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What If Public Education Was Opt-in Instead Of Opt-out?

January 2, 2014

There are three possible reasons for enforcing mandatory education, and they are all bogus.

1.  Everybody needs to learn the same things.

Obviously false.  One hallmark of modern life is diversity.  Everybody has different goals and different ways of going about pursuing them.  Only an individual empowered to pursue self education can decide what is relevant for him or her self to learn at a given time, and relevance is the strongest driver of learning.  People don’t have to be forced to learn what is relevant; on the contrary, if they have to be forced to learn something it is because it is irrelevant to them at that particular time.  If there is some knowledge that is truly relevant to everyone, that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be forced to learn it, it means that everyone will learn it in their own time and their own way for their own reasons.  Take reading, for example, as good a candidate as any for a skill that is relevant to anyone and everyone.  Plenty of kids learn to read before going to school, which proves that forcing everybody to learn to read at a certain age isn’t necessary.

2. The information taught in school isn’t available anywhere else.

Ha!  This is about as laughable as they come.  Once upon a time paper was scarce, books were scarce, and experts on any given subject were hard to connect with.  Now knowledge and expertise are as ubiquitous as air and water.  Anybody can learn about anything they want at any time they want.  It’s not as if someone who fails to learn long division at age 8 has missed the boat, and it’s not as if a 6 year old who wants to learn long division has to wait for it to be taught in school.  Making education mandatory is about as necessary as making it mandatory for people to eat or to breathe or to get married or to have kids.

3. People won’t learn on their own, so we have to force them to.

Also obviously false.  People have a natural drive to learn, to create, to contribute, and to grow.  The reason that people supposedly need to be forced to learn is the same reason that slaves supposedly need to be whipped: because they are lazy.  In both cases it is the natural human tendency to resist coercion that is responsible for the illusion.  As much as we claim to value liberty and freedom, the dominant mode of organization of our society is still coercion, and since almost all of us live with coercion practically from day one, it is almost impossible for us to distinguish our natural motivations from its pervasive effects.

A modern and realistic understanding of human motivation indicates that instead of schools being run like prisons or the military, human well being would be better served by schools that are run more like public libraries; places where anyone can go at any time to learn about anything.  No longer do we need to attempt to regiment the learning process, creating a false divide between childhood and adulthood, or between education and life.  Learning works best when it is facilitated, and worst when it is forced.

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One Comment
  1. “Learning works best when it is facilitated, and worst when it is forced.” I agree. Here in the USA. Bush wanted every kids to be treated the same. This can’t work. All kids are different. Each need different type of teaching. There are hand-on teaching and book teaching. Thank you for your thoughts on a important issue.

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