Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reconsidering Compulsion

Voting is compulsory in Belgium, Australia, Ecuador and Lebanon. It is not in the Netherlands, Great Britain and Venezuela. Most Americans would agree, voting is a good thing, a priviledge; but forced voting would be a hard sell here. Most Americans would also agree, schooling is a good thing. But schooling is on a different plane, it isn't just a priviledge in the United States, it is compulsory. What makes schooling so much more important to require, or maybe so much less likely to occur without, compulsion?
If I were planning my own utopian society, I would certainly favor a population with basic education over a highly democratic one. But isn't that freedom Americans have not to vote part of the democratic package? Shouldn't the freedom not to go to school be also? In my Utopian society, no one would have to go to school, but every single person would want to be educated: every single person would prize learning and the community would be resource rich, an eden for the body and mind.
The United States is cram-packed with resources. Many of the brightest, richest, most creative people on the planet reside here. Our material resources, from the Library of Congress to the local bookmobile, are everything our founders would have wanted for us and so much more. So, why do we need to force schooling?
The most amazing education humans have ever had, is literally a finger-tap away. So why compel people to check into a community building that insulates them from the resource-rich world? It is time to re-consider schools for what they are and what they could be, because in the world in which we live, compulsion should be irrelevant.


  1. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who would argue that education is far more productive, when a student wants to learn. It is, however, inherent human nature to resist. Do not most children resist when their parents inform them that it’s time for a bath or it’s time for bed? As parents, we know that it’s in our children’s best interest to practice good hygiene and to get plenty of sleep, so that they will learn good habits that will increase their chances of becoming healthier adults. How many adults enjoy paying taxes? As citizens, we know that to maintain the functioning of government and the welfare of its people, some form of taxation is in our country’s best interest.

    There is a clear correlation between mandatory education and wealth, health, power, etc. of a country. You make a clear point that the United States is packed full of resources. This is not from pure luck.

    I wouldn’t argue one bit that our education system has picked up some significant flaws over that past few decades. If not turned around, these flaws will substantially reduce our long-term world position, if they haven’t already. However, mandatory education has done quite well for the United States.

  2. Slight edit to my post:

    "You’d be hard pressed to find someone who WOULDN'T argue...."

  3. It is true that one must learn and do some things that aren't particularly pleasant, such as, pay taxes. But this country was founded because people tired of being taxed without representation. Maybe schools would benefit from incorporating the ideal of representation on a case by case basis? Is that doable?

  4. Are not parents and teachers the representatives for their children and their students? There are a number of alternate education options, but we must be careful. If we are too cavalier or lax in oversight, the child ends up with an unbalanced education. It's a lot harder to learn long division in your 40's than at 10 or 11. Take the NBA as a great example. Sixty percent (60%!!!!!!!) of all NBA stars are bankrupt 5 years after they retire. Clearly, nobody properly teachers players sound financial principles and money management.

    It's a good idea that, no matter how unpleasant to any particular student, things like math, science, grammar, finance, economics, history, etc. be studied and understood thoroughly. There are certainly good ways and bad ways to teach, but we all must get a firm grasp on a wide array of subjects.

    I trust that the engineers and architects who created the plans for the World Trade Center replacement structures were well instructed in disciplines critical to the work they performed in designing the new buildings.

    As citizens who also voted yesterday, I also trust that those same architects and engineers were also educated in things like finance, economics, political science, history, etc. These subjects, and others, play a key role in making an educated decision who and what to vote for or against.

    I'm not saying that everyone is getting a balanced education. Far from it, in fact. I believe the issue has more to do with apathetic parents and teachers than anything else.

    Many/most teachers have no enthusiasm or love for teaching, which is passed along to students. Many parents are equally uninvolved and uninterested, which is also passed along to their kids. The result is a boring environment where kids are forced to be. It's no wonder many look for distractions like drugs, sex, and crime. If this boring environment is what the future holds, who'd want any part of that! I believe that it's not the system so much as it is the "representatives"; the teachers and the parents.

    I’d have to write a book here about how I’d propose to fix this, but it’s a mix of cutting back, or out, unions, substantially higher pay, pay increases that reward long term outstanding student performance, teacher/student personality matching, etc. I’m sure we could come up with a bunch more too!