Friday, April 6, 2012

raising the drop out age?

Last month Governor Quinn (the current governor of Illinois, who has no plans to retire to the penitentiary like so many of his predecessors) announced a plan to raise to 18 the age at which a student may legally stop attending school. That age is currently 17.

I wondered what was going to happen to all that surplus educational funding, and now I know. It will be used to force unwilling young adults to spend the majority of their weekdays killing time at an educational institution.

I am pessimistic, I know. Best case will go something like this:

17-year old: I want to drop out of school.

Government: Not until you're 18. Stay there and graduate.

17-year-old: I guess you're right. I will begin studying right now, and be an example of discipline and respect to authority for all the younger students.


When my children were pre-schoolers, a casual conversation with my hairdresser gave me pause. She told me that during the summer, she had taught her 6-year-old to tell time.

"I know her teacher will be mad." She cringed at the thought, and a feeling began to rise within me. A rebellion. And I became an educational libertarian.

Tell me, Karen, you of the multiple education degrees--what is the solution here?


Marcia, the more I think about education, the more I believe it is a privilege.

Coercing education is the most effective way to make people under-value it and feel it is a burden. Free things are not appreciated. Mandated things are resisted. Forcing young people to attend school until they are 18 is tantamount to making it a prison sentence.

We value what costs us. Historically, Americans valued education to the point that they offered it freely, then they legislated it and then prescribed its content. That was the death knell. People will not esteem that which costs them nothing.

There was a time I had serious doubts about the wisdom of public education. Now I think free primary education is probably a good idea. It would not be a hardship on any family and would give an opportunity for literacy and numeracy to all. But beyond that, education/ learning/ training needs to come at a price for people to understand its significance. If secondary schools required some labor commensurate to the value of the information being offered, young people could earn the opportunity to learn. The privilege of study would not be an onerous task requiring parental and municipal "enforcers."

Education and knowledge are privileges, not rights. Our own history has ugly stories of what happened to slaves and their owners who dabbled in education. What young slave would have scorned the opportunity to learn to read? 

Too bad the schools no longer require reading Frederick Douglass' autobiography.


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