“To Fix School, Make It Consensual,” which is to say, abolish school

Long commentary on this news item is long, but worthwhile.





I’m really happy to see people talking about the inherent abusiveness of compulsory schooling, even if they don’t quite take the step of pointing out that forcing someone to do something without their consent is abuse. When it gets to the part about how parents should approach their children, however, you can still see that they’re prioritizing adults over children:

A self-directed parent who wants her kid to take violin lessons doesn’t just sign him up for lessons. She explains her reasoning to him: “I want you to appreciate music,” for example. She suggests other activities that could provide the same benefits, such as guitar lessons, digital composing, or attending the symphony. She sets clear expectations for any classes or tutoring: “I want you to give your best effort to three lessons.”

I mean, yeah, they say to not force the kid to do what you want, but they still assume that what the adult wants is something that should be centered in the child’s life. Why are you trying to decide what your child’s hobbies and interests should be? Instead of starting from a place of what you want to happen, you should start from a place of discovering what your child is interested in. It’s fine if you start with what’s of interest to you, but the idea that you decide that your child ought to appreciate something specific and have that as a goal that you are trying to lead them toward, however “nicely”, is manipulative. Better approach:

“There’s a symphony in town performing music I really love and appreciate, would you like to go see it with me?”

“When I was young I learned to play the violin and really loved it (or really wish I had learned). Do you think you’d be interested in learning to play the violin or any other instrument?”

It might seem similar, but it’s actually very different than saying “I want you to learn the violin because I have decided that you should appreciate music. If you don’t want to learn the violin, which will disappoint me, I will begrudgingly allow you to learn another instrument or go to the symphony instead. Which option do you choose for learning to appreciate this thing that I have decided you should appreciate?” Obviously, I’m exaggerating, but this is the kind of thing that comes through when you approach a child with the thought, “I want you to do X, how do I get you to do it?”

And that completely arbitrary, ”I want you to give your best effort to three lessons”? Ew. If they want to give up after one lesson (or no lessons), then that’s up to them. Instead, talk to them about why they want to quit. Maybe they simply decided it wasn’t for them, but maybe the instructor or class was a bad fit, or maybe they were just discouraged by the difficulty and you can talk to them about how to approach difficult tasks and see if maybe they want some help in giving it another shot. But any of that could happen after 1, 3, or 30 lessons, and you should be willing to have those conversations with them regardless, and then trust them to make the decision about how many lessons they need to know if it’s something they want to continue or not.

Your children are not obligated to appreciate or be interested in the same things your are. You should be centering their wants and interests, or helping them to discover what their interests are without centering your own wants. Approaching them with the idea of “I want them to do this thing, how do I convince/persuade/cajole/trick/push/manipulate them into doing it?” is not prioritizing consent.


bolded for emphasis.

although lets remember a lot of families can’t afford to pay for lessons (maybe the parent themselves can’t actually play an instrument, for example, but its what the child would like to do) although barter of goods and services may be an option in this case, but again we are assuming that the parents have access to transportation and people who know what the child may want to learn.

also a lot of parents send their kids to school so they can:

get a hot meal (breakfast and lunch) that’s free

and have a place for the child to go while the parent goes to work.

obviously as the child gets older then maybe they can do more self directed learning.

I’m not saying this isn’t something that need to be fixed in society. but for now it’s an only choice for a lot of families.

I’m just throwing out some things I thought of while reading this. I probably missed something. I’m also thinking of personal experience. I’m not trying to discount these ideas at all.


You’re absolutely right, I was just trying to focus on the particular attitude behind the given example and how it isn’t really taking consent into account despite the focus of the article being about consent. In reality, though, everything is much more complicated. I think maymay covers some really important points about this in their reply here. Excerpt:

[W]hen parents force their children to go to school they are acting abusively AND in the best interests of their children, because the parents are under massively coercive forms of violence from places like the State (they will be judged “negligent” parents if they do not force their children to go to school), the economy (they are forced to have jobs and thus not spend their time raising and helping their children educate themselves, as well being restricted from forming relationships with other adults who are not parents who may be able to help in a “it takes a village” model, see “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: A Radical Parenting Allies Handbook” for more on this), and the abusive social norms of what parenting really means (such as the idea that children “belong to,” i.e., are the human property of, their parents, see John Bell’s “Understanding Adultism” for a primer on this).

Obviously I am not suggesting that parents should NOT cede to the threats placed on them if it is not actually safe for them to resist. And we are in a very dire situation right now where it is in fact not safe for many parents to resist acting abusively towards their children because of these external and internalized threats and fears. But that does not in fact mean that these parents are not acting abusively.

To take this to its hard radical conclusion, what this means is that if you choose to have children in the context of current society, you are virtually guaranteeing that you will have to abuse someone with less power than you at some point. This is no different from the claim that if you believe there is such a thing as wholly ethical and uncomplicated consumption under late capitalism, you are deluding yourself. And it is also the same logic that I use when I say that if you choose to have sex in the context of rape culture, you have to take it as a given that you will probably violate someone’s consent at some point.

All of these are issues we have to learn to address in ways other than abject denial. That is what Consent as a Felt Sense is all about. That is what the work to “break the abusive/consensual binary” is all about; dissolving the abuser/abuse victim binary is the only way to effectively end the cycle of abuse.


Also, @ socialjusticevegan’s first response, “having a conversation with your child” is not something you can do on command. Forcing your child to interact/communicate with you is abusive.

Yes, all of this.

I have only a couple things to add, nothing to refute.

Here they are.

First, when socialjusticevegan describes it as “an exaggeration” when parents do things that translate to, “Which option do you choose for learning to appreciate this thing that I have decided you should appreciate?” the exaggeration is more about the overtness of the ultimatum, not the fact that there is an ultimatum. The less trivial a given task or action is perceived by the parent (or any other authority, really, like teachers), the more likely it is that their ultimatums will be presented more overtly.

As an example of this, see this excerpt from Alessandra Orofino’s speech, “It’s our city! Let’s fix it!”

So far, most city governments have been effective at using tech to turn citizens into human sensors who serve authorities with data on the city: potholes, fallen trees or broken lamps. They have also, to a lesser extent, invited people to participate in improving the outcome of decisions that were already made for them, just like my mom when I was eight and she told me that I had a choice: I had to be in bed by 8 p.m., but I could choose my pink pajamas or my blue pajamas. That’s not participation[.]

(Emphasis added.)

Second, when gincoffee describes the predicament that many parents are in, they are not exaggerating when they suggest that for many families, economic conditions are so bad that their decision boils down to, “If I don’t send my children to school, I can not ensure that they will have at least one minimally nutritious meal a day.” But like so many other things in capitalism, this is not really a choice, it is a threat.

Wage slavery or stavation? *scratches head* That's not a choice, it's a threat!

Beyond that, if you actually examine the contents of school meals, you will find that the food safety and nutrition standards of school lunches are far worse than the standards of fast food companies. The takeaway from this is not that we should “privatize school lunches because corporations do it better.” The takeaway is that food itself is a weapon of class antagonism; the classic bumper sticker, “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber,” isn’t only relevant to money, it’s also relevant to food.

Finally, gincoffee‘s also correct to point out that another reason compulsory schooling survives is because society needs to “have a place for the child to go while the parent goes to work,” but I would rephrase this to focus on the cause of this problem, which is that “parents are forced to abandon their children in order to labor for other people’s profit.”

The fact of the matter is that there is a direct line between the abuses of schooling and the abuses of employment. I’m not merely speaking here of the abuse individual children endure at the hands of school faculty (trigger warning for graphic video of electrocution torture of a youth in school), nor am I speaking solely of the specific abuse perpetrated against a worker by their boss. I am speaking also and intentionally about the fact that schooling as well as employment are both abuses, themselves. Moreover, they are the same abuse mutated in different forms and applied at different ages of our lives.

The direct line between these two abuses should be obvious to anyone who has ever gone to school or felt the need to get a job in order to survive: you go to a good school to get a good job so that you can labor for other people upwards of 40 hours a week in exchange for paltry sums of currency tokens (that don’t grow on trees, after all) that you are then forced to trade for things that you need to survive, like food, which literally grows on trees.

And that says nothing of compulsory education’s designs dating farther back than the formation of The Education Trust in the early 20th Century, whose intentionally classist objectives was described in a polemical fashion I find delightful in Chapter 2 of John Taylor Gatto’s book, “The Underground History of American Education,” titled “An Angry Look at Modern Schooling.” An excerpt:

School was looked upon from the first decade of the twentieth century as a branch of industry and a tool of governance. For a considerable time, probably provoked by a climate of official anger and contempt directed against immigrants in the greatest displacement of people in history, social managers of schooling were remarkably candid about what they were doing. In a speech he gave before businessmen prior to the First World War, Woodrow Wilson made this unabashed disclosure:

We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.


With the breakdown of home and village industries, the passing of chores, and the extinction of the apprenticeship system by large-scale production with its extreme division of labor (and the “all conquering march of machinery”), an [“]army of workers has arisen,[“] said [Ellwood Patterson] Cubberley [one of the most influential theorists of compulsory education administration], [“]who know nothing.[“]

(Emphasis added.)

And this, of course, is the entire design of both school and jobs. Jobs are school for adults, devoid of education, disdainful of learning, and retributive of exploration. And so is school. That was always the point.

Well, that was part of school’s purpose. Another purpose of school is genocide. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

One reply on ““To Fix School, Make It Consensual,” which is to say, abolish school”

Comments are closed.