Why We Should Abolish Compulsory Schooling



The problem with compulsory schooling is that it’s authoritarian and ineffective as a method of educating individuals:

  1. It violates liberty for parents and children
  2. It teaches authoritarianism as a way to get what you want and is undemocratic
  3. Intelligence cannot be obtained through force
  4. It produces a population of passive, obedient workers and consumers
  5. It’s a surveillance state environment
  6. It’s classist


1. It violates liberty for parents and children…

There is no choice in the matter if school is compulsory. You go to school or you (or the parent) get a fine, community service, or even jail time. Sometimes a court will order mandatory counseling, parenting classes, “support groups”, or alternative schools.

When I was reading about truancy laws, almost every source I read had a bias that you were a parents who wanted to learn how to make your kid go to school, and that if you just obeyed, you wouldn’t have anything to worry about.

It reminded me of when the NSA wiretapping program was found out. A common argument at the time was that if you had nothing to hide, you have no business worrying about the wiretapping program.


2. It teaches authoritarianism as a way to get what you want, and is undemocratic…

  1. there is a central authority (such as a teacher, school administrator, adults, etc.)
  2. limited political freedoms (such as when you can speak, what you can say, when you can go to the bathroom, etc.)
  3. an emotional basis of legitimacy (“because I said so”)
  4. political opposition suppression (asking “why” it is necessary to follow a procedure is not tolerated)


3. Intelligence cannot be obtained through force…

Children and young adults are given far too many arbitrary assortments of subjects to grasp. For 20 minutes you will learn fractions, then a bell rings and before you can finish your thought process, it’s time to read about the Vikings for another 20 minutes. And did you know the Earth’s lithosphere is composed of 7-8 major plates?

This fights against the natural process of learning. Learning is not completed in uniformly structured random chunks. That would be like learning to cook by following the directions on a collage of cut and pasted recipe parts.

The most common argument I see people state in criticism of not having compulsory schooling is, “how will anyone learn reading, writing, and arithmetic?”

The truth is that reading, writing and arithmetic can be taught in a very short amount of time. Some say around 100 hours but I haven’t found any hard evidence for the 100 hour number so I’m skeptical.

What’s not learned in around 100 hours is intelligence. Intelligence cannot be achieved through threats (bad grades, taking things away, low test scores).

The way formal schooling is set up, 30-40 children are emotionally and intellectually dependent on 1 adult per classroom. A child cannot even go to the bathroom without asking permission and getting a bureaucratic slip of paper signed by an authority first.

This is done in the name of safety.

But how much liberty are you willing to give up in the name of safety? Plenty of things are dangerous that we do every day without thought that could potentially be banned in the name of safety. Going to the bathroom has to be the least dangerous.

As far as intellectual dependence, a student’s growth is stunted because he or she will have a task, say, adding up numbers, and won’t be allowed to continue learning further without the authority’s approval first. This start and stop method of learning keeps everyone at the same basic level. Whereas, if the environment were more free, a student would be able to add up the numbers, and when they are finished, look on to the next task or page, and work as fast or slow as they need to.

There is a false assumption that has no evidence for it, that without Big Brother compulsory schooling, everyone would fall behind and be illiterate. I argue that compulsory schooling is what is making everyone fall behind and remain illiterate far more than without compulsory schooling.

Imagine 2 students. One is 5 years old and the other is 9 years old. They both learn to read at the same time, different ages. By age 13, they can both read exactly the same level and it’s not apparent what age they first learned to read.

However, in compulsory school, we put the 5 year old in the “gifted” program and the 9 year old in special ed.

The truth is that not everyone learns how to read or even should learn how to read at the same age. 

Just like how children physically grow at different rates, we don’t lengthen their limbs with braces if they’re not 3ft tall by a certain age, so we shouldn’t force children to read according to their age average.


4. It produces a population of passive, obedient workers and consumers

In classrooms around the country, there is the authority (teacher) and the subjects (students). The authority talks at the subjects and disseminates information. The subjects passively consume this information as if watching television.

There is no engagement. No dialogue. No democracy.

Imagine if you were in a conversation and the other person expected and enforced that you do not speak the entire time while they drone on for hours. You would probably have a hard time paying attention the full amount of time, right?

Why do we expect different of children who are still developmentally learning skills like attention?

Every breath in a classroom is regulated and surveilled, unless, however, you’re working diligently. There is no room for human behavior. No wonder status quo schools are rampant with behavioral problems from their students. They are subconsciously, and naturally rebelling against oppression.

Asking “why” is not tolerated. There simply isn’t time. Subjects are expected to simply accept that the pilgrims came to America, the Native Americans died from smallpox, and then what was left of them gathered together for a peaceful meal that we now have a holiday for.

If anyone told you a story as disjointed as this, you would not be wrong to ask for clarification, but we set a double standard with children, who we accept as having no rights and everyone is fine with that.

I disagree. Children deserve rights.

But this is the world we live in. School prepares from a very young age, compliance or consequences for being anything other than passive, obedient workers and consumers.


5. It’s a surveillance state environment

Imagine working in an environment where you had to ask permission of your boss in order to use the bathroom. But again, we accept as a society that children deserve no rights.

There is no trust of children all in the name of keeping them safe. It has created a nanny state in our schools where children are taught to be helpless and at the mercy of their authority figures.


6. It’s classist

What would you think if you went to work and you were divided into groups by age?

It is arbitrary to sort people into classes by age and teach to them according to that standard. Not everyone follows a neat and tidy age appropriate timeline to learning and that doesn’t make them deficient in some way.

Now I’d like to bring up the subject of grades. The U.S. has an obsession with quantifying everything and finds it uneasy not to. After all, how else will you be able to tell if something is going right or wrong?!

In the name of efficiency, we give children grades of A through F, or percentages of 0%-100% on just about everything you could possibly conceive. The students who achieve closer to an A or 100% are rewarded and treated better by the authority figure than those who achieve closer to the other end of the spectrum. This affects both parties self-esteem.

Now imagine a system where we didn’t numerically quantify the success or failure of a child. How would we be able to tell their success or failure then?

We would have to rethink things into a form other than success or failure of a child. For example, if a child finishes a book, that is a success. In this instance, we no longer need to determine that the child failed because they read 4 pages instead of 6. We can use common sense to determine that a book was read independently and therefore, is a success. We would have to eliminate the concept of a child’s failure and come to grips with using human judgement with all its flaws.



So what do we do to have an educated populace of citizens besides compulsory schooling?

Children would learn the way they did before compulsory schooling: with an active role in their community and returning to spending precious time with their families.

What I mean by community in this sense, is not the same as a network. Networks are what we have currently have in place. Networks are shallow relationships based on what you can get from each other. Community means “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.

For example, a single alternative (of many potential alternatives) to compulsory schooling could be the following loose “curriculum” of natural life experiences:

  • play
  • household responsibilities
  • personal interests and curiosity
  • internships and work experience
  • travel
  • books
  • elective classes
  • family
  • mentors
  • social interaction

Traditional schooling takes away time that would normally have been contributed to participating and building the community and family. This form of “unschooling” would allow children and young adults to get back to those roots and become whole individuals and society members moreso than if they were sitting in a classroom the majority of the day.

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