A Practical Argument for Ending Compulsory Education in Utah
Renewing Accountability for Parents and Respect for Educators
By Senator Aaron Osmond
Before 1890, public education in America was viewed as an opportunity—not a legal obligation. Prior to that time, the parent was primarily responsible for the education of their children. The state provided access to a free education for those that wanted to pursue it. The local teacher was viewed with respect and admiration as a professional to assist a parent in the education of their child.
Then came compulsory education. Our State began requiring that all parents must send their children to public school for fear that some children would not be educated because of an irresponsible parent. Since that day, the proverbial pendulum has swung in the wrong direction.
Some parents completely disengage themselves from their obligation to oversee and ensure the successful education of their children. Some parents act as if the responsibility to educate, and even care for their child, is primarily the responsibility of the public school system. As a result, our teachers and schools have been forced to become surrogate parents, expected to do everything from behavioral counseling, to providing adequate nutrition, to teaching sex education, as well as ensuring full college and career readiness.
Unfortunately, in this system, teachers rarely receive meaningful support or engagement from parents and occasionally face retaliation when they attempt to hold a child accountable for bad behavior or poor academic performance.
On the other hand, actively engaged parents sometimes feel that the public school system, and even some teachers, are insensitive to the unique needs and challenges of their children and are unwilling or unable to give their child the academic attention they need because of an overburdened education system, obligated by law to be all things to all people.
I believe the time has come for us to re-evaluate what we expect of parents and the public education system, as follows:
First, we need to restore the expectation that parents are primarily responsible for the educational success of their own children. That begins with restoring the parental right to decide if and when a child will go to public school. In a country founded on the principles of personal freedom and unalienable rights, no parent should be forced by the government to send their child to school under threat of fines and jail time.
Second, we need to shift the public mindset to recognize that education is a not an obligation, but an opportunity to be treasured and respected. Utah’s constitution requires that we provide the opportunity for a free public education to every child. But public education is not free—it costs taxpayers billions each year. When a parent decides to enroll a child in public school, both the parent and child should agree to meet minimum standards of behavior and academic commitment or face real-life consequences such as repeating a class, a grade, or even expulsion.
Third, we need to stop dictating the number of hours a child must be present in a classroom. Instead of requiring that teachers and students must be in class for 990 hours a year, lets enable our local school boards to determine the best use of a teacher’s time and focus student and parent expectations on educational outcomes such as completing assignments and passage of exams as the measurement of success for the opportunity to progress in public school.
Finally, if a parent decides to keep their child home or to go on a family vacation, it’s the responsibility of that parent to ensure their child completes the assignments and stays current with their class. Similarly, if a child consistently misbehaves, it’s the teacher’s right to send that child home to their parent until he or she is ready to respect and appreciate their opportunity to be educated.
I believe it is time to change how we approach public education in Utah. In my view, we should take a close look at repealing compulsory education.
Further reading: Ending Compulsory Education – A Freedom-based Argument, by Oak Norton (PDF)
Photo: Historic schoolhouse in Fruita, Utah, via Wikipedia