Against Compulsory Schooling

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.

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Anarchism isn’t a fantasy and it’s not a political theory — it’s a collective name for whatever forms of society can exist without murder as a political tool

When people say anarchism is a fantasy I believe they’re thinking of the apparent impossibility of setting up an anarchist government, imposing it on people, voting it into place, getting everyone to agree to its terms. They’re thinking of what would have to precede the first day of anarchism if anarchism were to be somehow instituted somewhere. And of the difficulty of keeping anarchism in place, protecting it against threats, maintaining it. This is a mistake.

Anarchism begins when people stop being coerced whereas political systems rely on coercion both at their beginnings and for their maintenance. Forcing people to stop being coerced is a contradiction in terms. Anarchism can’t be instituted or put in place, it can only coalesce. Anarchism starts when people stop obeying authority. So how do we get to a society without coercion? What’s the path to the anarchist utopia?
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How I’m Grading Now and Why


There is a great deal of pedagogical literature concerning the harm done to students by the practice of ranking them with letter grades.1 The authors of these papers, self-styled ungraders, focus on the effects of letter grading on students’ mindsets. Ungraders generally agree that letter grades distract students away from true understanding because, as widely cited ungrader Alfie Kohn puts it, “too many [of them] have been led to believe the primary purpose of schooling is to get As.”2.

That students believe this is universally acknowledged, at least by teachers. But why they believe it, in particular why they believe it so tenaciously even though their teachers have been telling them the opposite since forever, is not so clear. Also, I’m not sure that students “have been led to believe” this by anything other than their own accurate observations, or even that the students are wrong about “the primary purpose of schooling.”

The ungrading community believes that, as Susan Blum puts it, “when we grade, we really convey very little information about what is being assessed”3 and their arguments are convincing. Just for instance, there are too few letter grade options to differentiate between the wide variety of student achievements, even in a single class. My institution only offers ten choices, which isn’t granular enough even to draw a conclusion from the bare fact that two students received the same grade in a given class.4

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