President Obama Calls States to Raise Compulsory Attendance Age

By Doug Phillips of Vision Forum (, Tuesday, February 7, 2012

In President Obama’s recent State of the Union Address, he called on every state in America to raise the compulsory attendance age to 18. While Washington cannot mandate that states comply with this directive, the U.S. Department of Education could eventually tie certain educational grants to compliance: If states want federal funds for education, they would have to require students to stay in school until they turn 18.

At the heart of the President’s proposal is the socialist understanding of unity, the notion that every citizen can only reach his full potential when he is made to serve the interests of the state — and the longer he is under the state’s oversight and care, the better. John Dewey, one of the most influential social engineers and champions of compulsory education in America, was open in stating that:

[T]he individual can be what he ought to be. . . . in idea, he is only as a member of a spiritual organism, called by Plato, the state, and, in losing his own individual will, acquiring that of this larger reality. But this is not loss of selfhood or personality, it is its realization. The individual is not sacrificed, he is brought to reality in the state.

According to Dewey, we can only reach our full potential by “losing … our individual will” and conforming to a greater statist identity. In mandating compulsory education in France, Napoleon Bonaparte made a similar point, declaring that:

Education must impart the same knowledge and the same principles to all individuals living in the same society, in order to create a single uniform body, informed with one and the same understanding, and working for the common good on the basis of uniformity of views and desire.

Compulsory state education is an attempt to take men who are made in the image of God and fashion them in the image of the state. It finds its roots in Ancient Greece where Spartan and Athenian children were viewed as creatures of the state who were required by law to be part of the Greek “compulsory education” training program.

This model runs counter to the biblical model where parents are commanded to direct the upbringing and education of their children, apart from statist intervention and control.

As bad as the President’s recent call to the states to raise the age for compulsory attendance is, we must recognize that his agenda is a difference in degree, not kind, from the prevailing cultural norm accepted by most Christians — that the state has a legitimate role to be involved in education and to mandate that children be in school for any length of time.

This is none of the state’s business.

Yet until we as Christians challenge the core assumptions of modern educational theory, we should only expect more of the same — the long arm of government dictating educational standards for the “uniformity” of the state.