Le Québécois Libre, September 15, 2010, No 281.
A reader recently asked me a question regarding how the abolition of compulsory schooling laws would add anything to the educational freedoms enjoyed by students today due to the permissibility of homeschooling. There are several ways in which abolishing compulsory schooling would accomplish even more.
1) Reduction of the undesirable element in public and other formal schools
Currently, the parents who homeschool their children are more likely than not to be reputable parents with reputable children. The worst-behaved children—the bullies—are not likely to be homeschooled. They are, rather, quite likely to attend public schools, where they make life miserable for the others—especially for the most intelligent and industrious students. The parents of these children are not particularly invested in their educations or futures, but, in the current compulsory system, they have no choice but to send them to some school—and they certainly will not pay for a private education or contribute the time for a quality education at home. Thus, the negative externalities of the bullies are imposed on everyone else.
Abolish compulsory schooling laws, and this undesirable element will simply not attend schools—either out of apathy toward schooling or out of a desire to live a different kind of life. Schooling is wasted on these individuals; however, they might be drawn toward finding jobs and might thereby learn skills that might increase their productivity and respectability in work environments where bullying is simply not tolerated. The absence of such persons from the schools would make the lives of the better students immensely easier and would greatly increase the level of overt intellectualism in the entire society—as many intelligent people today actively repress their abilities from a young age in order to avoid bullying. This repression needs to end, and giving the bullies an option not to attend school is the best way to accomplish such an immensely important goal.
Moreover, it is simply fallacious to assume that everyone in the general population requires twelve years of schooling. Most people do not retain nearly the amount of information communicated during that time and would be much better served—both financially and in terms of personal growth—developing job-specific skills through experience and moving up the ranks of a profession starting in their early teen years. (This would be possible assuming, of course, that the ambition-stifling child labor laws are abolished as well.) If they later come to recognize the value of a more academic education, they should be free to re-enroll in schools or engage in self-study. Intensive, protracted schooling—especially early in life—is valuable only to individuals with considerable intellectual ambitions. Compelling everyone to undergo such schooling devalues its quality by incentivizing teaching to the lowest common denominator.
2) Elimination of government-imposed educational standards for students outside of public schools
Even homeschooled students today are subject to detailed mandatory curricula imposed by the educational authorities. This greatly limits the flexibility and speed with which parents and private tutors can educate homeschooled students. Abolish compulsory schooling laws, and there would not remain even an apparent rationale for retaining educational standards for non-public schools or homeschooled students. This will greatly increase educational competition and variety and will enable experimentation with new educational approaches that currently would not be accommodated under the mandatory curricula imposed on everybody.
3) Elimination of the prison-like environment of public schools
Abolishing compulsory schooling would mean that even the students who attend public schools would not have to remain there. Currently, public schools especially are de facto prison facilities where students are locked in during the entire school day. If they cease to be compulsory, this would imply that students could leave at any time during the day, if they so choose—of course, with possible associated reprimands as well as grade and reputational penalties. However, at present, even students who do not particularly mind being penalized in their grades or in the opinions of their teachers are not allowed to leave, and the schools have a captive clientele. There would be far greater incentives for schools to provide competent and effective education if students could walk out at any time they perceived the schools not to provide a quality product. Presently, each public school exerts the worst kind of coercive monopoly over its students—a monopoly where even the choice not to consume the product is disallowed. If compulsory schooling is abolished, this travesty of justice will end. Schools would actually endeavor to be hospitable, enjoyable places for students to be—rather than islands of totalitarian discipline and enforced uniformity.
* Gennady Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist and philosophical essayist, and is Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator. He lives in Carson City, Nevada.