What if school didn’t exist?

Written Sep 30, 2016

What if “compulsory” schools didn’t exist?

Okay, so this is a little different question than asked, but may be the real question.

A lot of kids these days are not satisfied with school – in fact, they are downright mad about their schools. Just read these comments …What is the most frustrating thing about being a high school student?

So, if schools didn’t exist, there would be a lot less frustration 😉

If we don’t lock up millions of children in schools, how would people learn? It turns out (as mentioned in the other answers) that for most of our history, that is exactly what has happened. Knowledge was passed in the form of stories, told from generation to generation. Eventually, as agrarian societies developed, we needed to keep track of the harvests, inventories, payments, etc. Writing and numbers developed.

Of course, it was necessary to pass this knowledge on to others. Presumably, some kind to teaching and learning took place to transmit this knowledge, possibly in the form of apprenticeship.

As the demands of society grew, the capability to transmit this knowledge also increased. At some point, this would have been formalized into the format of teachers and students. We have some indications of this in Greek society.

The transmission of knowledge in different societies has often been used as a path to rise up the ladder. In China, a whole class of people supported the empire, and had to go through a rigorous selection process, and education. Similarly, in the West, the transmission of knowledge was generally supported by the church, and eventually migrated to universities.

Schools were therefore a necessary institution to foster the growth and development of society. No schools -> development would slow down or cease.

So why compulsory education?

Compulsory education (in the modern world) was established in Germany in the 1500s, and in Massachusetts in 1852. While there were various reasons for compulsory education, it appears that religious people who believed that all children deserved to be educated was the main driving force.


Interestingly, there appear to be no real objections to the desire that everyone should learn stuff. The disagreements arise about what should be learned, and how it should be learned.

What should be learned?

This concerns the topic of curriculum. The philosophy of compulsory education leads to the conclusion that there is a prescribed body of knowledge that should be learned by every child. This logically results in a body of knowledge represented by the Common Core Standards.

However, in the course of human history, there have been occasions when popular opinion and/or experts have been wrong. Therefore, it is not unrealistic to explore other curricular alternatives. For example, there are those who espouse the “Classical education” approach; or religious education; Montessori, etc.

How should it be learned?

This is the crux of the issue.

What next?

We have chosen to homeschool our daughter (I refer to my choice as blended unschooling). We are fortunate that we have the time and means to do this. I am sad/angry that so many of our children are stuck in a system that provides so few options (unless you have time and money).

I believe if “compulsory” schools did not exist, our (US) society would nurture, innovate, and develop a variety of approaches to learning that would reinvigorate the joy of learning. Our children could learn in the environment that best suits their (and their families) needs.

After all, that’s what we do best!