Not Saussure

April 3, 2007

Conscription by another name

Filed under: civil liberties, Education, Politics — notsaussure @ 8:07 pm

People may have noticed the new link in my sidebar:

It leads to a new collective blog, Educational Conscription, started by Fabian Tassano of Mediocracy and the eponymous Surreptitious Evil to protest against Alan Johnson’s plan to force teenagers to stay in education or training until the age of 18, with the aid of sanctions like ‘education Asbos’ and fixed-penalty fines to encourage them.

The question is not whether it’s a good idea for teenagers to stay in education or training; that would, to my mind, depend on the teenager and, while one might well think it’s generally advisable for teenagers to stay in education or learn useful skills, one might also think it’s pretty inadvisable to attempt to force particular teenagers so to do, on pain of criminal penalties, when they don’t want to. Better attempt to herd cats. They might well be sitting there mutinously and they might even pick up some qualifications such as one — this actually exists; my late wife once interviewed a potential officer junior who had one and showed it to her — a certificate in ‘the safe and efficient use of an office stapler’.

The question is, rather, whether it is appropriate for government to say that someone who’s old enough to leave home and who, with his or her parents’ agreement, is old enough to get married and start a family, to tell these people — for their own good, of course — that even though neither they nor their parents think it advisable they will remain at school or undertake vocational courses (‘you’ll thank us for it in the end’).

On his site Mediocracy, Fabian takes issue with someone who asks,

If it’s a “massive infringement of civil liberty” to be forced to stay on at school till the age of eighteen, is it the same infringement to be forced to stay on till sixteen, fourteen, or indeed any other compulsory length of time? Are you suggesting that there should be no compulsory educational attendance in the UK?

He replies,

I happen to think compulsory education is dodgy in general, but that seems to me a separate issue. The question that should be asked is, should people who are currently considered old enough to lead conventional lives (have jobs, rent lodgings, get married, drive, etc.) be considered young and irresponsible enough to have their liberty taken away from them? In Scotland, apart from voting, you seem to be considered an adult at 16, so it’s lucky for the Scots that (so I’m told) devolution means their education policy is independent of ours.

I have a slightly different take on this. Apart from the fact that the argument,

If it’s a “massive infringement of civil liberty” to be forced to stay on at school till the age of eighteen, is it the same infringement to be forced to stay on till sixteen

is a classic example of the Paradox Of The Heap or sorites paradox, most people — perhaps not Fabian — would agree that any reasonable parents should try to ensure their children receive an education and that, if parents are so unreasonable as to fail their children in this respect, the state can, and should, step in to force them to discharge their responsibility. Quite how old the children should be before this obligation of the parents ceases is open to discussion, but most people — including the government — agree it ceases when the child is 16 (or, in other words, has had to attend school long enough to take a shot at GCSEs). After that it may well be advisable for the child to stay on at school or undertake vocational training, but we won’t insist on it.

This proposal, though, carries with it the idea that, although we recognise it’s no longer reasonable to make the parents send their children to school, the state is going to step in, not so much in loco parentis but as a replacement for the parents, not exercising parental responsibility on behalf the parents (or forcing the parents to shoulder their responsibilities to see to their children’s education) but instead of the parents.

There is, to my mind, all the difference in the world between saying, ‘we think you should do this.’ and providing every help and encouragement to people to go and do it, and forcing them, on pain of criminal penalties so to do. Even if it is ‘for their own good’. It’s a distinction this government seems to find it very hard to make, though.
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  1. Certainly something I support. Alan Johnson has comprehensively failed to set out exactly how this is going to work. I hate to come across as the young ignorant whippersnapper all the time, but it wasn’t so long back when I was in the sixth form, and one of the joys of it was that all the kids who acted like idiots suddenly vanished all at once, leaving those of us who wanted to at least get on with something or other in peace. I’d like to think that the relative bliss of those two years compared to what went before isn’t going to be deprived from others when the planning that’s got into this has been so negligible, selfish as this sounds to myself reading this now.

    Comment by . — April 4, 2007 @ 1:57 am

  2. Yes, I entirely agree. I did respond to the consultation and, apart from opposing the compulsion aspects of the scheme, suggested the following:

    That they should spend their time and effort enthusing children and young adults to take part in vocational and academic education.

    That they should provide the facilities to make the above suitable for providing a C21 workforce (knowledge workers and skilled technicians).

    That they should abolish the current minimum school leaving age and allow people to go once they have achieved at least one of their precious “Level 2” qualifications.


    Comment by Surreptitious Evil — April 4, 2007 @ 9:27 am

  3. The politicians have brought state education to the point where, even though it is free, many of its customers don’t want it. The politicians ‘solution’ is to further extend the age range in which it is compulsory. The unwilling attenders will of course further degrade the educational experience for everyone else, not least the staff.

    Can we have an end to this nonesense ?

    Comment by Steve Roberts — April 4, 2007 @ 11:00 am

  4. You have a different take – potayto potahto – whatever. I’m very pleased indeed you support the campaign.

    Comment by Fabian Tassano — April 4, 2007 @ 11:23 am

  5. PS Thanks for agreeing to be a co-author on the blog. I also left a message on MyBlogLog, but it seems they no longer notify one when that happens.

    Comment by Fabian Tassano — April 7, 2007 @ 1:21 pm

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