Dennis L. Evans, former high school principal and director of credential programs for the department of education at the University of California, Irvine, has an article in EdWeek (still free, I think) called A Second Look at Compulsory Education. Sounded intriguing, but after reading it, I found it full of busybody-ness in and out of the school. Guess they just can’t help themselves as public schools often and blatantly have nothing to do with learning.
In examples of what makes learning worse for kids, he points out "compulsory education" as the "the greatest mischief-maker". He says:
Certainly, there is little dispute that education is a virtuous endeavor, and that it is essential both for individual development and, collectively, for our democratic society’s stability. Given such unanimity of support, it is understandable that we have defined engagement in education as a compelling state interest, and thus have made it mandatory for our children.
They’re looking at 68% of current 9th graders not graduating with their NCES statistics. That huge gap in graduation rates couldn’t be juggled around apparently, and I should be encouraged that he’s addressing it, at least. I am trying…..BUT, this is when his attitude starts to annoy me:
For many problems, the best solution sometimes is to do the opposite of what is being done. Instead of trying (usually futilely) to get non-engaged teenagers to view school and education as good things, and concomitantly trying to force them to attend, it would make more sense to tell them that after a certain age, they no longer must go to school. But we should go further than simply lowering the age of compulsory attendance. We should tell these students that not only do they no longer have to attend school, but that they can’t: They will not be allowed to continue to waste teachers’ time and effort and interfere with the right of other students to learn.
I didn’t see anything in his article that suggested compulsory attendance ages go away or that the compulsory attendance ages go up on the bottom rung. And I say that the joy of learning gets the stuffing knocked out of little ones’ heads as soon as they have to line up in a classroom, peer out the window at a beautiful day to make mudpies, and talk about the letter people, Mr. J or Mr. T for hours.
Our goal is to get youngsters to want to attend school and to engage in their own education. With that in mind, we must position school as a good place to be, and as a place where students can’t be if they won’t make appropriate decisions and efforts.
Position away, but institutional learning with classes (and teachers) who don’t engage the individual student will likely not make that an achievable position. I wasn’t seeing the suggestion of eliminating tenure for the many teachers who don’t get the job done. He continues:
To that end, we should remove current approaches that use school as punishment, for example, detention, in-school suspensions, and Saturday school, and simply and clearly tell non-engaged or disruptive students, “You can’t be here.” Some students, of course, will initially greet such an edict with pleasure. But for most, the pleasure will wane as they begin to miss the companionship of their in-school peers.
Sitting in the classroom bored stiff; whether it’s because you already understand the material or because you don’t understand the material and teacher isn’t helping you learn it, is also a punishment. Most teens, with their boundless energy and creativity, will most definitely be happy to ‘leave the room’. But despite his concerns for that social/emotional importance in the schools; I think they’ll find wonderful engagement in learning and oh yeah, socialization, outside the school. The homeschool community would be a very welcoming environment for them; as would be the museums, nature centers, libraries……Honestly, I can’t imagine the need for Mr. Evans’ suggestions of students accompanying parents to their workplaces, or a government agency other than the schools providing custodial supervision during school hours in the "form of the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps" or the "police or military [providing] boot-camp regimens and training for such students".
Seems like he has that same attitude that teens and young adults are little better than pests who are up to no good. I’ve had teens volunteer to help me with mission work with no coercion. I think David Aron’s experiences relate The Attitude very well in this article that he blogged.
Being able to make the choice about how you want to learn is key. I say that a lot to parents and kids who would consider homeschooling. But Mr. Evans’ suggestions to fix the "iatrogenic phenomenon in education" seem like more of the same. When public school promoters start talking about getting rid of compulsory attendance laws completely, then maybe the solutions could be found more easily. I don’t see that happening any time soon with people like Libby Doggett and the agenda to lower compulsory attendance ages and acknowledge "school readiness" with proclamations for Kindergarten Day. (Senator Obama’s handpicked replacement in the state Senate, Senator Raoul, certainly came into the legislature like gangbusters.)