(istock)

Put this in the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up category: A legislator in Arizona has said that there should be no compulsory education, and he wants to repeal a state law that mandates that young people attend school.

He is Paul Mosley, an extremely conservative freshman Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives from Lake Havasu City, which is in Mohave County. When it comes to education, his campaign website says this:

A good quality education is essential in preparing the next generation. I believe that parents understand the needs of their children better than bureaucrats and I am a proponent of education choice. Competition in education is good and I support district schools, charter schools, private schools, home schooling and tuition tax credits.

But he has another idea about education, too, and, he says, it is a top priority. In an interview with the Arizona Capitol Times, he said wants the state to pass a law that eliminates compulsory education. He was quoted as saying:

“Education used to be a privilege. People used to believe getting an education was something you had to be privileged to get, that you had to work hard to get. Now we basically force it down everybody’s throats.”

And he said this:

“The number one thing I would like to repeal is the law on compulsory education … I believe education is still a privilege, and the kids who don’t want to be there are a larger distraction to the kids who do want to be there.

“We’re telling kids they have to go to school, and we put fences around the schools to protect them now, and we give them a meal or two and sometimes send a backpack of food home with them. So now schools are not only tasked with educating our children, but also feeding our children. What happened to the personal responsibility of a parent to feed and educate their kids?”

Every U.S. state requires some schooling for kids. Most states require districts to provide 180 days of student instruction, and most specify the minimum amount of time that constitutes an instructional day, according to the Education Commission of the States. The number of hours in instructional days vary significantly by state; in Delaware, for example, the state requires only 3.5 hours daily, with a district option to increase it, while other states mandate 6.5-hour or seven-hour instructional days. Wisconsin and Ohio in recent years moved to using the hour as a unit of measure rather than days.

Compulsory education has a long history in this country, actually predating it. The first compulsory-education law was enacted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1642, though it really wasn’t about kids going to school the way they do now. It called for parents to teach their children how to read and write and understand the colony’s laws, though if parents didn’t, the government could send a child elsewhere. Similar statutes were adopted in other colonies, and schools began to open — though most were exclusively for white boys.

In 1852, Massachusetts became the first state to require every town to build a grammar school — called common schools — and require parents to send their children there, with the penalty of a fine for failing to do so. Other states followed suit; Mississippi, in 1918, was the last.

There are exceptions to compulsory education. Courts have granted some; for example, the 1972 Supreme Court decision in Wisconsin v. Yoder gave Amish parents the right to keep their children home after eighth grade. Exemptions have also been given by courts for, among other things, students who can prove that they are in danger by attending school or are mentally disabled. According to FindLaw.com, all states have laws for exceptions for religious and other reasons. Virginia is unique among states in allowing parents to not only withdraw their children from schooling completely for religious reasons but also not require them to provide any education.

Education has long been seen not only as a personal ticket to a better life in this country but also as essential for the health of the democratic enterprise. Whether Mosley’s idea will get any traction in Arizona is not clear, but we live in an era in which we have seen unprecedented challenges to the traditional model of education. Mosley is going further, however, saying that no governmental body should require kids to go to school.

Early this year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker included a provision in his draft budget that called for the state to stop requiring a minimum number of hours for students to be in class. It was dropped by fellow Republicans, along with other education provisions, but not because there was great opposition to it.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has not publicly opposed compulsory-education laws, but she has called America’s tuition-free public education system — the country’s most important civic institution — a “dead end” and has supported using public money for students to attend private and religious schools.

Laurie Roberts, a columnist for the Arizona Republic, is not buying Mosley’s argument. She wrote in this piece:

Oh the horror, of trying to create an educated citizenry. Of forcing kids to actually learn something, in the hope that they grow up and become able to earn a living, contribute to society and maybe even pay a few taxes …

Much better, I suppose, to let them stay home, ignorant and hungry and so not our problem.

Until someday, when they are …

Meanwhile, in the Nordic countries, consideration is being given to requiring not only young people to go to school but also working adults, according to a 2016 report titled “Working Life in the Nordic Region.” Why? So that they can stay current with technology and other changes in the workplace. That may not have occurred to Mosley.