of school, and only grudgingly allows other options.
For instance, it was only in the 1970s and 1980s that homeschooling received the full legal legitimacy it deserves. Even then it was and is hampered with reservations and regulations. All other things being equal, public schools are of such dismal quality that there must be laws forcing parents to place their children in them.
As it is now, anyone who chooses alternative education choices must pay for their children’s learning twice—once for taxes, and another time for tuition elsewhere. Thus even children who manage to break away haven’t done so entirely. The state’s bloated leviathan of a public school system is designed like everything else that the state manages, meaning that any private competition has to deal with its own costs and the costs of its public counterpart.
Those who maintain that public schools ought to exist in conjunction with a strong private school system to help school choice contradict themselves; anything run by the state requires citizens to fund it. Indeed, the injustices of the public school system extend far past mere finances and the impracticability of private competition.
If an innocent adult were ordered to spend each weekday in a prison and could not leave until a bell rang, there would be an outcry. If it were revealed what he had to do and learn there, the outcry would be uncontrollable. Yet most American children are forced into that life with no way out.
Although parents squabble over particulars, most don’t care one way or another—this is due to the fact that they (correctly) assume education is important for lifelong success. It is for a vast majority of people, but that does not mean it needs to be required or provided by government; nor does it mean that the busywork government schools often force students into constitutes a good education.
In the end, compulsory school attendance is nothing more than a gross violation of liberty and basic human rights. Through a citizen’s lifespan, government steals the first twelve or thirteen years and probably thirty years after (the worker a child grows up to be, of course, must pay taxes).
If education is as important to “enable” students “to succeed in a global economy based on knowledge and innovation” as the federal government says it is, parents and children would find schools to their liking on their own, without forcing millions of taxpayers to foot the bill.
No, Mr. President: compulsory school attendance, paired with the monopolistic reign of public education, is a state intrusion into private lives. The negligible benefits it offers are outweighed by the heavy costs in dollars, time, and liberty.
Originally published on turningpointusa.net