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Humans have the right to freedom of speech, of movement and association. Children are humans. Children in almost all countries on the Earth are required by law to go to school for several years. In some countries (i.e. the US, European countries, etc.) children must stay in class in specific periods of time, they must move in the ways that their teachers approve of, they must not talk with others for some periods of time, and if they don't answer the test with the correct answers they are downgraded, which can affect their future lifes. Sometimes if they refuse to go to school for long enough they could be sent to a juvenile detention center, a psychiatric institution or given medications.

I think that compulsory schooling violates children's human rights to freedom of speech, movement and/or association. I think that children need to have the right to not go to schools and opportunities for play and exploration that are not compulsory.

What do you think of this? Am I right, or wrong on some points? Even if you think that this isn't a pressing issue, what ideas do you have for ameliorating this issue?

Melissa -- you raise legitimate questions. I'd love to see less coercion and a wider variety of education options (including voucher systems, home schooling, and unschooling), with more serious empirical analysis of their relative efficacy for achieving various purposes.

For anybody interested in these issues, I'd recommend the book 'The case against education' by economist Bryan Caplan. Empirical studies show that compulsory public education has far less positive impact on long-term learning outcomes than most people realize.

As a parent, and as someone who thinks that 'rights' are (important) social constructs rather than things bestowed on humans by gods or by the cosmos, I think it's prudent for parents to restrict some freedoms of their kids (esp freedom of movement!). 

But I take your point that we should view kids as sentient beings in their own right, with their own interests -- and not just as raw materials that should be shoveled into government indoctrination camps (aka public schools) against their will.

A few thoughts:

  1. It seems like these things that schools do in terms of restricting speech, movement, and association, parents also do for their kids. Do you think parenting also violates these rights?
  2. "opportunities for play and exploration that are not compulsary" are certainly granted to children in the US where school does not take up all of a child's time and they can go play, read books, do whatever they want outside of school  (as long as their parents allow)

Also note that in the US, a child does not have to "go to school" as much as they have to "receive an education". A kid can be homeschooled, though that homeschooling has to meet certain requirements and the kid has to pass standardized tests.

For ameliorating the issue, I'm all for better schooling that gives more opportunity for exploration, and respects children's autonomy. But I do think in my ideal society, education of some sort would still be basically compulsory.

I tried to find on Google Scholar at least one experimental study that compared schooling with unschooling (sometimes defined as "learning without a curriculum"), in many cultural contexts, and that came to the conclusion that schooling was better on some dimensions. I thought that there would be dozens, if not hundreds, of such studies. But I didn't find that. I know that absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. But when I searched further I found that there were studies (although not always experiments) that compared those two and found that unschooling had some benefits. Unfortunately, the experiments weren't exactly rigorous, but at least there are some.

I wish there were more studies that compared schooling with unschooling, so that we'd be sure that we're on right track as societies when it comes to education. If I'm right and those experiments are few, then it could possibly mean that we're doing education in a way that handicaps students.

Who knows, maybe if unschooling was more popular, then more students would know their perfect jobs, would be less inclined to support authoritarianism, would be more resilient, less depressed and anxious, would be better at their jobs, and so on? Or would they be less conscienscious, less willing to discipline themselves, less atuned to their cultural roots, and so on?

It's sad that these experiments seem to be few and far between. Or maybe I'm just bad at searching for them online? What do you think of this?

Some studies:

  1. Benezet, L. P. (1935/1936). The teaching of Arithmetic: The Story of an Experiment. Originally published in Journal of the National Education Association in three parts. Vol. 24, #8, pp 241-244; Vol. 24, #9, p 301-303; & Vol. 25, #1, pp 7-8.

  2. Herbert D. W. (1930). Experiment in Self-Directed Education. School and Society, 31, 715-718.

  3. Gray, P., Riley, G. (2013) The Challenges and Benefits of Unschooling, According to 232 Families Who Have Chosen that Route. Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning Vol. 7 Issue 14. ISSN:1916-8128

Unfortunately I don't know anything at all about this literature, but I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't many studies. There are certaintly non-altruistic reasons for existing governments to favor schooling as we have it - teaching rule-following, instilling patriotism, ability to mold young minds in a particular kind of way.

My guess would be that there are huge improvements to be had in the ways that most countries do education, and that more experiments would be helpful. More radical education attempts seem valuable.

An idea for a logic and charity app

I found an app on Google Play Store called "Impact - Steps Fitness Charity", which helps users contribute to causes and NGOs by exercising. Aparently it works this way: corporations donate money to NGOs, but the NGOs receive that money when people have moved and exercised enough (as measured by steps). Would it be a good idea to make an app similar to this, but with logic exercises instead?

In this imaginary app users would get short multiple choice tests with deductive, inductive and abductive arguments from various fields of study (philosophy, sciences, etc). These tests would be concerned with the validity and strength of those arguments, not their soundness and cogency, because validity and strength are more straightforward to determine, I think. For every correct answer they would get a point. Then they can use those points to make it more possible that a charity or NGO would get the donations from corporations. Those charities could very well be the more effective ones, the ones you talk about.

I think it's possible that such an app could help teenagers, NEETs, unemployable young men, bored housewives and others to learn logical reasoning, how to apply it in various fields (i.e. philosophy, sciences, math) and how to learn and judge information from those fields. It may also allow them to help others and to learn more about the ways in which vulnerable people around the world can be helped. It may even help depressed individuals get a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.

Then again you may ask "Why not have these corporations simply donate this money to these charities? Wouldn't that be more effective? Why go through the effort of making an app that allows people to train their logical reasoning so that the charities would get the donations? What benefits would these corporations get from collaborating with such an app?" and so on. You might be right. Maybe this idea isn't a good one.

What do you think of this?

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