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Trying to Have our Cake & Eat it Too (Part 3 of 7)

An Odd Omission: Studies of Important Correlations Between Attendance Laws and Behavioral Science Are Absent From the Literature. Why Have Studies of These Crucial Direct Connections Not Been Conducted or Reported?

Research scientists have studied just about everything imaginable with respect to humans and the wide variety of biological, social and other factors or causes that are suspected of influencing our behavior at various stages or during our lifetimes. Everything from pheromones to birth order to sugary desserts have been evaluated scientifically to determine behavioral effects. Yet, a search for studies of how people are affected by the highly consequential and significant state laws in all fifty states that have for generations established certain nearly universal rigid guidelines for attendance in schools for virtually every ordinary healthy American child between specified ages (depending on the period and the state of residence) draws a phenomenal blank.

Libertarians and Amish objectors who oppose secular schooling and anarchists who want no government at all have been the only active protesters against the laws for decades. No other results for behavioral effects or correlations are cited in a Google search, with the exception of a few that presume compulsion to be benign and beneficial, essential and permanent.  Marginal studies which reference age at entrance to school, boiler-plate definitions of the attendance laws and their applications, and secondary level studies of classroom behaviors or the incidence of truancy are of no help.

It seems altogether strange to find it a regular necessity to point out one obvious fact. That fact is that the precise reason any law or statute is proposed, debated and passed by legislators is to affect certain behaviors of those who are or may be within its purview. Whether the intent of the law is to require specific affirmative actions or behaviors on the part of some identified population or the future universe of potential citizens, or whether it is to proscribe specific negative acts or kinds of behavior, any and all laws are first and foremost all about human actions, status or behavior.

To put it more succinctly, laws are written to affect people and their societies or communities in specified desired ways.  In the case of school attendance, the laws cover virtually all children between specified ages and purport to guarantee relevant study and instruction in preparation for adulthood, except when there is a qualified status exception (a severe disability), or a substitute schooling process (i.e., homeschooling, private school or tutoring) that has been certified by authorities in advance.

In the late 1800’s, Tolstoy the great author and school master predicted in astounding detail the morass that we now face in conjunction with these misguided laws. But where is the evidence to prove him right or wrong? Given the enormous populations involved in implementing these laws and the scope of the institutional structures and bureaucracies necessary to carry out the laws, it is nothing short of baffling that no one has found it expedient to explore scientifically the particular relationships and traditions created thereby. We have little or no science identifying the consistent patterns of behavior elicited as a direct consequence – and solely as the consequence – of the legal strictures, including the positive and negative effects on several specific groups or cohorts, or the historical record as it shows overall success and failure with respect to end results (or to something we casually call “education”, which Goodman and others have more appropriately called mis-education).

Compulsory school laws must be evaluated for their profoundly negative effects. The indisputable reality is that all enforceable laws typically do modify and control how people think; how they see certain aspects of the world around them; how they behave and feel, and what they can and cannot do at least part of the time. The truth is that there are both positive and negative arguments to be made at any given juncture with respect to forcing nearly all parents to enroll their children in an institution that provides socialization and indoctrination. There is absolutely no doubt that coercion has various risks and a really big downside that needs to be much better understood.


Photo by lejoe. L’hermitage, Lausanne, VD, Switzerland. Jun 2008.
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