What price are we willing to pay to preserve the government’s monopoly on elementary education? The jury may still be out on the answer to that question, but an incident in a small Ohio village has given us a new perspective on this question. From the Columbus Dispatch:
Embattled police Chief Mike McCoy announced last night that he will soon resign from his village post, though he insisted it has nothing to do with the fact that one of his officers shocked a 9-year-old boy twice with a Taser last week. McCoy, who was placed on paid leave late last week after he did not tell Mount Sterling Mayor Charlie Neff of the incident, said he wasn’t pressured to resign. Instead, after an hour-long, closed-door meeting between his personal attorney and village officials, McCoy read a statement that said the village’s declining budget keeps him from doing his job. He said he did nothing wrong by not immediately telling Neff what had happened because, as chief, he felt he needed to check into the incident himself first.
And why was this boy tasered? The boy’s mother, Mrs. Perry, explains via her attorney that police had been sent to their house…
…to arrest her son for truancy [but] Mrs. Perry never expected that he would be subdued with a Taser. “She certainly never wanted this to happen,” [her attorney] said. Village officials released the police report yesterday. According to [officer] O’Neil’s written account: He went to the boy’s S. Market Street home about 8:30 a.m. to serve a complaint filed against Jared for truancy. Jared — listed on the report as between 5-foot-5 and 5-foot-8 inches tall and between 200 and 250 pounds — refused to cooperate. He begged his mother to let him go to school rather than with the officer, but Perry told her son it was too late.
So the school, which is a government agency and the only provider of education in the village (except for home schooling), has the authority to send police after children who do not show up for school. If the kids refuse to comply with the police officer’s order to go to school, they get arrested for resisting a police officer (emphasis added):
O’Neil wrote that after repeated warnings, he pulled Jared from the couch, but he “dropped to the floor and became dead weight … flailing around,” and the boy lay on his hands to prevent being handcuffed. O’Neil demonstrated the electrical current from the Taser into the air “as a show of force.” Then, he wrote, Perry told her son to do as O’Neil said or he would be shocked. The report indicates that after being shocked once, Jared still didn’t cooperate and was shocked a second time. An ambulance was called, but Jared had no sign of injury; Perry signed a waiver for medical treatment. Jared was taken to the sheriff’s office, and a delinquency count of resisting arrest was added to his truancy charge.
In other words, a 9-year-old boy is charged with resisting education. This charge leads to a second charge of resisting arrest.
It is entirely possible that this kid is so troubled that he cannot get his act together and go to school in the morning. If that is the case, he and his family need help. If so, the help should come the form of a therapist, a child psychiatrist or a social worker, not a police officer. But more to the point, one has to ask what the purpose actually is of forcing this kid in to the school building. If the purpose is to teach him, how likely is it that he will sit down and read when he was brought in by force? Can you use brute force to make someone learn?
In a free society, the freedom of parents to choose their children’s education must prevail. When government sends police after children who refuse to be educated, the purpose of our public education system has long been lost. It is no longer an institution where government tries to provide a service driven by misguided well-intendedness. On the contrary, when government enforces attendance by means of police, the purpose is not to encourage the child to get an education. It is to show that government is the final arbiter of what and how our children are supposed to learn.
This puts the question of educational freedom on its edge: who should really have the right to determine what education our children should have? The tensions around this question are on the rise, with school districts on one side restricting choice with more and more curricular standardization (see this example from Laramie County School District 1 here in Wyoming), and parents on the other side exhibiting growing interest in home schooling as an alternative to public schools.
As for the 9-year-old boy in this story, he and his parents deserve the same full educational freedom as we all do. This includes the right to home school, to shop for private educational alternatives – and, absurd as it may seem, the right not to become educated. In a truly free society, we are free to make choices that by any normal measurements would be classified as stupid. While it is hard to argue that a child is capable of making rational decisions, the child’s parents do have that right. That includes the right to make foolish decisions.