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
(BRIEF TENTATIVE ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS POSED IN PART I.)
Compulsory Attendance laws ARE the Problem
1. The humiliating frame of reference a child has when attendance laws are in effect does indeed account for nearly everything that happens in school and the pathological derailing of the schooling process. These laws define the entire experience and transform it from one centered on the child and his pursuits to one centered elsewhere. Learning no longer originates with the child’s need to discover.
2. Laws of this magnitude and ubiquity are seldom challenged or evaded. When they are, the entire force of the state apparatus is at the disposal of the authorities, starting with teachers and truant officers and extending to the US Supreme Court. Authority is indistinct and primarily anonymous unless challenged directly. And, while references may be made reminding parents and children of their involuntary servitude, parents typically become the willing enforcers for the state, knowing the consequences of non-compliance. The implications and consequences seem endless and must be dealt with separately. Education becomes indoctrination and learning is measured and dis-integrated in an infinite regression and digression. The pernicious damage to children is universal and enduring.
3. The lack of autonomy for teachers when the state is the ultimate authority is a non-starter. Teachers are assigned a role that is midway between being law enforcement officers and slaves to petty and utterly useless rules and curriculum guidelines, regardless of philosophies and intentions. This is set in legal stone. The real impetus no longer has anything to do with education.
4. Virtually all relevant research over several generations has heavily reinforced the logical observation that learning that occurs under duress or in an environment that is hostile or oppressive is contaminated, corrupted and compromised. Such “learning” fits a definition for indoctrination, memorization or dogma, rather than for education or useful instruction.
5. There is no cure for parental exclusion and dis-engagement. When the parental role is usurped and when the law fails to allow distinctions between parents or to respect their rights, they are placed in an impossible bind. Parental (non)participation becomes nothing more than a nice illusion and a critical talking point to justify school failure.
6. Time no longer belongs to the teacher in this scenario. The needs of students must take a back seat to fulfilling the official or bureaucratic duties and expectations imposed from all directions. Order, quiet and structure become disorder, noise and disorganization everywhere, due to competition, confusion and conflicts between institutional needs and those of students.
7. No credible definition for education allows for learning that is externally imposed. Education cannot be prepackaged by any stretch of the imagination. It is and must be about a process of answering one’s own questions for one’s own reasons through contemplation as a function of living, moving and breathing, and experiencing life primarily in a private or personal space.
8. There is a logical expectation that schools must provide a specific type and degree of academic service and that there will be documentation and proof that such services are provided. School laws do not exist to ensure mere babysitting. Therefore, content must be identified and defined (curriculum) with “experts” appointed who are presumed to know what to include, what to exclude, and everything that “properly” pertains to format and presentation. In the real world however, curriculum is a formula for disaster. It is a myth to think that any entity or group can prepare in advance a standard template or the optimal content of education for multiple individuals.
9. The absolute need for a top-heavy administrative hierarchy is in opposition to the constant cry for less waste of taxpayers’ money. Managers must manage; they contribute little of value, and while they talk about change and goals, they stand directly in the way of any meaningful reform, due to their conflicting positions and interests.
10. Compulsory attendance is undemocratic. Children learn a profoundly skewed lesson about democracy from spending over a decade in systems that are inescapably authoritarian. Continual and incessant evaluation is the only way for schools to attempt to provide some kind of documentation ostensibly verifying that the deprivation of rights is appropriately compensated despite the fact that standards for schools have never been anywhere near satisfactory on any scale. When evaluations don’t show sufficient progress, fakery and all sorts of creative fudging become the order of the day.
Threats, coercion, browbeating, abuse, indoctrination, and the tactics of oppression come with this territory. Likewise, for the need for non-stop testing. Despite the dedicated efforts of certain staff or others, including parents, local and temporary efforts to neutralize or circumvent the authority and power of officials and bureaucratic requirements will always fail in many respects before they get a foothold. It has been ever thus.
Photo by drinksmachine. Statue in protective cage. Hyde Park, London, England, GB. Jul 2009.