Sunday, January 31, 2010

Compulsory Attendance Laws Interfere With Education

HARBESON: Education should respect the individual

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ State of the State address placed a lot of emphasis on the ineffectiveness of the government school system. He told us that Indiana’s education system is failing many elementary-age kids in what most people consider to be its most basic assignment: teaching students to read.

As part of explaining the government’s latest and greatest idea on how to fix this mess, he said, “If after four years, the system has failed in this most fundamental duty, then it will simply have to try again until it gets it right.”

I just have to ask - Why, Gov. Daniels? Why do they have to try again until they get it right? Why should you or any of us assume they can get it right?

Why don’t we just admit we do not now, and never did, have an organization devoted to education? What we have instead is a compulsory attendance system that’s merely dressed up in fancy political clothing to look like it’s all about educating the individual.

Think about it, if the government education system is a wonderful, enlightening place to be, why would we need to compel attendance? And since we do compel attendance and funding, what motivation and incentive do schools really have to be competent, let alone improve from that basic level?

If the government schools truly offer a valuable service families want, then there’s no need to compel attendance. Families would voluntarily send their children there and students would be happily engaged in learning as they freely chose from a variety of interesting options offered.

Lately, I’m learning nearly daily about the ways compulsion has increased regulation so deeply that education now has nothing to do with making sensible decisions that are in the student’s best interest; it’s only about the numbers. Is that really what education is supposed to be about?

When are we going to simply look at the evidence and admit the system we created just doesn’t work well? Not only for teaching the basics of reading, but also in creating inquisitive, curious people who know how to think for themselves. People who will be skeptical of what they’re being told and who will critically examine even long-accepted standards, such as government compulsion being morally good.

Under a compulsory government-funded system, instead of treating students as individuals, we use them as pawns for political game-playing. Politicians create big ideas intended to build their version of a “superior” country or individual state and government employees at all levels are expected to carry out their grand plans. This means there can be little focus on creating an inviting place filled with attractive programs that include lots of flexibility to meet individual needs, desires and differences.

Instead, the focus is on forcing students to attend, to stay even if they are not learning, and most of all, to comply. But perhaps that’s the intent. Maybe the system really doesn’t want us to think too deeply, maybe it’s merely to get us used to complying in other ways when we are adults.

How else can we explain it when people applaud Daniels when he says Indiana will “never give up on its children?” Our children are not the state’s, yet few consider that this is precisely what this statement means at its root.

No reform will work as long as we remain convinced that compelling attendance and funding is necessary. I for one am completely ready to discard any educational system that relies on such compulsion. It’s time we started focusing on education that meets individual learner’s needs and not government’s demands.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson advises her readers that the best way to compel her attendance anywhere is to have plenty of snacks available.

1 comment:

  1. "Instead, the focus is on forcing students to attend, to stay even if they are not learning, and most of all, to comply. But perhaps that’s the intent."

    Compliance is exactly the intent, and has been since the inception of the Prussian Model of education (which is the basis of all American public school systems).

    Any comparisons to "good little Germans" are entirely appropriate.