The paradox of compulsory education is that education is essentially a set of voluntary activities. In education, students voluntarily choose to study intentionally under guidance some content with a view to learn intentionally under guidance some range of knowing. Compulsory schooling takes away choice. It compels students to study some content to learn some coerced range of knowing. Impediments to conduced learning in schools arise when students are placed into situations in which they choose not to study. This can often be the case at the primary, middle school and secondary school levels. It is compulsory by law for students to attend classes, study a prescribed content and achieve some nominated set of intended learning outcomes to some set of standards. There is a significant population of students who do not find the content, study activities and the intended learning outcomes meaningful, significant, important and/or relevant.
So, here is the paradox of compulsory school attendance, prescribed content, coerced study and compelled intended learning outcomes. If school attendance, classroom participation and cognitive achievement are compulsory for students in schools, then what takes place under the conditions of compulsion can only be education if the students find meaning, significance, importance and relevance in the compulsory content, study activities and intended learning outcomes, and from that meaning, significance, importance and relevance, they accept, embrace and voluntarily choose the compelled study activities, and they endeavor in good faith to complete the study activities and to learn intentionally under guidance the range of prescribed knowing as specified by the intended learning outcomes. If the students do not find meaning, significance, importance and relevance in the compulsory content, the compulsory study activities and the compulsory intended learning outcomes, they typically resist and/or reject the coerced study activities and the coerced learning of some compelled range of knowing. The resistance may be enacted as passive acquiescence, as begrudging compliance, as pretence of compliance or as open refusal to comply (opposition, defiance, rebellion).
Education, when effective, produces the process of conduced learning, and the process of conduced learning produces a prescribed range of knowing. In contrast, socialization, enculturation, indoctrination and conditioning (all functions of the physical, social and cultural environment) produce the process of coerced learning, and the process of coerced learning produces a coerced range of knowing.
For education to be education (where education is a system in which teachers, students, content and setting all are functioning together constructively), whether unofficial (at home, with friends) or official (in schools, academies, etc.), student participation in education must be voluntary and intentional on the part of the persons playing the role of student. People who are compelled to study and learn some coerced range of knowing are likely to dislike, resist and/or reject the compelled study activities, the content and the intended learning outcomes.
The influential and/or dominant members of a society and culture may well believe (and be correct in their beliefs) that there is a range of knowing that all members of the society and culture must have achieved by adulthood. But for that cognitive state of affairs to be achieved through education, rather than through socialization, enculturation, indoctrination and conditioning, the children and adolescents who are expected to play the role of students must be permitted the choice of content, intended learning outcomes and intentional guided study activities. A necessary condition for education, whether unofficial or official, is student choice of content, intended learning outcomes and intentional guided study activities. Education functions optimally when the students
- want to achieve the nominated intended learning outcomes,
- are physically and psychically capable of achieving the intended learning outcomes,
- like the content and
- enjoy the intentional guided study activities.