Compulsory School Attendance: Compassionate or Counterproductive?

Published June 13, 2017

Earlier this month, an Arizona state legislator did the unthinkable: He proposed returning power to the people by repealing compulsory school attendance laws. Compulsory education requirements have effectively reversed the role government has in Americans’ lives, from having citizens tell the state what to do to having the state telling citizens what they must do.

In a recent interview, state Rep. Paul Mosley (R-Lake Havasu City) told me his suggestion that it’s the parents’ job to feed and educate their own children drew outrage from all 50 states. The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss wrote Mosley’s view belonged in “the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up category.”

But is Mosley’s proposal really so outrageous? Strauss scoffs at it, noting, “Compulsory education has a long history in this country, actually predating it.” That might be true in some parts of the United States, but it isn’t evidence that supports Strauss’ conclusion or any other conclusion for that matter. It’s simply a note about history.

Strauss is not alone in her view, of course. Many others seem astounded by the thought of repealing compulsory school attendance because educating a child is such a natural thing for parents to do that a universal requirement to do so seems appropriate. But if educating children is so obvious and universal, why do we need a law compelling it?

Laurie Roberts, a columnist at the Arizona Republic, sums up popular thinking well. The alternative, she writes, to forcing children to sit in government schools for eight hours a day is “to let them stay home, ignorant and hungry and so not our problem.” Roberts’ line of thinking echoes the distorted but nonetheless widespread belief that parents will abandon their offspring to illiterate misery unless forced to take care of them by a government that knows best.

Let’s give parents at least a little credit. After all, even having a law that makes sending a child to school compulsory presupposes parents are responsible enough to want to avoid fines, jail time, and the abduction of their children by the state.

What’s more, parents, since the beginning of time, have been rearing their children to attain worldly advantages and be brighter, stronger, and better off than the parents themselves were. It’s evolutionarily advantageous to love your own child and do what it takes to see him or her succeed. This notion that parents aren’t good at taking care of their own children or won’t do it successfully if left to their own devices, is a manufactured, unfounded fear mongered by big-government types intent on keeping themselves in power. And logically, if government can force parents to send their kids to school because government is a better judge of what’s right for kids than parents, then government can force parents to do almost anything.

The power-grab by the public-school elite is nothing new, having started around the time compulsory attendance laws were gaining steam in the United States. “Between the 19th and 20th centuries… numerous states enacted compulsory education laws designed to take education out of the hands of parochial schools and primarily into the purview of state-run, public schools,” notes.

“By 1900… the courts were rife with child labor disputes,” the Homeschool Legal Defense Association wrote on its website. “Compulsory education laws were quickly enacted in the name of protecting children’s welfare.”

Child-labor disputes are a thing of the past, yet compulsory school attendance laws remain. (Remember the law requires children “attend” school, not that they become educated.) Today, people are still fighting for laws “protecting children’s welfare,” but the significant difference between now and then is today, the state is trying to “protect” children from their own parents — parents who feed, bathe, put to bed, and keep alive these children during the hours they’re not under government-school supervision. Many of these parents even go so far as to — gasp! — transport their children to and from costly classes, lessons, and extracurriculars they deem nurturing for the body and soul of their little ones.

But this hasn’t persuaded Roberts and a shocking number of other Americans from believing parents are incompetent to parent — a verb meaning “to be or act as a mother or father to someone,” not, contrary to leftists’ interpretation, “to entrust one’s offspring to a government system to care for every need imaginable.”

Either Roberts and those of her ilk are ignorant of the way people operate, or, more likely, they’re in denial, professing falsehoods about society in a desperate attempt to keep government schools churning out indoctrinated little government loyalists.

The American Founding Founders didn’t mention a peep about government being involved in education when they crafted the Constitution. It was expected that two people mature enough to bring another human into this world would take it upon themselves to rear the child, education included. The modern mindset, however, formed in a country where government has infiltrated (and mandated) every aspect of life imaginable and where more people have been trained to rely on public institutions to live their lives than ever before, is that public schools are necessary.

The truth is, repealing compulsory education won’t result in chaos. Children won’t just sit at home “ignorant and hungry.” Parents will actually be forced to take an active interest in what, where, and how their children learn rather than simply send them off to government prisons where — with Common Core, social and emotional learning, and other worthless nonsense — they achieve less academically the longer they’re enrolled.

No, compulsory education isn’t the linchpin holding American civilization together; it’s the block in the Jenga tower keeping a disastrous institution full of waste and corruption standing tall.

[Originally Published at the American Spectator]