21 April 2007

Compulsion

Over at Samizdata, Natalie Solent writes about compulsion in education:

I sometimes think that practically every problem, inefficiency and cruelty of our education system has at its root compulsion. People who are forced into each other's society tend not to behave well to each other. Wherever the doors are locked, be the locks visible or invisible, those inside seem to revert to the hierarchy of the baboon troop. There is still room for free will: most do no worse than learn a few habits of obsequiousness or sullenness that can be shaken off. Cho was not forced to become a mass-murderer. (In fact I see his own claim to the contrary in his video as a sort of twisted acknowledgement of this fact; the thought that "I don't have to do this" had to be actively denied.) No, he was not forced to pull the trigger - but force did play too large a part in his life. Imagine if the doors had been open for the bullied Cho Seung-hui to walk away, or if the adult Cho Seung-hui had been shown the door at the first sign of discourtesy. Imagine this was the case not just for Cho Seung-hui on certain pivotal occasions but for everyone on all occasions. Then, I think, he would have learned differently.

8 comments:

Shuggy said...

It's a srong field in which to compete but this is one of the most bizarre libertarian arguments I've seen in the blogosphere for some time. People are so capable of knowing their own good that they should be allowed at the tender age of twelve to opt out of compulsory education if they see fit. Very well but with freedom comes responsibility - like the one not to blow holes in your fellow citizens. Since most people mange to grasp this even though they've endured the state-organised torture that is, for you lot, state education, don't you think blaming complusory education for the behaviour of one rather disturbed adult male a bit perverse?

Peter Risdon said...

Natalie Solent: "Cho was not forced to become a mass-murderer... No, he was not forced to pull the trigger"

Shuggy: "with freedom comes responsibility - like the one not to blow holes in your fellow citizens."

There's not much difference there. Maybe you should put heavy weights on your lower legs, to stifle, temporarily, the strong knee-jerk that the word "libertarian" seems to provoke, and read the arguments.

This blog is campaigning on the principle that people old enough to get married are old enough to decide whether or not they go to school. Do you disagree? If so, on what grounds?

Shuggy said...

Do you disagree?

I'm a teacher so of course I don't. But I did read Ms Solent's argument and it was arguing for something over and above merely opposing conscription for 16-18 year olds - which leaves me wondering if it isn't you that hasn't been paying attention to the arguments she made.

There's something else though. I think I could make the case against extending compulsory education with rather more evidence and vehemence than any of you could muster - but the basis on which you lot are doing so doesn't make a lot of sense to me. You refer to 16 year-olds being able to marry as if this were proof that the present legal situation was one where the law treats them as if they were a fully-fledged adult.

But of course it doesn't.

At 16 you can work and pay taxes but you are not allowed to vote for your representatives who will spend them.

You can have sex but not go to a cinema to watch a film where people are only pretending to have sex.

You can't drive a car until you are 17 and if you want to have an alcoholic drink, it has to be with your food otherwise the establishment that serves you is breaking the law.

And my understanding is that while under Scots law you can marry when you're 16, in England you still need your parents' permission - hence Gretna Green.

More recently, this government allowed 16 year old homosexuals to have sex without fear of legal sanction but intends, as I understand it, to make it illegal to have a post-coital cigarette.

Given all these anomalies, why are y'all getting so worked up about this one?

Peter Risdon said...

This blog does not exist to advocate Natalie's argument, which was about compulsion in education much more broadly than the scope of our concern here. It was, however, relevant to this campaign and therefore of interest. That's obvious, Shuggy.

Of course the ages of responsibility are inconsistent. Obvious fact number two is that the argument about marriage is a convenient shorthand. You seem to know that, because you say you agree with it.

You seem just to be arguing for the sake of it, for some strange reason.

Fabian Tassano said...

"I think I could make the case against extending compulsory education with rather more evidence and vehemence than any of you could muster."

We wish you would, Shuggy. We need all the counter-arguments we can get. This campaign is not intended to be limited to one angle on the issue.

"Given all these anomalies, why are y'all getting so worked up about this one?"

Two reasons.
(1) Forcing 17-year-olds to spend most of their waking hours according to state diktat is different in kind from stopping them smoking or drinking.
(2) Pushing the maximum age of coercion up rather than down establishes a precedent. If we let them get away with this, they'll find it easier to coerce in other areas. ("We allow this, so why not that?") It's also disturbing that the justification for coercion has moved beyond "for their own good" and now encompasses "for the good of the economy". Why shouldn't they next decide to force all adults to have post-school education in some shape or form? (May seem implausible now, but then so did this proposal, before it got floated.)

Shuggy said...

This blog does not exist to advocate Natalie's argument...

Ok, fair enough. I thought it was a pretty dodgy article, is all - and the post you included it in doesn't carry any commentary on it.

Forcing 17-year-olds to spend most of their waking hours according to state diktat is different in kind from stopping them smoking or drinking.

Again, fair enough but my point is that with these more trivial illiberties the legal precedent is already firmly established in English law. Wouldn't a more general campaign to establish full legal adulthood at 16 - voting rights etc. - be more appropriate?

Peter Risdon said...

Wouldn't a more general campaign to establish full legal adulthood at 16 - voting rights etc. - be more appropriate?

Speaking for myself, I think this would muddy the waters. Seeking to prevent a change is very different to seeking to introduce one, and it is likely to be easier to build a consensus around this issue than it would be to produce a unified age of legal adulthood - which not everyone believes to be desirable - there's something to be said for recognising that children grow into adults gradually.

What's more, a person's opinion about voting age is often based on a calculation of whether that would bring their favoured party electoral advantage, and so is not always entirely principled.

Whereas this single issue campaign introduces issues of education more generally, but not anything else, the campaign you suggest would be very much more complicated.

Roger Thornhill said...

From my reading of Natalie's argument in complete form over at Samisdata, I see that her point is about the freedom of the institution to decline to teach and the freedom of people who do not wish to associate, either by being free to move or asking that another is moved. Of course, PC rabidity has closed down much of that freedom.


Exclusion is far harder to do while under the State because being taught is often seen "as a right" of the citizen and thus that right demands an obligation to teach by the State. In a way, this problem exists because of its own foolishness in trying to be the monopoly provider. If the State were a minor player, the vast private and voluntary sector may accomodate. Right now, if the State washes its hands that is basically it. The answer is not to stop the State washing its hands, as so many try to do, but to make that event not a total disaster for an individual.