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Why Do We Need Compulsory Schooling?

As I have been traveling around the world in the past few years, I have talked to many students in many countries about the topic of compulsory education, I have asked them for example: Would you go to school if you didn’t have to go?

Most people say yes. This surprised me at first because I expected more people to say no.

But when I asked them why they would go, the number one answer wasn't "to get a good job." That was actually the number two answer.

The number one answer has consistently been “To see my friends.”

Many years ago the educator Maria Montessori said that children's brains are designed to learn. She said that it is the innate and natural curiosity that motivates a child to want to learn.

She said all we have to do is continually provide a stimulating environment and the child will constantly be a little learning machine which does not have to be forced in any way, but instead naturally learns, and enjoys the process.

In recent times, psychologist Peter Gray, at Boston College, has echoed Maria Montessori’s belief.

Gray points to brain research, which supports Maria Montessori’s conclusion that children’s brains indeed are wired for learning

So then, if we take these three pieces of information....

1: Most students will voluntarily go to school to see their friends.
2. Most will voluntarily go to school in order to get a good job.
3: The child’s brain is by nature wired for learning.

....why would we have to make school compulsory? Why would we have to force them to go? And why would we have to threaten them with punishment for not going?

My answer to these questions is that we have made school a painful place to be.

I compare the situation with compulsory schooling to the situation in the former eastern European countries controlled by the Soviet Union. In those countries people would risk their lives to try to escape, to try to leave, to avoid being there. So what did the authorities do?

Did they make the communities a better place to live? Did they try to satisfy the needs of the people living within those countries? Did they listen to the concerns of the people?

Or did they increase the punishment for trying to get out? Well, we all know that history shows what they did was they increase the punishment up to and including death for trying to escape their painful environment-- one which was not satisfying their natural human needs.

I believe the situation is very similar in many schools today around the world in the sense that instead of making school a more pleasant place to be, in other words a place where children's and teenagers' needs are met, school administrators and legislators are increasing the punishment for not going to school

In my opinion, this, just like with the former Soviet countries, is simply not sustainable.

S. Hein
June, 2013
La Paz, Uruguay


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