Compulsory Education

I recognize that it is meant to address more extreme cases, but the idea of fining parents and charging them with a misdemeanor just strikes me as wrong. I know we have compulsory education in the United States, but I wonder if we are really helping anything by making it compulsory. If my kid skips school all the time I am guilty of a misdemeanor – even if my kid isn’t causing trouble.

The saddest part of it for me is this quote from Dan Linford – the assistant principle at Viewmont High School:

For the most part, it will help keep the goods kids honest, and for the 1 percent of students who habitually skip school it may not affect them too much.”

Remind me why we need fines for parents to keep the good kids honest?

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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7 Responses to Compulsory Education

  1. Jeremy says:

    A couple of weeks ago there was a tax hearing at the Davis County School District and many of the residents in my area attended to complain about an increase in our taxes. I agreed with you basic argument in this post before that meeting.

    Most of the people there didn’t object to the idea that they were compelled to pay for public education…only that their share of the burden didn’t seem fair.

    When I read your post I thought of the people at that hearing, most of whom are elderly, who have been paying property taxes for most of their lives partly to ensure that there are good public schools for the county’s kids to attend. When a student skips out of school it is like spitting in the face of the taxpayers who are paying for their education.

    When I thought about it this way a fine for parents of kids who take this sacrifice for granted and waste taxpayer dollars makes a lot more sense.

  2. Jason Black says:

    Jeremy’s comment underscores one (among many) of the problems associated with forms of wealth redistribution. In this case, the problem of seniors and those without children footing part of the bill for the education of children. Social Security is an example of the reverse – the young (and, on average, less wealthy) paying for the retirement of the elderly (and, on average, more wealthy). Hundreds of other cases exist – how about the national endowment of the arts? People that can’t stand art – or certain excuses for art (can you tell how I feel about it?) are forced to help pay for private art to be purchased or subsidized by the government.

    If instead, we lived in a society where people pay for what they get, no such confusion would exist. Those who are needy (poor children without means of obtaining education, elderly without means to retire, etc.) would have to count on the benevolence of family, friends, and charitable organizations, which would probably do better than the average government agency when it comes to efficiency. But people would pay their fair share of society’s bill. We’d all pay in for national defense, the costs of congress, transportation networks (though I’m opposed to subsidizing public transportation and in favor of toll roads). Things that fall through the cracks due to lack of funding (such as really ugly or offensive art) would die away. Bummer.

    Let’s stop expecting society around us to pay for our needs. Everyone should and could, if willing, provide for their own necessities.

  3. David says:


    I agree with you that “When a student skips out of school it is like spitting in the face of the taxpayers who are paying for their education.” That is, as Jason points out, one of the side effects of publicly financed programs. Sometimes people will not appreciate the program being provided. Should we fine people who choose cable or satellite TV rather than watching public television? – Actually that would be more representative of those who choose to pay for private schools and this bill would not fine them. Should we fine people – such as me – who choose not to watch television at all when your hard earned money is paying for those programs that I am refusing to watch?

    The argument doesn’t quite wash for me. Those parents we are proposing to fine are wasting their own contribution to the public schools as well as the contributions of everyone else but fining them and charging them with misdemeanors is not appropriate to their foolishness. Especially when we expect that “it won’t affect the 1% of kids who already skip school habitually.”

    I think this is another case of needing to define the purpose of our public education system so that we can make rules appropriate to that purpose. (I thought the purpose was to make sure that educational opportunities were available to anyone regardless of their financial situation. If I’m right, that education is being made available whether the students – and their parents – choose to take advantage of the opportunity or not.)

  4. Jeremy says:


    When you can come up with a viable plan for convincing a majority of our society that collective action isn’t the best way to provide for public education or the other services we currently rely on government to provide I’ll be the first person to sign onto your crusade. Unfortunately your desire that, “Everyone should and could, if willing, provide for their own necessities” isn’t very realistic. You have my complete support in your contention that government takes too much of our individual property in order to blow it on unwise programs. Too bad the vast majority of citizens don’t vote for politicians who agree with us that Government needs to be pared down. Until that happens I hope we’ll come up with ways to ensure our tax dollars aren’t being unnecessarily wasted when used in government programs a majority of citizens value.

    I don’t love the idea of fining people who waste taxpayer dollars…but I don’t hate it especially bad either.


    The fact that you aren’t getting any value from the tax dollars you contribute to public television doesn’t mean that it isn’t fulfilling its stated purpose. You aren’t spitting in anyone’s face. A better analogy would be if you were on welfare and every week after you picked up your government cheese from the welfare office you flushed it down the toilet. My tax dollars are spent to provide you with a safety net if you decide to use it. You’re taking the benefit of my tax dollars and deliberately ensuring it is wasted. Make sense?

    I agree with you that it is unfortunate that the punishment can’t be distributed in a way that deals equitably with all irresponsible parents.

    Oh yeah…Please don’t take this argument to mean that I think public television is a good use of our tax dollars. I don’t. 🙂

  5. David says:


    Apparently we agree more on this than I previously thought. However, there is one thing that I am missing in your perspective. How are truant students spitting in the face of those paying for their schooling? The money still gets spent on teacher salaries and all the other supplies necessary to provide an education for our children. To me it looks a lot like schools are fulfilling their stated purpose which is (as I understand it) to make education available to everyone regardless of their own economic circumstance. They continue to do that even when a student chooses not to partake. Am I missing something here?

  6. Melissa says:

    Having taught in UT, the main reason for school rules or legislation like this is because it is specific to the parenting styles of UT parents. UT parents are, generally, very involved in their children’s lives. These rules are specifically meant to involve parents, if they aren’t involved already or if they are too oblivious, by informing them (harshly) of disciplinary problems. This also helps the school administration and school teachers from having to deal with as much school discipline. You know, put the responsibility where it belongs: on the parents’ shoulders. You are just fortunate enough to live in a state where not very many parents (that 1%) are negligent in their children’s lives. Call it another effect of “living in the bubble.”

  7. David says:

    I agree with putting responsibility on the parents, but I’m not sure this is really the right way to do it.

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