Education and compulsory schooling

People exposed to the ideas of this website—that everything in society should be on a voluntary, non-coercive basis–sometimes ask how, without the state and taxation, education would be provided to children of impecunious families.

The state can make school compulsory, but it cannot make education compulsory. The word education implies learning by transmission of knowledge to an interested receiver of knowledge. Since many people attending compulsory school are bored or even antagonistic to their school experience, they close their minds to the information being transmitted. A lot of what goes on in schools, public and private, is wasting time at best or indoctrination at worst. So there can be no such thing as compulsory education if the word education has any meaning.

In a recent interview with a former majority leader of the California State Senate, Gloria Romero, Ms. Romero made the following statements about the California Teachers Association lobbying to prevent school “reform” legislation. The quotations below are from “The Trials of a Democratic Reformer,” interview by Allysia Finley, The Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2012,

“The capitol building in Sacramento, she says, has ‘the eighth most powerful economy in the world under that dome,’ and it operates not unlike other wealthy kleptocracies. ‘There’s no other way to say it politely. It’s owned.’

“Topping the list of proprietors is the California Teachers Association, which she calls the most muscular union and political player in the state.

“Ms. Romero now heads the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, a large tent of liberals who are as diverse as an Occupy encampment but united by a common desire to improve accountability in public schools. The group supports Democratic school reformers running for political office and promotes legislation that toughens standards.

“But before taking up her current charge, Ms. Romero served a dozen years in the legislature, where she was known for trying to clean up the capital’s cronyism and corruption.

“It wasn’t exactly glamorous work, but it was eye-opening. ‘I’ve sat in all of those backroom meetings,’ she says. ‘That thing, if walls could talk, well think of me as a wall, and I’m talking. I’ve had it.’ And talk she does, reflecting on how public unions have run (and overrun) the statehouse. . .

“California Teachers Association officials ‘walk around like they’re God.’ She recalls knocking on Democratic doors trying to line up votes. ‘They always wanted to know where’s CTA,’ because that’s ‘their sugar daddy.’

“Ms. Romero credits the CTA for its savvy and chutzpah. The union has killed or hijacked nearly every reform bill that has popped up in the legislature. In 2010 it even sank a bill to let high school teachers volunteer to be evaluated by students. ‘Nobody would see [the evaluation] except the teacher, and CTA fought it tooth and nail. They really were of the opinion that “we run the place.” . . . Their basic argument was that it’s the nose underneath the camel’s tent. So you can’t do anything, because once you do something, the lid on reform is “lifted. So they just kill it.’”

“This year the unions torpedoed a bill (introduced by Democratic State Sen. Alex Padilla) that would have made it easier for districts to fire teachers who molest students. Same for legislation to strip pensions from teachers who have sexual relationships with students. The unions claimed the bills infringe on due process and First Amendment rights.

“Ms. Romero did manage to get ‘one past them and it was a big one.’ In 2010, her last year in the Senate, she wrote the nation’s first ‘parent trigger’ law allowing parents to take over underperforming schools and transform them by gathering a majority of parent signatures.

“Republican Minority Leader Bob Huff agreed to bring along GOP members, so she needed to round up only five Democrats. Ms. Romero enlisted Senate President Darrell Steinberg, whom she had mentored, to help her. They locked down the Senate in the dead of night to pass the bill.

“The unions exacted revenge by bulldozing Ms. Romero’s bid for state superintendent of schools later that year. They ran ads calling her a ‘dangerous’ tool of ‘wealthy charter school advocates’ and bankrolled her opponent, the reliably antireform Democrat Tom Torlakson. He won.

“And the unions continue to fight furiously against the trigger law’s implementation. Union members intimidated parents who attempted to take over McKinley Elementary in Compton two years ago, demanding that the parents bring photo IDs to the school; some of the parents were illegal immigrants . . .

“Unlike nonprofits, political parties, corporations and Super PACs, unions don’t need to raise money since they can finance their political activities through automatic payroll deductions. Consider: There are more than 300,000 California Teachers Association members, and each pays about $170 annually in non-agency fees. That works out to about $50 million each year to throw around—and that’s just the teachers.

“Ms. Romero believes the only way to bring down the public unions . . . is to go after ‘what feeds the beast.’ In other words: payroll deductions.

“Ms. Romero has thrown her support behind a ballot initiative this fall (Prop. 32) that would bar unions from withholding money from worker paychecks to finance political activities. Unions could still deduct agency-shop fees, which go strictly toward collective bargaining and administrative expenses, but they’d have to ask their members to contribute to the unions’ political action committees—just like any other political-advocacy group.

“‘If we don’t deal with how the beast is fed, and what maintains that, and what gives it status and opportunity to run roughshod over the educational lives and futures of six million kids in California, then shame on us,’ she says. ‘It’s do or die. And I’ve talked to a lot of Democrats,’ many of whom have been supportive in private. But ‘they are just afraid to come out’ publicly for it.

“Unions spent $90 million to defeat similar payroll-deduction measures in 1998 and 2005, and they have already put up more than $24 million to sink this year’s initiative. They’re now running radio ads speciously claiming that the proposition is stuffed with ‘special exemptions for oil companies and Wall Street and those secret campaign Super PACs’ who want to silence ‘working Californians.’ But it’s telling, as Ms. Romero notes, that the ads don’t mention unions.

“Supporters such as Stanford physicist Charles Munger Jr. and former Secretary of State George Shultz have raised a mere $4 million to back the initiative, but Ms. Romero is confident that it will pass simply because ‘it is a sensible measure.’ The initiative has dropped 10 points in a Pepperdine University poll since unions began blasting ads a few weeks ago, although it’s still ahead by 24.

“‘If you keep putting more money into the same system, we’re going to keep getting the same result. And that’s the definition of insanity. Nothing ever changes,’ she laments. ‘I do think, honestly, out of crisis comes opportunity. And with education you almost have to reach bottom before you can pick up.’”


The following is from “Taking care of truants,” Editorial, The Los Angeles Times, September 6, 2012,,0,1952420.story

[The Los Angeles Unified School District instituted a program some time ago of]  “. . . ticketing students for truancy. . .  The expensive citations didn’t work . . . [C]ity and school police issued tickets with fines of up to $250 to students who were out on the streets during school hours—including students who were on their way to school . . . [P]olice would wait along the most popular routes to campus and write tickets to students who were running late. Some students, if they knew they would be tardy, stayed home rather than face the possibility of a ticket.

“The price was steep for families. Court fees and state fines could push the cost of a ticket up to $1,000, and mandated court appearances meant lost work time for parents and more lost school time for students. . .

“If a high school student is late because both his parents work early in the morning and rely on him to take a younger sibling safely to elementary school, no number of $250 tickets is going to change the situation. No wonder the truancy rate rose during the heyday of the citations.”

TRUANCY LAW IN CALIFORNIA, from the website of the California Department of Education,

“Definition of a Truant

The California Legislature defined a truant in very precise language. In summary, it states that a student missing more than 30 minutes of instruction without an excuse three times during the school year must be classified as a truant and reported to the proper school authority. This classification and referral helps emphasize the importance of school attendance and is intended to help minimize interference with instruction. The California Education Code (EC) Section that defines a truant reads as follows:

“EC Section 48260 (a): Any pupil subject to compulsory full-time education or compulsory continuation education who is absent from school without a valid excuse three full days or tardy or absent more than any 30-minute period during the school day without a valid excuse on three occasions in one school year, or any combination thereof, is a truant and shall be reported to the attendance supervisor or the superintendent of the school district.”

The website above goes on to list various coercive measures provided in the law including prosecution of the “student” and his parents for habitual or chronic truancy, suspension of driving privileges, etc.


1.  The well-intentioned idea of free public schools (free of tuition, but not free of cost) was that is the way to assure that education would be provided to children of impecunious parents.

2.  Parents might not cooperate by sending their children to school, or children might not want to go to school, so school should be made compulsory.

3.  School teachers deserve to have a union to bargain for salaries and other conditions of their employment, so the state must deal with the teachers’ union.

4.  Teachers union officials want to have union dues withheld from teachers’ salaries because some teachers may not want to participate in the union.

5.  Teachers union officials lobby for or against legislation affecting teachers, because that is how they show teachers that the teachers need the union.

6.  Using money taken from the teachers salaries the teachers union officials often can assure or defeat the election of legislators based on whether the legislator cooperates with the union.

The two foregoing articles about public schools in California are only a sample of a myriad of examples that could be set forth on how politics corrupts a society and coercion in the name of doing good brings about the opposite. That is just a specific case of a broader principle: the law of unintended consequences which posits, inter alia, that well-intended actions may lead to unintended consequences which can bring about the opposite of what was intended.



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