To Fix Education, Make it Consensual

Imagine being in a romantic relationship where your partner forces you to do stuff you don’t like and never asks for your permission That’d be terrible, right? Imagine living in a country where unelected leaders run the show control your every movement and trample your basic rights That’s called tyranny Imagine going to a hospital where doctors just start operating on you or giving you medications that you didn’t ask for and if you don’t like it Too bad! We all know that consent is the foundation of healthy relationships that legitimate governments operate on the consent of the governed and that in health care to provide treatment without asking permission first is unethical But what about in education? How often did your parents ask you if you want to go to school and took you seriously if you said that you didn’t? How much choice did you actually have in your class schedule, beyond a few electives? How much freedom did your teachers give you to complete assignments or meet objectives in a way that works for you? My guess is you had very little say in your education You probably had to ask permission just to go to the bathroom What if the government forced adults to go back to school for some supposedly noble purpose like, parent training, for example and restricted their time, speech, and movement forced them to stay in class gave them mandatory homework What if we did this to all adults in the name of citizenship or “ongoing education”? We wouldn’t stand for it there’d be a revolution! I’m glad I don’t live in a country with re-education camps for adults but I’m disheartened that we still treat young people as undeserving of consent and incapable of handling it Yes, consent gets messy when we’re talking about little kids But adolescents and teenagers they’re capable of understanding their options and making informed decisions They’ve been making big decisions and taking on real responsibilities since the dawn of humanity It’s only very recently that we’ve restricted their scope of action through the institution we call school So what might consensual education look like? How about this Make all high school classes optional Give teenagers real control over their studies Turn high schools into giant resource centers that feel more like libraries instead of prisons Let students vote with their feet if no one shows up for a class then cancel the class This would solve so many so-called “discipline issues” in a heartbeat We can make high school more like college Tell students that in order to graduate they need to have a certain number of units and a certain number of subjects but let them figure out how if they feel like a certain class is really boring or unengaging let them skip the lectures as long as they can perform on the final exam and in fact let them test out of anything as soon as they’re ready including high school itself You don’t have to wait for this utopian future to arrive Right now in North America and increasingly across the world there are learning centers and alternative schools organized around the principle of consent In some of these places the students even have the power to hire and fire their teachers You can also opt out of the school system entirely by becoming a homeschooler Homeschooling is legal across the United States and increasingly across the world and it’s the cheapest and fastest way to take back control over your or your child’s education Consent isn’t a radical idea When we give people real choices including the choice to say no they feel respected and they act more responsibly Essentially let’s treat young people more like adults since after all that’s who we’re trying to help them become To fix education make it consensual

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