Monthly Column

August 2006



Comments on article about truant teenage girl

 “A teenage girl was placed in foster care yesterday after her parents were jailed for failing to send her to school. The parents were locked up for four months.


Her parents… were first prosecuted in 2002 for failing to ensure their son and daughter attended school.


The prosecuting lawyer said: ‘This year nine pupil has persistently failed to attend school for prolonged periods of time.  This young girl has been persistently failed by these defendants.’


The defending lawyer said the parents had tried to make their daughter go to school but were confronted by a teenager who just refused to listen. …. ‘Her father did try to drag her to school before but somebody rang social services and the police.’


The Court Chairman said: ‘You both knew you have a responsibility and obligation to make sure that your daughter attended school. It is clear from what we have heard that the staff at the school and the education authority have done everything they can to assist you in this.’


He said that the couple had shown ‘nothing but contempt’ towards such help as well as to the court. Recent figures showed a 26 per cent increase in truancy cases entering a ‘fast-track’ prosecution system.”


(paraphrased from article in Daily Mail, 9 August 2006)


Let us remind ourselves of the basic moral principle: It is immoral to superimpose one’s own, or a social, evaluation of things on a person, who should be left free to act on his own evaluations of the totally uncertain existential situation in which he finds himself. 


Let us also remind ourselves of Ayn Rand’s dictum:


‘Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy.  The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.’ – Ayn Rand.


When the Welfare State came in with the post-War 1945 Labour landslide, it soon became apparent that its real aim was the elimination of freedom; each individual life was to be lived under tribal scrutiny and supervision.


Compulsory education is immoral; it may be by no means the best thing for any given individual.  Since the inception of the Welfare State the school-leaving age has been raised from fourteen to fifteen, and then 16.  When the rises were decreed, some criticism of them was expressed in newspapers.  Surely we have enough disaffected teenagers hanging around schools, waiting to leave and get on with their lives, now we are going to have more of them, hanging around for longer.


Of course these were the old-fashioned attitudes of people who had had their own education before the onset of the Welfare State and its associated ideology.  I doubt it would occur to anyone to express them today.


Because of this raising of the school-leaving age, people were being robbed of the freedom to decide how bet to use their time up to the age of 16 instead of 14.  My grandfather, in fact, left school at 12, since he was able to pass the school-leaving examination at an age earlier than 14.


Having thus extended the time during which people must act in accordance with what society saw fit to regard as educational, the stage was set for the current state of affairs.  The extra time which had to be spent under social auspices became even more dubiously advantageous as standards declined.  If lessons conveyed information in a structured way, they would be more interesting to the more intelligent pupils, who would get more out of them than the duller pupils, and become better informed.  This could not be regarded as acceptable in an egalitarian society, so lessons progressively approached an ideal of zero informational content, from which all pupils were equally unable to derive anything.


At the same time schools became more physically dangerous, as the bored and demoralised pupils resorted increasingly to bullying, gang warfare, attacks on teachers, sex, drink and drugs to pass the time. 


Now parents can be deprived of the use of their freedom for periods of time spent in prison.  The parents referred to in this news item are being penalised for failing to force their daughter to spend time sitting through lessons which she evidently had no wish to sit through.


And, furthermore, it is not only that they have broken a law, they are morally turpitudinous.  They have ‘failed’ their daughter.  They had a ‘responsibility and obligation’ to toe the social line, and their failure to place the same evaluation on things as required by the educational authorities is described as ‘contempt’.  One must show respect for the law as well as obeying it.


And yet one may well wonder whether spending time in a school is really in anyone’s interests.  Illiteracy and child crime are both more widespread than before there was any state education at all, when people got by on various private or charitable arrangements.


Before the onset of the Welfare State there was a more realistic recognition than there is now of the fact that socialism implied a loss of individual liberty.


I remember a cartoon in the 1940s.  A soap-box orator in Hyde Park was exhorting his audience, ‘When you have got your freedom you won’t eat fish and chips any more, you will eat caviar!’  A working class man objected, ‘But I want to eat fish and chips.  I don’t want to eat caviar.’


To which the reply was, ‘When you have got your freedom, you’ll do as you’re told.’ 



Celia Green