SCHOOL CHOICE….I’ve written a few posts recently about education ? this is mostly a coincidence, I assure you, not a sudden new crusade of mine ? and even went so far in one of them as to wonder if math should be a required subject beyond sixth grade. This suggestion was, ahem, poorly received.

However, the prize for audacity in educational reform ideas must now go to Scott Martens of Pedantry, who suggests today that the answer to improving our schools is….to stop making kids go to school. Make it optional. And let the kids themselves make the choice.

Yowza! This is tentatively going onto my Top Ten List of All-Time Worst Ideas, but I sure have to give Scott credit for willingness to rock the boat. There’s nothing like a little sacred cow bashing to get people to listen!

The funny thing is that the reason I so strongly disagree with Scott is not the obvious one: his assertion that most people don’t actually learn much in school beyond basic literacy and numeracy. I suspect he’s right about that for about two-thirds of high school students.

Rather, my disagreement is on the subject of socialization. Aside from learning the various things that schools teach ? and in the end it may not matter all that much what those subjects are ? schools serve a critical function in instilling habits: you have to show up every day, you have to sit at your desk quietly, and you have to do what the teacher tells you. This enforced regimentation, of course, is what most people hate so much about school, but the unpleasant fact is that it’s also one of the most important roles that schools play.

Kids who don’t get this kind of discipline end up being unable to survive at practically any job available in the modern world, and this is becoming more true, not less, as blue collar jobs decline and the service economy grows. It’s practically impossible to instill the discipline necessary to succeed at an office job unless it’s done at a very young age, so kids who opted out of school would essentially be doomed to a lifetime of menial jobs or complete unemployment.

Scott is quite right to suggest that schools would be infinitely better if the 10% of extreme troublemakers all left. Unfortunately, this improvement would come at the cost of creating an even larger pool of unemployable people than we have now, and the societal costs of that would be large indeed. It’s a bad idea.