Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Compulsory Education Versus Compulsory Attendance

I just realized that I made a small error in yesterday's post about not sending Ryan off to Kindergarten. (Is that word always capitalized? I don't know if it's actually in use in Germany or simply an American-made German word, but it is German and it is a noun, so I feel a strange need to make sure it's capitalized, even though I left off the article. But I digress.)

I said in my post yesterday that we would be legally required to educate him next year, after he turns 6. That is not strictly true, for quite an important reason.

In Georgia, the law states that kids who are 6 before September 1 of any given year must start school (government, private, homeschool). This is actually a compulsory attendance law. All states have them. Some states want the little ones at 5, others at 6 or 7. Six seems to be typical, although more and more states would like to take the kids as young as 4 (that's what they mean by "universal preschool").

But how many states have compulsory education laws? NONE. Why? Because a compulsory education law is completely unenforceable. If states were required to ensure that kids were actually educated, then every John and Jane who graduated high school with minimal reading and math skills would have a nice little lawsuit settlement awaiting them.

Nope, they can't force these kids to get an education--but the state can force a butt into a desk chair (literally and figuratively). That's all those laws can do. Kids (and parents) can be arrested for truancy, but not for not being able to parse a sentence or balance a checkbook.

And I think this is a terribly important difference, because laws keep getting passed (like NCLB) that seem like they are designed to educate. But really, education can't be mandated by the government. True education takes, I think, a combination of a willing, motivated child, caring parents, good tools (like books and games), and time. It simply cannot be legislated into existence. How many high school illiterates are the proof of that flawed premise?

So, to correct myself--next year, I'm required to have my child attend a legally recognized education program. Any actual education that occurs (on purpose or accident) is beside the point as far as the state of Georgia is concerned.

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