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Compulsory Schooling Crushes Kids’ Free Will

by Eric Lumpkins

Developing a personal sense of autonomy is incredibly important for creating a life of your making, loving yourself, and enjoying your life. By autonomy I mean a sense of independence, the feeling that you are in control of and responsible for your life choices and happiness. Compulsory schooling stifles this growth of independence, self-responsibility, and personal empowerment. At a fundamental level our educational system needs to be completely rethought.

Schools are Behavior-Molding Thought Prisons

Our American educational system began with the noble goal of creating an educated citizenry, but instead what we’ve gotten is a one-size-fits-all system of mass schooling that prioritizes conformity and obedience over creativity and free-thinking.

Horace Mann, the chief architect behind American compulsory schooling and the designer of the country’s first compulsory schooling law in 1852, had a vision of molding children into moral, intelligent, and democratic citizens through taxpayer-funded, universal compulsory schooling. Mann famously said, “Men are cast-iron, but children are wax.” Ironically, Mann homeschooled his own children.

Mann’s vision for universal education was inspired by the Prussian military schools, which strove to mold their nation’s youth into obedient citizens who would willingly serve the interests of the state and military before their own free will.

The Experiences of Children

Schooling today dominates most of our lives. From toddler-hood to early adulthood we are, through the threat of state violence, forced to attend the state’s schooling system. Childhood is where we are most malleable and vulnerable, and it is where the foundations of our personality, our habits, our thinking patterns, and our self-esteem is laid. For 8 hours a day, 180 days per year, and for 12 years we are forced to sit, memorize, and regurgitate state-mandated curricula.

Self-expression and spontaneity is labeled as classroom disruption. Free thinking and creativity is stifled and restricted in favor of quiet, drone-like conformist behavior, and obedience to the institution.

In my own life, coercive schooling held back the discovery of my passions and myself, stifled my authentic self-expression out of fear of punishment, ingrained bad habits and unhealthy thinking patterns in me, made me feel powerless over the direction of my life, tainted my natural passion for reading and learning, and created a lot of resentment towards my school, the administrators, and institutions of authority.

As a result of all of this I was a depressed and perpetually anxious child and teen. And not surprisingly there is a growing body of evidence showing that school attendance has a high correlation with suicidal thoughts and behaviors, with child and teen suicides peaking in the back-to-school months. The enormous and absolutely terrifying increase in self-harm, suicide rates, and use of psychotropic drugs in children ages 5-17 over the last 15 years is cause for serious alarm. Something is seriously wrong with the way we treat children.

Authentic Learning

Every person is born with a natural curiosity about the world and a natural desire to learn and experience new things. This intrinsic motivation and individual curiosity and passion is where authentic learning is cultivated.

There are as many ways to learn as there are learners, which is why decentralized, democratic, localized, and self-driven education is so powerful and far more effective for creating a moral and educated populace than compulsory schooling is. We should value independent thinking, self-expression, healthy physical and mental habits, self-discovery, emotional intelligence, practical skills, and happiness and fulfillment over the arbitrary and often useless curricula mandated by government.

Children are far more intelligent than most adults give them credit for and we should afford them and their families the freedom to direct their lives and to make educational choices for themselves. Compulsory education has no place in a free society and is more akin to indoctrination.

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