Is Compulsory Education Obsolete?


Daniel Payne’s Abolish Compulsory Education is worth reading for anyone considering homeschooling or for anyone who is passionate about organized education.

Payne argues that the historical context that produced government (or any centralized organization) run education has passed and it is now time for informed citizens to rethink whether we need to require parents (under threat of fine) to send their kids to a school for 8 hours each day.

Payne writes:

Compulsory education is simply impossible to reconcile with a free people, which is presumably why it is enforced so strictly in places like Greece and Serbia. In the United States—a nation, one recalls, where liberty is held to be not merely vital but inalienable—it is altogether puzzling and dismaying that it ever reared its ugly head, or that it ever became an acceptable state of affairs.

Lurking behind this argument is a belief that homeschooling is a viable and fruitful educational option.

I must confess to a small amount of bias concerning compulsory education in general and its home-based opposite in particular: for eleven of my formative years I was homeschooled, a gift immeasurable in its value and in its utility. There was a good deal of breathless worry from third parties as to whether or not homeschool would see my brother and me “properly socialized” (one of the great benefits of homeschooling is that you get to offend a lot of people who have delicate sensibilities); still others wondered if we would receive adequate education under our parents (a question that is virtually never asked in such a knee-jerk fashion of the teachers to which we send our children every day, at least not until it is too late). All of these fears were grossly misplaced, and though I will not say that homeschooling is for everyone, the choice to do so certainly is—as is the offense to be taken at having to even ask the state if one may do so.

Control is the operative word in this essay.  To what extent do parents want to maintain control over their children’s educational development (One which is a significant component in the development of character and personality).  For some parents, they are happy to relinquish control to specialists who are more gifted in the area of education. For others, say like my wife (Masters degree in education) and myself (PhD), we may be reticent to give control over our kid’s educational development when we could reasonably help form this aspect in our own way, with our own values and views up front, and with a bit more control over the process.

As a historian, something also rings true about Payne’s premise.  2014 America with google and bookstores and libraries aplenty has much more access to information than the rural farms and urban cities of 1899 America.  Are options such as Kahn Academy or private tutors more in keeping with our current pace of life?  Do our kids need rigid curriculums and accountability systems or do they need educated tutors who can channel innate curiosity towards an informed position and understanding of reality?

About Doug Hankins

Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a good book, or drinking some hot tea. Doug's first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.
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