Compulsory School Attendance
Johnathan Pearce argues against the further raising the age of compulsory school attendance to 18.
Reading some history, it does seem as though we live in an age when in some ways, youngsters seem to stay young for much longer than used to be the case. By the time my old man was 18, he had already become an officer cadet in the RAF and by the age of 21, was navigating fast jet aircraft. One of my great uncles joined the naval academy at Dartmouth by the age of 15. The average age of many pilots in WW2 was 21. Now, if you believe the educationalists of today, a person aged 18 is not fit to put in charge of an electric toothbrush, and yet at the same time, things like the age of sexual consent have been reduced. So in some ways people are thought to be more mature, in other ways, less so.
He’s writing from a UK perspective. In the US, the trend has been towards postponing legal sexual maturity as well. A couple generations ago, it was considered perfectly normal for girls, especially in rural areas, to be married and having babies in their early teens; nowadays, outside underclass subcultures, they’re expected to have graduated college and established careers first.
I’m now as old as my parents were when I graduated high school and have yet to have my first child. That’s not particularly unusual among educated professionals these days. Indeed, I know many men who start having kids well into their 40s and even early 50s.
As to the issue of mandatory school attendance, like most such issues, drawing the line is difficult. Obviously, we don’t want small children making such decisions for themselves, given the consequences. At the same time, 15- and 16-year-olds are considered old enough to drive motorcycles and cars in most states and we routinely hold 12- and 13-year-olds accountable “as adults” when they commit crimes. Why aren’t they old enough to decide whether to go to school, especially if they can find gainful employment?
As a practical matter, requiring 17- and 18-year-olds, especially males, who don’t want to be in school to go creates all manner of disciplinary problems. Few teachers are able to handle them. At some point, you have to let those who don’t want to be there leave so that those who do want to be there can learn.