“If I make you do good, will it make you good?”

Last month my family and I had the opportunity to visit the home of some good friends (I’ll refer to them as the “Smiths” hereafter). What started as a friendly conversation quickly degraded into a spirited debate on education vs. compulsory schooling. Our family shares a great deal of respect for the Smiths, and we see eye-to-eye on quite a few topics, but one topic on which we have long differed is that of education. While the Smiths are far from evangelists touting the virtues of a public compulsory school system (one which is clearly failing to satisfy society’s needs let alone meet the minimum criteria of what constitutes a successful education) they do have a healthy appetite for the “fringe benefits” of the public system and the value it brings students and families when compared against the absence of such a system.

And therein lies the chief problem: this wonderful family, a family which has produced amazing children and has had a great impact in society, has also fallen prey to one of the biggest droughts plaguing society today — the drought of imagination. Now I can’t prove what I believe, namely that the Smiths are merely suffering the deadening effects of a system that has waged war on one of our strongest differentiators from other, more brute beasts in the world. But I can say with 100% veracity that the Smiths are in nowise the minority in their lack of ability to imagine a world where compulsion is not the key ingredient in the concoction that is today more commonly sold under the label of “A Child’s Schooling.”

My personal beliefs – reinforced by the Christian values to which I subscribe – induce me to declare war against compulsion. I’m no stranger to the subject, either. I was raised in a world that was pretty much the epitome of the classical compulsive system. I attended church and school where my non-standard questions were an unwelcome interruption to the ultra-standard curriculum. I lived in a home where I was expected to behave as my parents imagined a good young boy should behave. I even consumed much of my entertainment according to someone else’s prescribed pattern. Everywhere I went, people were (sometimes passively but usually actively) telling me what I should say, how I should think, where I should go, and what I should do. Honestly, it would be better described as telling me what not to say, think, or do. Apparently, I wasn’t a very “good” boy. ;)

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m merely blaming the world for my woes. In fact, I am the first to admit that I’m as guilty as the rest of us in many ways, bestowing the burden of compulsion upon my own children, friends, acquaintances, and even myself. I, too, suffer from a lack of imagination, if only to a lesser degree. I’m not fighting the war against compulsion out of sense of superiority. I do it precisely because I recognize my own inferiority against this principle which I so despise. As is the case when overcoming any great challenge, I’ve found myself investing a great deal of time pursuing an education on the matter. It has begun with a sizable investment of my conscious thought and observation into the matter of education and compulsion over the past decade or more. I’ve also done a bit of “light reading” on the matter, and will no doubt be sharing those resources here as time goes on.

The debate that accompanied our visit to the Smith’s home last month was stirring for me. So stirring, in fact, that I decided to write a letter to them in an attempt express the many things that were not communicated (or were communicated poorly) that evening. I realized there were some key principles at the foundation of my views that weren’t even discussed. I can see how, in lieu of these basic building blocks, confusion and skepticism might abound. And so it was that I decided to write a letter to the Smiths in an attempt to clearly outline the foundation of my views. If this is indeed a true, universal principle, adherence to it will no doubt vary from individual to individual, family to family, and society to society. However, one important distinction will exist: we will cease liberal peppering of force and compulsion in the rearing and tutelage of our young minds.

I publish this letter here today because it has become clear to me over the last month that this is more than a simple communique to the Smith family. This is, more or less, my manifesto on the principle of the agency of man. This “manifesto” is certainly far from exhaustive. However, I post it here with the hope that I will either be proven irrefutably wrong in my faulty beliefs, or so the discussion can flourish and develop into real change. Either way, I want to know whether the arguments in this document are efficacious, or merely fallacy.

The conversations I’ve already shared with those who have read this have been amazing, and extremely enlightening. So I invite you to read this, pass it along, add to it, comment on it, and let me know if it has had any impact in your life, good or bad. I have felt for some time that this is a conversation we need to have in this crazy world, especially today.

Please find the PDF below:

On Compulsion – A Manifesto on Agency and Force (PDF)

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