Primary education, according to the United Nations at least, is a fundamental human right. Unlike other rights, though, education is compulsory. The right to free speech doesn’t legally obligate anyone to speak freely. Freedom of religion doesn’t compel anyone to be religious. The right to not be enslaved may prohibit people from contracting themselves into slavery but at least in the U.S. it’s not illegal to try, it’s just that such contracts are unenforceable. No other human right is forced on its putative beneficiaries at the point of a policeman’s gun.
This last phrase apparently strikes some as hyperbole, but in the United States it is not. American compulsory education is compulsory because nonattendance is against the law. The parents of truant children are criminals. When the kids are old enough to prosecute they’re criminals too. If parents keep their kids out of school or if kids insist on skipping someone is going to jail. Eventually they’ll have to submit or the kids will be forcibly taken from their parents and put into foster care or juvenile hall. Police are allowed to kill people for resisting enforcement. Laws requiring school attendance, like all laws, are ultimately enforced by violence up to and including kidnapping and death.
And yet this evident fact is not widely acknowledged. Educational discourse from across the political spectrum for the most part takes the compulsory nature of public education for granted. The questions asked are about what and how all children should learn, never whether anything is so important to know that all children should be forced to learn it at gunpoint, under the threat of kidnapping by police.