Compulsory schooling must end

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This text is part of: "I would never send my kids to school" by Piotr Wozniak (2017)

Violation of human rights

In the industrialized world, we lock most of the children for a decade in a system that is supposed to educate intellectual elites. Instead, we do irreversible harm to mental health, lifelong education, and creative potential of societies.

Compulsory schooling will go the way of slavery. It will be remembered as a monumental waste of human resources that lasted well beyond a century. It will be a monument to human ignorance in the area of combating ignorance.

When committing human right violations, we often use "intellectual inferiority" argument as an excuse. Slaves were not smart enough to live their own autonomous lives. Citizens were too greedy to be entrepreneurs. Immigrants were too ignorant to teach their own children. Women were too dumb to vote. Today, we say that children are not smart enough to self-educate.

I discuss the harms of schooling in this book. Here I would like to show positive outcomes that will come with the end to compulsory schooling. I show how societies will change when we replace the concept of mandatory schooling with the concept of the right to rich education.

Cultural paradigm shift

Ivan Illich noticed half-a-century ago, that schooling became so culturally ingrained in modern societies that we no longer imagine life without coercion in learning. When I ask around about the effects of the end to compulsory schooling, I invariably get the only culturally ingrained and appropriate answer: "We will end up with illiterate society". The experience of democratic schools and unschoolers has provided rich and easy-to-understand evidence that the opposite would be the case. Neuroscience may not be that obvious, but is even more adamant. Human brain is an optimum device that makes us adapt to the environment. Modern environments are rich in knowledge and provide rich learning options. Compulsory schooling systematically destroys that natural adaptability. As a result, in the quest to combat ignorance, we increasingly do the opposite: we foster injured minds with crippled adaptation skills and vestigial immunity to the environmental change.

Happier world with less coercion

Imagine the world where kids are not forced to go to school. Instead, the governments could do their best to provide rich learning options or provide support for those with unfulfilled appetites for learning.

Here are some good effects of abolishing mandatory schooling:

  1. kids (and later adults) will not longer hate learning
  2. kids will skip classes rather than go to school sleepy
  3. kids will skip classes rather than go to school sick
  4. kids will stop rushing for deadlines
  5. kids will no longer live with convictions of being weak at some areas of human skill
  6. kids will learn with pleasure and reject materials unsuitable for their level of knowledge
  7. pleasure of learning stemming from the reliance on the learn drive will ensure semantic learning that will lead to knowledge of high coherence, stability and applicability
  8. classrooms of bad teachers will empty
  9. bullying will become extinct, and suicide rates will drop
  10. rates of ADHD and dyslexia will drop (along with the belief in their largely genetic origin)
  11. anxious comparisons with peers and cultural standards will wane in proportion to diversification
  12. kids will not need to compensate the pain of schooling with drugs or alcohol (see: School stress increases vulnerability to addiction)
  13. kids will not need to take on drugs or alcohol due to peer pressure
  14. harmful rewards and penalties of the school drive can be eliminated: knowledge will be its own deserved reward
  15. homeschoolers will be able to do unschooling
  16. democratic schools will universally become legally possible
  17. market of ideas for education will thrive (see: Grand Education Reform)
  18. given a chance to make their own decisions, children will naturally learn independence, responsibility, resilience, creativity, and problem solving
  19. natural mastery will thrive (e.g. in music, painting, film-making, literature, etc.)
  20. early learning via apprenticeship or employment will become possible
  21. with an option of early employment, children can contribute, integrate, grow, and mature as they see fit
  22. students at school will not be distracted by those who really do not want to be there
  23. culturally, the central role of the family in child's life will have a chance to be restored
  24. knowledge diversification in society will increase (see: 4 Things That Would Happen if We Eliminated Compulsory Schooling Laws)
  25. free learning will flourish unabated
Without coercion, learning would be a pleasure, bad schools and bad teachers would disappear overnight, kids would be healthier and smile more, literacy would thrive, we would all gain on brain health and intelligence, societies would be more productive, and the world would be a happier place

The myth of illiterate society

The specter of "illiterate society" is just a myth. The same individuals who fear illiterate population, insist that their own lives would change little with the end to compulsory schooling. Parents would change little. Teacher would feel free to educate and innovate (instead of rushing through the curriculum). Only children see more options: many would skip a subject or two, and many would relish the option of getting some healthy sleep in the night. The most symptomatic is a frequent answer I get from kids: "The world would be beautiful".

I struggle to compile the list of things that would change for the worse. My main problem is that people tell me what others, "the less capable" or "the less educated" individuals would do (see: Advantages of compulsory education). They can hardly ever point to the advantages of limiting their own freedom.

Kids can see the biggest difference, but even kids do not realize that freedom to learn would turn learning into a pleasure (see: Pleasure of learning). For cultural reasons, few people seem to understand that the end to compulsory schooling would actually increase the quality of education in society.

Student rebellion

How can we accomplish the above? There have been dozens of education reforms before. They are all groping in the dark. There have been great ideas like school choice, or school vouchers. These are great ideas, but they do not hit the core of the problem: coercion in learning. Even worse, their implementation is often making things worse. There are meek and shy efforts by lawmakers to abolish compulsory education. Usually they meet with ridicule based on the prevalent cultural perception of schooling. If children could vote, we could quickly populate parliaments with people who understand the key problem of education. However, voting rights for children are as remote as the right to free learning.

Hereby, I hypothesize that mandatory schooling will only end as a result of a massive peaceful rebellion from school-aged children. Today, this rebellion may seem highly unlikely. The writings of Gatto, Holt or Illich are all decades old, and they did not seem to budge the dial. However, the explosive impact of social media makes me hopeful. All good ideas spread like wildfire. Young minds, are open minds. They feel the pain of schooling. Their rebellion may come soon. Once we change constitutions and let children learn their own way, few things will change on the ground except for a big sigh of relief for millions, and many happy young faces around. As of then, the real learning will get a chance to begin.

Next steps

Student Spring 2024

This text explains the reasons and strategies behind a school strike "Student Spring 2024" aimed at ending compulsory schooling

Hashtags: #WiosnaUczniow, #StudentSpring2024

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