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Friday, March 23, 2007

Attendance is Mandatory

There has been a lot of talk over the last few years about applying a business model to public education. You hear children described as though they are widgets on an assembly line, as some form of social capital gain. Many say the free market is the panacea for all of public education's woes. This isn't new, by any means. The business world has been sticking its nose into education for some time now. It makes sense from their perspective. Why worry about training workers on the job when you can get public education to churn out skilled workers? Maybe I'm being unfair to the private sector. Still, I think that as long as we're debating education, we need to revisit the question of what we actually want out of our schools.

My personal expectations are many fold, and I'm not in the mood to go into them all right now. I do want to make clear one thing about education and the free market. A key ingredient of a free market is consumer choice. This is the idea behind the voucher hub-bub. But the greatest choice of a consumer is whether or not to make use of a product in the first place, and this is the key reason why there is no free market in our public education system. Children must attend school. It's the law. Not even their parents have the right to opt out on their behalf.

How do we as a democratic nation justify this? Is it right for us to force anyone to become educated? It wasn't that long ago when it was perfectly acceptable to end one's formal schooling after the eighth grade. That's no longer the case. We almost take it for granted that there is no other way, but in other countries, there is. For instance, the UK is only recently considering compulsory attendance for all minors. There is much debate over it as well.

Look, I desperately believe in education. I am dying to become a teacher. But I don't think anyone should be in school if they really don't want to be. You can't force someone to learn. You just can't.

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