Excerpt from Unchain the Child: Abolish Compulsory Schooling Laws
Negative consequences of compulsion
People who apply their minds to finding ways to improve education too often fall into the trap of attempting to devise the ‘single best solution’ that will best serve everyone. However, if our quest for improvement is to have any possible chance of success we must first recognise that there is no such thing. There is no single educational system or method that is suitable for all students. We must recognise that all human beings are different, that each has a set of characteristics, capabilities and aspirations that no one else has.
Instead of the mandated standardisation and conformity that now exists, students need an almost endless variety of educational opportunities from which to choose. Only then will they have any chance of finding offerings that most closely fit their characteristics, personalities, aptitudes and talents; all those things that differentiate them from all other individuals. Parents whose children do not fit into government schools will immediately recognise the problem. They will not so easily recognise the solution – a competitive market in young people’s education – because it is not allowed to exist.
In his book, Free and Unequal: The Biological Basis of Individual Liberty, the distinguished biochemist, Roger J. Williams, suggested that the failure of schooling systems to recognise the uniqueness of individuals causes harm that far exceeds matters such as leaving students functionally illiterate after twelve years of schooling:
“Juvenile delinquency and crime among the teenagers are…a terrific problem and one which is not growing less important. It is my well-considered opinion that much crime and delinquency (as well as an appreciable amount of mental disease) are a direct revolt against assembly-line schooling, with its incapacity for taking care of and fitting for life those whose interests and capabilities lie outside the traditional school subjects. It has been demonstrated many times that people who do not adjust well to ordinary schoolwork may nevertheless be extraordinarily able, and this is often true of criminals.”
Dr Bonnie Macmillan, in her book Why Schoolchildren Can’t Read, reported that at least a quarter of England’s 7-year-old schoolchildren were failing to read after two years of primary school. The consequences for such children were dire – it was also found that the single most important factor influencing examination results at age 16 was reading ability at age 7. Studies revealed that reading failure correlated significantly with aggression in delinquent adolescent boys. Reading disability at age 9 was predictive of juvenile delinquency at age 15. A large government survey in the United States found that 85 per cent of minors entering the juvenile justice system could not read, while a British survey in 16 prisons found that 52 per cent of inmates could only read at the level of a 9-year-old or below. In addition, inability to read hampers a young person’s ability to access all other aspects of education, leads to truancy and feelings of inadequacy and eventually to considerably reduced earnings prospects.
The author found the ‘whole-word’ teaching method to be the root cause of the problem of reading failure. Some advocates of this method maintained that some children would ‘progress slowly’ while others would remain ‘illiterate all their lives’. A contrary research-verified view was that any child ‘with an IQ of 70 can be taught to read at age 5’. Dr Macmillan advocated a return to phonological and code-emphasis methods of instruction and that in England ‘it will need to come quickly to avoid failing further generations of children.’
How is it possible for schools to continue to use teaching methods that produce such poor results? The author concludes that:
“Responsibility for poor reading standards lies with the many primary school heads, local education authority officials, school inspectors, teacher trainers, and national teacher organisations and unions who advocate methods of reading instruction radically at variance with the findings from empirical research. It is they who most influence practice, dictating methods of instruction that do not work.”
The general application of ‘methods of instruction that do not work’ is a direct consequence of the statutory power given to the officials listed above to impose their views, however misguided, on generations of unfortunate children. In the absence of these statutory powers, emanating from compulsory schooling legislation, errors of conformity causing such large-scale social harm would not be possible.