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Compulsory Education Should Be Eliminated

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March 25, 2012

Compulsory Education Should be Eliminated

Compulsory education has a long-standing history in the United States. Many people in our society, especially public school teachers, administrators, and education association officials, believe it should remain in place. However, many parents and students would agree that forcing students to attend school, especially poorly run public schools, creates more problems than it is worth. It costs our state and its taxpayers billions of dollars each year, and many critics claim that students graduate unprepared for higher education and employment. For these, and several other reasons, compulsory education laws should be repealed, and compulsory education should be banned. The history of compulsory education dates back to the colonization of North America; in 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony had a compulsory literacy law for all children. If parents weren’t providing the “proper” education, colony officials could remove the children and assign them as apprentices to state-appointees (Rothbard, Compulsory Education in the United States section, ¶ 2). After the Revolutionary War, Massachusetts again started the country in the direction of compulsory education by including it in the state constitution. In 1789, compulsory school attendance was law in Massachusetts. The state of Connecticut followed suit in 1805, and in 1842 expanded the law by requiring all children under the age of 15 who had jobs to attend school for three months each year. In 1852, Massachusetts broadened the law, and required all children between eight and fourteen to go to school at least thirteen weeks per year. The other states followed Massachusetts’ lead – by 1850, all of the states had public schools, and by 1900 all states had compulsory education laws. In 1895, after several attempts during the terms of at least two different governors, Governor Hasting of Pennsylvania finally signed compulsory education into law in our state. It is interesting to note that in 1849, only about 5% of Boston’s children were truant from school without compulsory attendance laws. Most of the children were attending school even though they were not forced to (Blumenfield, Part 2). One of the earliest objections to compulsory education was voiced by Thomas Jefferson, who stated: “It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible transportation and education of the infant against the will of the father” (in Rothbard, Arguments For and Against sections, ¶ 1). Many others also believed it was the parents’ right to educate their children as they saw fit, and government should not interfere. The fight for compulsory education in Pennsylvania took at least three attempts over five years, because the governors believed that forcing parents to educate their children in public schools was un-American. Some of the goals of compulsory education provided by the state were controversial. Many people wanted their children to receive a religion-based education, which was prohibited early on in public schools. Some early supporters of compulsory education believed that children should be considered the property of the State, not their parents, and therefore should be educated by the state. Many people objected to the idea of teaching children conformity and obedience to authority, which was part of the plan of many of the educational leaders of the time, such as Archibald D. Murphey of North Carolina and Reverend Jeremy Belknap of New Hampshire. On the extreme edge of the egalitarian push for education were Francis Wright and Robert Dale Owen, who were early Socialists in the United States. They wanted to remove children from their families at the age of two and place them in educational institutions, where they would reside twenty-four hours a day. Parents would have visiting rights, but the children would be completely raised at the state-run institution (Rothbard). While listening to the media in today’s society, it is clear that public schools are not meeting the earlier goals of literacy for all students. Many people believe, in fact, that public education is actually harming our young people. Samuel Blumenfield states: “…the present situation in which the state has assumed the function of educator, at great expense to the taxpayer, with…laws and regulations forcing population to patronize a system that is turning out functional illiterates by the millions” (Part 1, ¶ 11). He reports that approximately 26 million Americans are illiterate. The American education system is plagued with issues: SAT scores are dropping, students aren’t interested in science and math, dropout rates are increasing dramatically, and many students are apathetic about school and their future. There are many reasons that public education is not successfully educating America’s children. Most schools are filled with teachers who cannot teach. They are unable to connect with students and don’t know how to make the information “stick” with their students. They teach information that isn’t important to students, and cannot explain to students why this information is needed. And most students spend most of their days in school bored and wanting to be somewhere else. Part of this problem comes from the rise of teacher’s unions and the protection of tenure. Once teachers have passed an exam, and have been teaching for a few years, it is almost impossible to get rid of them. Rothbard uses the term “foisted” to describe this, and Blumenthal goes so far as to state “The sorry fact is that in America’s public schools, the educators pretend to teach and the pupils pretend to learn” (Part 1, ¶ 18) and says of compulsory education laws, “these laws have merely increased the amount of time children spend in school, not the amount of learning or knowledge they acquire” (Part 1, ¶3). When students spend a year, or more, in a class with an incompetent teacher, it can have a huge impact on their knowledge and skills. Another issue that plagues public education is that they must accept all students, and many of these students disrupt the learning process on a regular basis. All schools, and most classes, have a class clown who would rather goof off than learn. While many students are amused by their actions and even encourage them, the learning of the group is affected when the teacher has to stop to address the clown. Teachers also have to waste educational time dealing with angry, disruptive students and impulsive, talkative students. Every interruption leads to tension and a break in the concentration of the teacher and other students, and frustrates both the teacher and the students. Some students are even violent and dangerous, and pose a threat to themselves and/or others – the cases of Columbine and the more recent school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, where a former student returned and killed three students and injured six others demonstrate this. Many students don’t want to go to school because they are being bullied by others. Until public schools can find a way to ensure the physical and emotional safety of all students, it should not be compulsory to attend them. Many famous people did not complete a traditional education. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, Will Rogers, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein were all very successful individuals who did not complete secondary education. Samuel Clemens quit school at the age of eleven but went on to be one of the most famous American authors. Woodrow Wilson didn’t learn how to read until the age of eleven, but went on to be an American president. A traditional education may not be needed for everyone. In this day and age, information is readily available for people of average, or above, intelligence. Once someone knows how to read and do basic math, any needed information is easily available on-line…almost everything is posted on YouTube! Anyone with a smart phone and internet access can almost instantly answer any question they come across. Once a student knows the basics, compulsory education becomes unnecessary. Barry Loberfeld proposes that students who do not want to learn or go to school should be dealt with by their parents. He says, “what will parents do with an unschoolable child? The most likely option: provide him with an education in the value of hard work, a wise choice for those youths who will find a paycheck more motivating than a report card” (Compulsion vs. Education section, ¶ 1). Schools could offer the opportunity for students who left school early to return to take desired courses or learn necessary skills. Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions proposes allowing adults to enroll in public school classes under a system where a certain amount of public education was guaranteed, but there is no restriction on when in a person’s life they have to use their public education. Compulsory education laws are creating a mess in the public education system. If they were repealed, only students who wanted to learn would be present in public schools, which would improve the situation for all students in public schools. Students, much like myself, would have the freedom to decide when to access their education, and would have more control over the courses they took. This would improve behavior in the classroom, since all of the students in the class would actually want to be in the class. As the aforementioned influential people prove; one does not need a formal education to be successful or influential. Therefore, compulsory education should be eliminated.
Works Cited
Blumenthal, Samuel L. “Are Compulsory School Attendance Laws Necessary? Part 1.” Freedom Daily, Mar 1991. Web. 22 Mar 2012.
Blumenthal, Samuel L. “Are Compulsory School Attendance Laws Necessary? Part 2.” Freedom Daily, Mar 1991. Web. 22 Mar 2012.
Blumenthal, Samuel L. “Are Compulsory School Attendance Laws Necessary? Part 3.” Freedom Daily, Mar 1991. Web. 22 Mar 2012.
“Educational Freedom.” Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions, n.d. Web. 22 Mar 2012.
Loberfeld, Barry. “ ‘Compulsory Education’: A Contradiction of Realities.” Libertarian Party News, July 2003. Web. 22 Mar 2012.
McGhan, Barry. “School Choice and the Death of Compulsory Education.” The Center for Public School Renewal. n.d. Web. 22 Mar 2012.
Rothbard, Murray. “Education: Free and Compulsory.” Mises Daily, 9 Sep 2006. Web. 25 Mar 2012.…...

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