Ever since I grew old enough to pay attention, the annual State of the Union address by the president is pretty much the same, no matter who is in office. It’s full of “God bless America” and “Republicans and Democrats should love each other no matter what.” There’s usually a guest in the presidential box that helps represent whatever big ideas will be presented in the speech.
But it’s also when the president unveils his latest and greatest ideas to Congress and the nation, pitching what he hopes will become policy. Last night, President Obama presented many follow-ups to his current domestic plans. But he also presented a brand-new education initiative that should bother freedom-loving parents and students and anyone who fears an even greater reach into their lives by the federal government: a federal mandate to force states to require students to stay in school until they are 18.
We also know that when students aren’t allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So tonight, I call on every State to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen.
There are a host of problems with this idea, not the least of which is the fact that just requiring students to “stay in school” will not help them learn anything. There is nothing magical about the age of 18 that suddenly makes a student educated. A child can be as fully educated at 16 as they can be at 18. Some kids are amazing learners–some kids aren’t. Some kids have a passion for learning–some kids don’t. No amount of federally-mandated attendance is going to “educate” a child. It would be easier just to wave a wand and declare every 18 year old “educated.”
Writing for the website “Outside the Beltway,” author James Joyner shares his thoughts on the whole thing in his post mortem on Obama’s speech:
Or, as I summarized it, “A law requiring belligerent, stupid 17-year-olds to stay in school and ruin it for everybody.” My guess is that the policy, if enacted, would have little impact on educating the segment of the population that would otherwise drop out. And I fear it will both lead to real distraction from the students motivated to be there and lead to yet more lowering of standards to ensure people “graduate.”
Stripping parents of their rights, forcing states to follow another federal mandate (stripping them of their rights again), and trying to force unwilling teens to stay in school because of the greatness of “education” is perfectly in tune with the statist’s desire to lengthen the school day and the school year and to make state-run preschool the norm for all children. If that doesn’t work, they’ll just keep the kids in school even longer.
As a former private school teacher, I’ve seen plenty of 18 year olds who didn’t care one iota for learning and were just biding their time until they graduated. As long as they got high enough marks to get out of school at the end of the year, they were happy. Thirteen or more years of school attendance doesn’t guarantee that a child is educated when all is said and done.
Kids can’t be forced to learn, and the state can’t force them to.
The bigger question is–why is this so important to the president? Perhaps, as even the New York Times noted in their follow up article on his address, Obama cares less about the state of the union and more about the state of his campaign for re-election. A crucial Obama political ally has something to gain from it. Writing for the blog “The Future of Capitalism,” Ira Stoll notes:
Wikipedia, in an entry on “raising of school leaving age (often shortened to ROSLA)” reports that 15 states and the District of Columbia have already raised their dropout age to 18. And it has the kicker that helps explain what may be a factor motivating Mr. Obama on this one: “The National Education Association, the main teachers’ union in the United States, advocates requiring students to earn a high school diploma or stay in school until age 21.”
I read that sentence in Wikipedia and thought to myself, “oh, that explains it.” A Bloomberg article has details, including the news that the teachers themselves estimate that the compulsory education until 21 plan would cost an additional $1 billion a year, much of which would naturally be spent on unionized teachers paying dues to unions that reliably support Democratic candidates.
Keeping the kids in school at least until age 18 is just the beginning. And it all makes sense. It has nothing to do with wanting kids to get a better education, but everything to do with ensuring his pleases his union base.