TRYING TO HAVE OUR CAKE & EAT IT TOO: WHY COMPULSORY SCHOOL ATTENDANCE IS ANTITHETICAL TO EDUCATION; HOW ARBITRARY AUTHORITY AFFECTS INSTITUTIONAL BEHAVIORS & ENVIRONMENTS & WHY THOSE BEHAVIORS HAVEN’T BEEN PROPERLY STUDIED
First the Troubling Questions and Controversial Issues for Discussion and Debate:
There is one way and one way only to justify a law that deprives parents of their Constitutional rights with respect to the intellectual and other development of their children. If there were empirical evidence that children would otherwise be neglected or somehow deprived of educational opportunities and if the states could provide convincing and enduring proof that they were able to provide those opportunities to all students equitably, then and only then could one make a case for the laws that require attendance in a state operated school or some other controlled environment under state oversight. These questions are no longer hypothetical. Research needs to be done to identify where the realities lie with respect to these issues and to dispel harmful myths.
Following are some questions that should have been asked long ago about the connections between compulsory attendance laws and the behaviors, attitudes, circumstances and experiences of those affected that exist on all levels:
1. Is there a significant difference between the negative mental, emotional or psychological frame of reference that a child has when entering and attending a school where law obligates her attendance and alternatively, the more organic and positive frame that a child would have if no such law mandated his presence there?
2. Does the mere existence of attendance laws entail serious risk of harm to students; where does the authority reside, and what are the implications and consequences of such authority?
3. What sort of pressures or obligations do teachers feel under these laws that are not felt by teachers in a non-compulsory framework?
4. What is already known as a result of solid professional research about learning and student development and attitudes with regard to the effects of an (inescapable) authoritarian climate within classrooms under conscripted schooling?
5. How are parents affected by the existence of a law that obligates them to send their child to school? Do they lead reflexively to assumptions about who has responsibility, to apathy, disengagement and cynicism, or to too much reliance on school officials and their supposed “expertise”, and if so, is there a cure for these conditions? (Clue; there’s no cure).
6. Under mandatory attendance, how much time, energy and attention are diverted toward keeping attendance and other records necessary to document compliance and to establish funding levels and to what extent is the teacher transformed into a maker and enforcer of rules as a direct and unavoidable consequence?
7. Is it possible to imagine a consensus definition for education that; a.) allows for learning that is not, initiated by or intensely desired by the learner; b.) that allows for the inimical effects of force, constant behavioral control and manipulation, or the presence of other learners who are unwilling participants; c.) that is acquired without ample and continuous opportunities to formulate personal questions and to discover answers through integrated unforced exploration, contemplation and meticulous inquiry; d.) that is primarily cerebral and static, without extensive movement, stimulation and oxygenation (deep breathing and exercise); e.) that is pre-fabricated arbitrarily and externally by curriculum ‘wizards’, or, f.) that is scheduled, directed, orchestrated and delivered by alienated teachers as pretentions to absolute knowledge, dogma, or propaganda?
8. Does the administration and oversight of schooling as a function of compulsory attendance dictate a need for there to be clearly identified and therefore distinct and distinctly limited criteria for a uniform official “curriculum” at all levels and hence, ostensible “experts” or arbitrary authorities appointed to prescribe that mandatory curriculum? Furthermore, does such a standardized “core” curriculum not exclude much more than it includes, while depriving teacher and student of immediacy, relevance at any given moment, spontaneity, and the rapt interest that characterizes true education?
9. Are the philosophical orientations, roles, attitudes or capacities of high level officials, such as school board members affected by the existence of school attendance laws? How are positions contingent on that existence?
10. How does the state justify its powerful influence on and incursion into matters that are logically and constitutionally family matters in a free democracy; how do children perceive and comprehend democracy when they are enmeshed in an anti-democratic system, and does the state now have an inordinate need to verify and document a level of success and improvement that distracts from the actual mission and purpose?
11. Is it possible to have laws in place that mandate attendance without an entire apparatus based ultimately, reflexively and habitually on threats, on authority, on naked coercion, on browbeating or indoctrinating students, on ever-narrowing restrictions and oppressive tactics, and on relentless assessments, tests and evaluations? (Clue; it isn’t possible).
Some answers are implied within the questions. Part II will give more specifics. Please stay tuned.
Photo by dullhunk. Greater Manchester, England, GB. Feb 2005.