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Abstract

The following essay talks about the current national educational system. The beginning of the essay explains to the reader exactly what compulsory education is and why the reader should be concerned about education, as well as a short explanation of what the educational system is capable of if correctly reformed. Moving onto the research, the essay provides the reader with multiple sources discussing the major issues of compulsory schooling as well as the major alternatives that exist. Each alternative is discussed in-depth, reaching a final conclusion of the alternative at the end of the discussion based off the presented research. Major problems that the current national education system has are also made apparent in this section. Near the end of the essay, all the research and results are compiled together to reach a solution. The solution is then discussed, outlining how this solution would be successfully implemented. The essay is concluded with a discussion on an organization that is working to improve the education system and a reiteration of what needs to be done to improve the nation-wide public education system.

Compulsory education: effective or in need of reform?

When you normally think of public education, you typically think of positive things; great teachers educating students to become future leaders, students finding success from their high grades, and good principals and counselors who genuinely care for the well-being of students. However, public education isn't as effective as it is perceived to be at producing intelligent students.

What exactly is "compulsory schooling", you might ask? The dictionary definition of the word compulsory is "required; mandatory; obligatory". Combine that word with education, and you have compulsory education. Most people don't exactly think of mandatory attendance as a problem; it's common for people to acknowledge that school is required, but they consider mandatory attendance a positive aspect of school. Despite what many believe, there are many problems with the current national education system and a lot of changes need to be made if people want the school system to produce intelligent, well-educated adults.

"But why should I care?" one might ask. "I'm done with school, this doesn't affect me". This exact reasoning is part of the reason why public education is the way it is. The average person isn't willing to put the effort in to improve education because it no longer directly affects them.  Whether you're still a student in middle school or you've already finished college, you should definitely care about public education. This is an important issue because it affects every single person in this country. Improving our education system should be a goal that we actively work to achieve, not something that is advocated but not accomplished.

If significant improvements were made to public education, the system would produce better students who are more capable members of society than the students the current school system produces today. Properly educating the future members of society is important to ensure that this nation continues to thrive and that those members of society remain intelligent and productive for the duration of their lives.

The US education system does what it was designed to do, the problem is that it was formed over 100 years ago in a different time,for a different need, in a different world economy to satisfy a different lifestyle, using the then available technology (White, 2010). The largest problem with the current education system is that it is outdated. This educational system was developed with the industrial revolution in mind, designed to produce people who could be effective workers in the

new factories that were being constructed across the country. Back then, this education system worked; it created millions of jobs and allowed this country to become the leading global economy (White, 2010). This educational system could be thought of a factory; students move from class to class, each class having little to no relation to any other class. The students, being the product produced by this “factory”, are processed and organized by their birth years. The result is a group of students that all came from the same mold, all capable of the same things (White, 2010). At first, students could accept this system. At the end of it, they were all guaranteed to obtain a job. In these modern times, however, a high school diploma is no longer enough; a college degree is a must if one means to obtain a well-paying job. There’s a surplus of basic high school and college degrees and a deficit of jobs that require more than that.

The current education system can be thought of as an assembly line. When something goes wrong or is too old, that specific piece of the assembly line is repaired or replaced. However, the same assembly line still remains, producing the same product in a slightly different way yet with the same results. Education needs drastic changes to keep up with the demands of modern society, not small repairs or replacements here and there. The old assembly line needs to be done away with and replaced with an entirely new, up to date assembly line that utilizes the most modern technologies and ideas that are available.

Our current society no longer requires so many of the industrial workers that the school system produces. It requires innovative thinkers who are capable of developing new ideas and technologies. We no longer need so many factory workers; we have robots that do that for us now. The requirements in this country to get a well-paid job are much higher than they were even 20 or 30 years ago. Between 1980 and 2010, the percentage of the workforce with less than a high school diploma has drastically decreased (Plumer, 2012).  The percentage of workers with a high school education has also decreased; the same trend includes workers with some college education. What this means is that less and less people in the workforce have high school diplomas, which means the standards for getting a job are raising. In some cases, even workers with college degrees aren’t getting jobs. “…for workers who don’t have a bachelor’s degree, the odds of landing a job that provides at least a median wage, employer health care, and retirement benefits have plummeted” (Plumer, 2012). The school system needs to produce innovative and highly skilled students that are capable in our current society and prepared for the future.

One idea that has been brought up several times has been that basic facts don't need to be memorized anymore. We’re living in a digital age with cell phones and computers in nearly everyone’s pocket; if someone was asked a question they didn’t know the answer to, they could simply pull out their phone and get the answer within a matter of seconds using Google (Brichacek, 2009). Some people believe that it is wrong to rely on technology to find the answers to things; but if a computer can do it for us, why should we bother doing it ourselves? This isn’t dumbing people down or making them lazy, it is simply taking advantage of modern technologies. This is something that the school system fails to do effectively. More time needs to be spent teaching students how to search for and utilize information while taking full advantage of the technologies that are available. Although technology can be used to find facts on the fly, some facts are necessary to memorize. Subjects used every day, such as basic math, should be memorized.  In fact, basic background knowledge is often a prerequisite for creative and logical thought. Some skills in the real world require instantaneous reactions, reactions that require existing, already memorized background knowledge.

Even with the requirement of memorizing basic facts, it is still important to teach students how to access and make sense of information. Another vital thing to understand is that a student isn't guaranteed to understand something because they can memorize it. “It is a well-known fact that the ability to memorize facts does not necessarily mean that the student understands the concept” (Stoddart, 2009). Many schools place an emphasis on memorization and don’t focus as much on teaching students critical thinking skills, if at all. A good balance between the two needs to be found in order to improve the school system. Although emphasis on the memorization of basic facts is still an important aspect of education, more emphasis needs to be placed on teaching students how to organize the thoughts and information they have available to them in order to reach their full intellectual potential.

John Taylor Gatto is a retired New York schoolteacher who has 30 years of teaching experience. He is a critic of compulsory schooling and has written several books on the topic. John also strongly supports unschooling and homeschooling. Unschooling is a specific educational philosophy that is centered on allowing children to learn through natural life experiences which include work experience, social interaction, and household responsibilities. Unschooling encourages activities that children are interested in, and their education is controlled primarily by the child being unschooled; parents can choose whether they want to influence their child’s education or not. The concept of unschooling generally holds the belief that standardized curriculum and grading methods are counterproductive to the goal of increasing the intelligence of a student and giving them the best education possible.

The term of "unschooling" was first coined in the 1970's by the father of unschooling, John Holt (Greer, 2012). The terms homeschooling and unschooling are often mistakenly used interchangeably; homeschooling is a generalized term while unschooling is a specific homeschooling philosophy. While the topic of homeschooling has been the subject of many debates, unschooling receives little attention. Critics of the philosophy often state that unschooling is an extreme philosophy and that  children who are unschooling will lack specific social skills, motivation, and structure when compared to students who have completed traditional school (Chang, 2010). Advocates of unschooling state the opposite, saying that the self-directed nature of unschooling prepares students for the real world more effectively than standard schooling (Stranahan, 2010).

ABC news did a segment in 2010 about unschooling. They interviewed a family who unschools their children and came to the conclusion that unschooling has negative effects on children. “Neither child has any plans for college, according to their father. When asked if he felt it was his responsibility to teach his children to do things that they don't want to do, he said, ‘they will do what they need to do, whether or not they enjoy it, because they see the purpose in it’" (Chang, 2010).Parenting experts concluded that unschooling places far too much power in the hands of the children by giving them the ability to learn what they want, where they want, and how they want (Chang, 2010). As of 2010, there was an estimated 56 million students attending some form of school. 1.5 million of those were homeschooled, and it’s estimated that about 100,000 of those are unschooled (Chang, 2010).

However, to some, unschooling is more of a way of life than it is a way of schooling. Some parents, like Christine Yablonski who had her family interviewed by ABC news, allow their children to do whatever they wish. "It's amazing when you broaden the scope of what you see as learning as opposed to worksheets," the mother said. "There is no hierarchy in our house, so there is no punishment, no judgment, no discipline. They get what they want for breakfast and eat whatever they want. It's all a matter of what feels right to them” (Chang, 2010) Christine tells ABC. ABC news has been criticized for its segment on unschooling, critics stating that ABC gave unschooling a bad introduction (Stranahan, 2010). “My experience is that raising kids outside of the educational structure actually gives them more options than the kids I see shivering outside at the bus stop at 6:30 in morning and waiting for a school bus to deliver them to an institution full of strangers”, argues Stranahan.  The author of the article then goes on to explain how his own son was unschooled and completed several successful years of middle school, moving on to earn a 4.0 GPA at Pasadena Community College at the age of 16.

Unschooling isn't something for every student, however. It requires certain philosophies and personalities of both the parent and child in order for unschooling to work. However, for parents and children who are capable, unschooling is an acceptable alternative to common public education. Each child and student has a different way to learn; some methods may not work at all while others may be more effective at properly educating the student. The “one size fits all” philosophy of the current education system is a major flaw, preventing every student to learn the way they are naturally able to learn.

Homeschooling is another story; homeschooling is a method of education that, like unschooling, still takes place at home with plenty of parental involvement. Professional tutors may also be involved, and students that are homeschooled follow a set state curriculum, unlike students who are unschooled. Homeschooling has been criticized for years, but multiple studies conducted over the years have concluded that homeschooled children out-perform students from public schools on the same standardized tests (Smith, 2004). A study in 2003 conducted by the National Home Education Research Institute produced findings that contradict common criticism that homeschooling is subjected to. The findings of the study are as follows: Homeschooled graduates are active and involved in the surrounding communities. At the time of the survey, 71% of homeschool graduates were participating in ongoing community service activities. Compare this to the 37% of high school grads, of similar age, who had participated in community service activities (Ray, 2003). It was also found that students who graduated from homeschooling programs were more involved in civic affairs, with 76% of graduates voting; 29% of the corresponding populace voted (Ray, 2003). It was also implied that students who were homeschooled had higher levels of happiness with 58.9% reporting that they were "very happy" with life. Compare that to the general U.S. population, with only 27.6% reporting the same (Ray, 2003). Detailed graphs about these statistics can be found on the last page of this essay.

What do these numbers and studies mean, exactly? It means that homeschooling, if done correctly, actually produces students who are more capable, if not as capable, as students who go through the public schooling system. The public opinion of homeschooling has improved over the years; in 1985 a study concluded that 73% of respondents opposed homeschooling while 16% approved. Results from a 2001 poll showed that the disapproval rating had dropped to 54% and the approval rating had increased to 41% ("Trends and issues:," 2007). With an estimated 2 million homeschoolers nationwide in 2011-2012 (Zeise, 2012), homeschooling appears to be getting more popular and gaining more credibility.

So there are problems with the national education system. What do we, as a society, do now? Should the “compulsory” part of school be removed, making school optional? Should it be replaced with an entirely new system, designed with modern technologies and ideas in mind? There are a lot of questions about public education but not many answers. School should remain compulsory. Arguments could be presented about how students would still attend school because of social norms or a desire to obtain an education on their own accord, but the educational system would, if correctly reformed, be more effective if it was compulsory. This is because it would guarantee that students would stay in school for the correct amount of time needed to receive a basic education. Furthermore, many students would indeed choose to avoid going to school if given the option. Replacing the current school system with an entirely new system would be near impossible, due to the amount of time and effort it would take to do so. Some alternatives, like unschooling, have questionable results and are not practical for many students. 

How about homeschooling, then? It's been shown in various studies that homeschooled students are just as capable as students who attend public schools, if not more capable. Homeschooling is also more cost effective, costing an average of $500-600 per year per pupil; public schools spend an average of $9,000-10,000 per year per pupil (Parker, 2012). Homeschooling manages to achieve better results with far less spending due to the highly individualized and flexible nature of homeschool curriculum. This means that homeschooling is indeed a reliable and effective alternative to standard public education. 

While homeschooling is a valid alternative to the current system, this option is not available for every student. The educational system, whether there are acceptable alternatives or not, is still in dire need of reform. These new changes to the educational system would improve the education that each student receives and allows more potential for students to develop into intelligent, well-educated adults. There are many different opinions on what specifically needs to be changed about education, but there is a simple yet effective solution to this problem; free market competition.

If public education was privatized, with each school receiving government subsidies collected through the taxes we already pay for education, those private schools would be allowed to compete with one another just as businesses and corporations do. In the same way that competing businesses result in superior products, free market competition between schools would allow those schools to create the best education possible in order to compete with other schools. Each school would be privately owned and operated with little to no federal or state involvement. Each state government would subsidize each private school in order to make it free of charge, just like public education. The state would still collect taxes for education, just as they do now. The result is privately owned schools, free of charge to the public, competing with one another in a free market. These private yet "public" schools would also have basic guidelines to ensure that each student receives a basic education; it's up to the individual schools to determine how those requirements are met and maintained. A state-provided curriculum would still need to be provided to ensure this; however it would only outline basic requirements such as math and English. Standardized testing could be done away with, giving each school the option to develop their own methods of proving that each student met the basic educational requirements.

More freedoms and rights given to students may also improve education by allowing students to pursue their own interests while also adhering to educational requirements. Schools require more individualization, and the most effective way to achieve that is through more freedom. Aspects of education that could use more personal choice involve the classes that students take and how each student handles their requirements and goals. Students should be free to choose how they reach their educational goals rather than being given strict guidelines on how to do assignments or how to learn certain material. More alternatives should also be available, and it should be easier for students and parents to take advantage of home schooling. 

These personal freedoms and individualization are difficult to achieve in a public school setting, however. Fortunately, with privatized education, schools could be opened to cater to the specific needs of any student. Each school could go about educating their students in a different way, which would allow students to select a school based on their own personal requirements and desires rather than having a public school selected for them. Privatized education would effectively do away with the problems that many schools have with creating an individualized experience for each student. 

The solution to the educational difficulties of this generation is private, subsidized schools that are allowed to freely compete with one another. This is a solution that can be utilized across the nation and it would be far more effective than the current system that is in place. Unfortunately, this is a massive goal and is not something that will be easy to achieve. There is good news, however; organizations exist that set goals to improve the educational system across the nation. Organizations like the Educational Freedom Organization often referred to as EFO. The EFO is an organization dedicated to improving public education nationwide, as stated in their mission statement: “It is our mission to liberate students from the compulsory system of education, and improve education by introducing freedom and choice. Our goal is to take part in the education revolution and help facilitate, politically, the process of increasing freedom and eliminating the compulsory aspect of schools” ("Mission statement," 2012). The organization is currently collecting donations in order to join the IDEA, or the Institute for Democratic Education in America. By joining the IDEA the EFO hopes to gain more legitimacy and gain access to valuable information related to public education. The EFO also is in the process of publishing various research papers, which are intended to accurately articulate the views of the organization on various aspects of education.

These are the short-term goals of the EFO, but long-term they aim to “develop the EFO into a full-fledged non-profit public interest group that will fight on behalf of students around the world” ("Efo update: Thursday,," 2012). Although the organization is new and only just starting to gain credibility, it has a lot of potential to develop into a credible and influential organization with one goal in mind; reforming the public education system in a way that works for the students. The organization also maintains a website which contains articles and resources related to education. Visit edfreedom.org for more information.

The solution to our nation-wide education crisis is ambitious reform. Schools should be privatized and allowed to compete with one another in order to breed excellence; more alternatives need to be available and with less restrictions; students need to have more choice in how and what they learn and must be able to have a say in the direction of their education; and organizations like the EFO need continuous support from the public, because it’s organizations like the EFO that can make these ideas a reality.

References

 

Brichacek, A. (2009, November 06). Do students need to memorize facts in the digital age? [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from http://www.iste-community.org/group/landl/forum/topics/pointcounterpointreaders-1?commentId=2280708:Comment:43573&groupId=2280708:Group:8922

Chang, J. (2010, April 19). Extreme homeschooling: No tests, no books, no classes, no curriculums. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Parenting/unschooling-homeschooling-book-tests-classes/story?id=10410867

Efo update: Thursday, april 12th. (2012, Feburary 03). Retrieved from http://www.edfreedom.org/541/efo-update-thursday-april-12th/

fitz-clardige, S. (1992). Who wouldn't be school phobic?. Retrieved from http://www.fitz-claridge.com/node/20

Greer, B. (2012). Unschooling or homeschooling?. Retrieved from http://www.unschooling.org/fun12_unschooling.htm

Mission statement. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.edfreedom.org/about-us/manifesto/

Parker, T. (2012, July 13). Homeschool or public school?. Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0712/homeschool-or-public-school.aspx

Plumer, B. (2012, August 3). Chart: Good jobs are getting harder and harder to find. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/08/03/a-college-education-is-no-guarantee-of-a-good-job/

Ray, B. (2003). Civic involvement. Retrieved from http://www.hslda.org/research/ray2003/Civic.asp

Ray, B. (2003). Enjoyment of life. Retrieved from http://www.hslda.org/research/ray2003/Enjoyment.asp

Ray, B. (2003). Involved in their communities. Retrieved from http://www.hslda.org/research/ray2003/Beyond.asp

Rennka, L. (2009, June 19). K-12 compulsory schooling doesn’t work. Retrieved from http://www.lance-rennka.com/posts/k-12-compulsory-schooling-doesnt-work

 

Smith, M. (2004, October 24). Academic statistics on homeschooling. Retrieved from http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000010/200410250.asp

Stoddart, S. (2009, November 11). Do students need to memorize facts in the digital age? [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from http://www.iste-community.org/group/landl/forum/topics/pointcounterpointreaders-1?commentId=2280708:Comment:43573&groupId=2280708:Group:8922

Stranahan, L. (2010, April 20). Unschooling : How good morning america got it all wrong. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lee-stranahan/unschooling-how-igood-mor_b_543880.html

Trends and issues: School choice. (2007, November). Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20071114144844/http://eric.uoregon.edu/trends_issues/choice/home_schooling.htm

White, H. (2010, December 12). Our education system is not so much “broken” – as it is totally outdated!. Retrieved from http://steam-notstem.com/articles/our-education-system-is-not-so-much-broken-as-it-is-totally-outdated/

 

Zeise, A. (2012, August 06). Number of homeschoolers in the usa. Retrieved from http://homeschooling.gomilpitas.com/weblinks/numbers.htm

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