Arguments against repealing compulsory education are insulting

The Country School, by Winslow Homer

The Country School, by Winslow Homer

The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Periodically, our friends at survey their readers on political issues of the day. Just this week, it ran a survey about State Senator Aaron Osmond’s idea to repeal Utah’s compulsory attendance law for education.

You would think by the comments of opponents to this idea that Senator Osmond had just recommended that we outlaw knowledge. Critics argue soft-racist sentiments about how irresponsible minority parents are, elitist ideas about how kids will suffer if we let parents do their job, and selfish business interests about the need for skilled workers. I’ve yet to hear an actual rational argument from these petty critics.

There’s not one person I’ve met in Utah who would tell me, “I hate education and I hate the idea that kids should be educated.” The idea that repealing the state compulsory education law would foment an anti-education culture is irrational. And the suggestion that parents are champing at the bit to abrogate their responsibilities is insulting.

Let me read to you state education policy:

The Legislature acknowledges that education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments, recognizing that the future success of our state and nation depend in large part upon the existence of a responsible and educated citizenry.

The Legislature further acknowledges that the primary responsibility for the education of children within the state resides with their parents or guardians and that the role of state and local governments is to support and assist parents in fulfilling that responsibility. (Utah Code, 53A-6-102-1a and 1b)

That’s the law in Utah. Note what state education policy isn’t. It isn’t to create world-class workers or to serve the business community. It isn’t to make children ideological wards of the state. State education policy is to support parents in the goal of educating children to become responsible citizens.

Do we really think that Thomas Jefferson and every other Founding Father, including Utah’s pioneer forefathers, believed that citizens serve the state and not the other way around? Is that why they shed blood in a Revolutionary War? Is that why Mormon pioneers separated themselves and settled the West – just so they could turn their children over to the state? That insinuation is preposterous.

We’re told that Utah’s private education and home school laws essentially negate compulsory attendance. That’s simply untrue. Only repealing the law will negate it. The few existing alternatives to compulsory attendance in a government schoolroom were hard-fought political victories. It’s disingenuous of those special interests to now claim that minuscule exceptions to the law are generous gestures from benevolent special interests.

The benefit of repealing compulsory education is obvious: State policy would then encourage parental involvement in education – the only factor shown to lead to significant academic achievement. In an age of education “experts,” compulsory attendance laws only serve to distance parents from their moral and constitutional responsibilities. The only incentive for parental involvement now is when the experts fail. It’s a perverse incentive.

I commend Senator Osmond for his courageous initiative in the face of arrogant progressive do-gooders and selfish business leaders who couldn’t see the benefits of authentic parental involvement in education if it hit them upside their heads. Nevertheless, it’s time to swing away.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

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