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Saturday, May 18, 2013
Compulsory Education: Should parents be allowed to choose not to educate their children?Posted Friday, May 18, 2012, at 9:01 AM
In my last post, I argued that if homeschool parents don't want to lose the right to homeschool, they need to keep turning out well-educated children who are academically comparable or even superior to their public-schooled peers. I pointed out that if our scores start to slip, critics will gain a foothold and find ways to impose unwanted regulations on us. I was criticized resoundingly for saying this. "You don't respect our freedom!" I was told. "You are being judgmental! Homeschooling is about the freedom to raise our kids however God directs us, even if that doesn't turn out a product according to your standards!"
Frankly, we don't have the freedom under the law to do whatever we want. We have specific laws we have to follow if we want to homeschool. In Indiana, these laws seem incredibly easy when compared to other states. We have to have 180 days of instruction and give our kids an education comparable to the public schools. Pretty simple, really. I guess that's why I don't complain about it.
However, in this post, I want to bring up the deeper issue of whether or not we should have more freedom. Should parents be able to raise their kids however they wish? Should we be allowed to decide to start formal education at the age of ten instead of seven if we want to? Should we even be allowed to not educate our kids at all if we so choose?
Compulsory education has been a fact of life for as long as most of us have been alive. In some states, education has been compulsory as early as the 1850s. By 1918, education was compulsory in every state. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, illiteracy rates have dropped drastically and steadily since the mid 1800s--from 20 percent of the adult population unable to read or write in 1870, to only .6 percent in 1979. Pretty impressive. However, this same group recently found that one in seven adults has trouble reading "anything more challenging than a children's picture book" (Toppo, 2009). According to these reports, it seems that although few people are completely illiterate now, the functional literacy rate is only slightly better than the literacy rate before school was mandatory. Clearly, making everyone attend school has not solved the problem of illiteracy.
What if education were not compulsory? What if parents could truly decide when, how, or even whether they should educate their children?
Let's consider the one in seven adults who are functionally illiterate. What happened to them? Why didn't they learn to read well when they were in school? Perhaps they were not motivated to learn. Maybe they hated school and only went because the law said they must. Maybe their parents didn't encourage them or help them with their homework and blamed the teachers when their kids struggled. If school was just something they were forced to endure until they were finally old enough that they didn't have go anymore, who could be surprised that they can barely read and write well enough to fill out a job application? I have to wonder if school did these kids any good. Would they have turned out any worse if they didn't go to school at all?
And what about the other kids? Maybe if the kids who weren't motivated to learn weren't in the classroom, maybe the teachers could devote their time, resources and attention to those kids that actually wanted to be there and were excited about learning. Maybe they could be more effective teachers if they didn't have to deal with the troublemakers all the time.
Maybe if education weren't mandatory, kids and parents might begin to see it as something valuable that should be pursued instead of something that the government was forcing them to endure. Maybe they'd eventually realize that education was important and that they should make it a priority. Maybe then parents would help their kids with their homework and make sure they had what they needed to succeed in life. Of course, that would mean some kids would fail. They would be the ones that parents would point to and say, "You don't want to be like them. You want to get an education so you can avoid their fate." A chilling thought, but then we have examples of failure with compulsory education, too.
So it could be argued that if education were optional, people might give it more importance. Scarce resources are always highly valued. On the other hand, it would leave those kids out in the cold who wanted to learn but whose parents didn't care. What a waste it would be if parents could sabotage their kids' futures by denying them an education. And what would these kids do all day if their parents didn't care? Would they run wild in the streets, getting into trouble with gangs and drugs? Let's face it--there are a lot of neglectful parents out there these days. In many cases, it would look pretty ugly.
Many parents object to compulsory education laws because they take authority away from parents. By mandating what we must teach our kids for how long and how we must go about it, lawmakers deny parents the right to make educational choices on behalf of their own children. Is that the place of government? Do they really and truly have the right to tell us how to educate our children? And of course the big question: Should parents have the legal right, if they so choose, to not educate their children at all?
I know you're probably waiting for me to tell you my conclusion on this. I confess that I'm undecided on this one, because there are legitimate arguments on both sides. Furthermore it's not something I really spend that much time agonizing about. For me personally, it's a moot point. There are laws that I must follow as a homeschooler, and the laws aren't burdensome to me at this time, especially in my wonderful home state of Indiana. Even if there weren't laws, I would probably be doing pretty much what I'm doing now. I do value education and so I'm going to make sure my kids get one whether it's required or not.
But I'd love to hear what you think. Do you think education should be compulsory? Why or why not?
Toppo, G. (2009, January 8). Literacy study: 1 in 7 U.S. adults are unable to read this story. USA Today Retrieved at http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2...
120 Years of Literacy. National Assessment of Adult Literacy: National Center for Educational Statistics. Retrieved at http://nces.ed.gov/naal/lit_history.asp#...
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