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Why force a kid to go to school?

A tough but necessary question: Would school shootings still occur if K-12 education were optional for all students?

This answer is, sadly, yes — because some young people carry burdens that few can name. But to require a youth who has imperfect control of his emotions to be in a certain place and to act in a certain way will undoubtedly carry consequences. With the recent tragic school shooting in Ohio, the young suspect may have ultimately turned violent no matter what. But the fact is, police attributed his state of mind, in part, to having to comply with a school requirement he hated.

So: If a young person hates school, why do we force him or her to go?

According to the overwhelming majority of educators and politicians, there is no good excuse — however extenuating — for missing large amounts of school. All students must, in some manner or another, be subjected to institutionalized education, no matter what the cost.

The institution, it would appear, must be protected. Baltimore schools CEO Andrés Alonso wrote to the guardian of an allegedly bullied child, saying that he would not pursue legal action against her for the child's absenteeism because he thought the situation could be resolved. Yet, if parents wish to keep their children home, why can't they? And if parents can't, then what chance do children have to protect themselves from such "benevolence"? The only possible answer is that young people and the parents who wish to keep them home need to be protected against themselves.

To force children to go to a building they hate is imprisonment — unless beyond a reasonable doubt, in forcing them, we are helping them. To force children and parents to submit to the desires of school boards is a repugnant violation of freedom, unless school is all that important. Is it?

For most of history, people learned career skills by shadowing adults in their jobs, even from a very young age. Freeman Hrabowski, president of theUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore County, attributes much of the success of his students and the school to having employers on campus offering students high-tech internships. We have seen, in times of war, soldiers learn new fields of knowledge where not otherwise "schooled." We see it all the time as people change careers. It does not require a lengthy, general education to enable a person to enter even the most advanced fields. Even very young people can shadow and work with adults until the skills, one by one, are mastered. No "schooling" necessary.

If a young person can prove that some other door to society, apart from schooling, might be useful, then schools should step back and have limited control upon him or her.

As a teacher in Baltimore City, I have done my job for more than five years as a "highly qualified" instructor. I have received good to excellent reviews, I try to prepare exciting lessons daily, and I consider myself someone who cares very much about teaching and learning.

Without a doubt, however, in looking at the standardized objectives in the stark light of day, if I were to say that I have enabled my hundreds of students over the years to be able to do X, Y, and Z tasks which they could not do before, then I would be either lying or seriously deceived. It would be downright egomaniacal of me to say that such-and-such a student became a "success" because of me. And, most of all, it is extreme hubris for me to praise or punish a student based on how much he or she likes me or pretends to. In other words, even though I have been judged a competent teacher, I cannot prove that I have done these students so much good that they had to be with me.

Most of what we teachers ostensibly "teach" in a standardized-objective setting the students already know — or they would have figured out without our help, should they have taken the notion to learn it out of school. Much of what students "learn" in technical classes is forgotten shortly thereafter, just as you and I have forgotten the nitty-gritty rules of grammar and chemistry that we learned years ago. A liberal education can be important, yes, but curious people learn about it on their own through myriad "unschooled" experiences. Forced learning, in comparison, turns people off.

As many in the home-schooling (or "un-schooling") movement have said, the burden of proof is not on those who do not wish to go to school. It is on the enforcer itself. Can schools prove beyond a reasonable doubt that schooling is absolutely necessary in all cases? I believe they cannot. There are many entrances into society apart from institutionalized education that need our support. Some of them are even fun.

John Clayton Young lives in Parkville and has taught with Baltimore City Public Schools since January 2007. His email is

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