A Nation of Children?
As I lay awake last night, unable to sleep, I started thinking about truancy. It's an interesting concept, based on the premise that education - a good and useful thing for both the individual and society at large - is compulsory. That is, your child is going to get it, whether or not you like it - or else. This has been the case in the United States since Massachusetts passed a law declaring it as such in 1852 (as an aside, it's ironic how often the state that kicked off our national independence so often appears to be a spawning ground for state-mandated behavior). School districts have even employed "truancy officers" to investigate continued absences and "round up the scofflaws."
In the name of "protecting the children," of course.
Now, I'm not going to rail against compulsory education or ask you all to start home schooling en masse (not that it's a bad idea at all), I'd just like to point out what the acceptance of it says about us as a culture. For a century and a half, we have ceded at least part of our authority as parents to the state. We have tacitly agreed that the state has the authority to tell us where to put our children, and the legitimate right to make them be there, lest we incur punishment for criminally neglecting them.
That just seemed a bit creepy to me in that light. Then I made it worse by thinking about the definition of "children." My own come to mind when I hear that word - six and nine years old, still full on wonder and magic. But in reality, the term has been muddied and confused. You can marry and enlist at seventeen. But you must be eighteen to buy a rifle or shotgun, or vote for those who will set our national policies. And you certainly aren't mature enough to buy alcohol or a handgun until you're twenty-one! Yet, according to Obamacare, you are still a "child" on your parents' insurance until you are twenty-six.
So... what's to stop "the powers that be" from redefining terms further? What's to prevent them from declaring something else that is good and useful in their eyes to be mandatory for "children?" And why should we argue if they do, since we have been so accepting of compulsory education?
The whole thing puts me in mind of the classic - if slightly off-color - joke from a 1937 O. O. McIntyre's article:
“They are telling this of Lord Beaverbrook and a visiting Yankee actress. In a game of hypothetical questions, Beaverbrook asked the lady: ‘Would you live with a stranger if he paid you one million pounds?’ She said she would. ‘And if he paid you five pounds?’ The irate lady fumed: ‘Five pounds. What do you think I am?’ Beaverbrook replied: ‘We’ve already established that. Now we are trying to determine the degree.”
We established what kind of society we were over a century and a half ago. I just wonder to what degree - or if there are some things we wouldn't do for any price.