The state of Colorado recently did something revolutionary, at least it tried to. Last November, Republican State Representative Russ George introduced an amendment to Colorado’s “Children Code”—a set of laws dealing with child welfare issues, including the education of Colorado’s 650,000 students—that would have abolished that state’s compulsory school attendance laws. A similar proposal was introduced in 1976 by Representative Tom Taneredo, now president of the Independence Institute, a pro-market public policy organization in Golden, Colorado.

George—most emphatically not an ideologue—proposed the amendment for one simple reason; he simply believes the compulsory schooling laws are not doing what they were intended to do. Instead of bringing valuable education to all, they have, in George’s opinion, actually produced generations of children w hose education can be described as mediocre at best. The many students who come to school interested in learning suffer from the presence of disruptive students who would rather be anywhere else than in the classroom, and who, without the compulsory attendance laws, would he. Teachers spend too much time dealing with these troubled students and too little time doing their primary duty: dispensing knowledge, says George. Defending his position, he stated: “The real question we’re asking ourselves is ‘Where do we focus our attention?’ Do we focus it on the good kids or on the bad kids? So often the bad kids get a higher degree of attention and dollars. We need to ask ourselves, is that a price that’s too high to pay? It’s dragging down the quality of education for so many others. If I have to choose, I choose in favor of the kids who want to be in school and who want to learn. I don’t know that public schools get any better when you turn them into places of detention.”

Others were less narrowly utilitarian in their support of the amendment. When asked her opinion on the issue, Republican State Representative Jeanne Adkins asked: “Is it society’s role to force kids to stay in school?” And Tom Taneredo added: “The dumbest thing we do as a society is to say we value education and then say we’ll put you in jail if you don’t accept it.”

Of course, many disagreed. The Democratic Senate Minority Leader, Mike Feeley, said: “We don’t throw away children in Colorado, and we think that is exactly what this effort is.” Assistant House Minority Leader Diana DeGette called George’s idea “a step back into the 18th century.” And Lynn Simons, the U.S. Education Department’s regional representative, labeled it “a terrible idea, an abandonment of children and gross societal neglect.”

As a result of such attacks by fellow legislators, editorials in the Rocky Mountain Neil’s and the Denver Post denouncing the idea, and a few Republicans waffling at the last moment, George’s amendment was killed in the House Judiciary Committee on February 20. State Representative Vicki Agler, one of the pivotal committee Republicans who in the end sided with the state and federal departments of education, stated that she had voted against it so that the public debate could be refocused “on other important parts of the bill.”

In retrospect, it is not surprising that George’s amendment failed. People who share their federal colleagues’ opinion that balancing the federal budget in seven years is unduly rash are unlikely to repeal any significant law or statute with one stroke of the pen. But why did it provoke such bitter outrage by some legislators? Because, if passed, it would have cut to the heart of their ability to run their constituents’ lives.

The entire corrupt system of government schools is dependent upon the compulsory attendance laws; repeal these laws, and the government schools will wither. Without compulsory attendance laws, the state would no longer be able to define what is and what is not an “acceptable” school. Parents who choose to homeschool their children would no longer have to submit “credentials” and “progress reports” verifying their ability to instruct their own children, and schools that employ unorthodox methods—such as rejecting the egalitarian approach employed by most public schools that all children are intellectually equal and hence should be educated uniformly—would no longer be terrorized by state accreditors. A myriad of new options would be opened to those parents who had not wanted to send their children to government schools but who, due to governmental regulation, were forced to. Those schools that truly work would flourish, and those that proved inefficient—is there any question as to which category government schools would fall into?—would eventually fall by the wayside. The state’s role in education would be lessened dramatically, as would the horrid consequence of trusting the education of children to government.

From the inception, government schools were meant to inculcate certain “values” in their pupils. One such value was obedience to the present regime. As Murray Rothbard pointed out, “One of the most enthusiastic supporters of a public and compulsory school system was the ‘Essex Junto,’ a group of prominent Federalist merchants and lawyers in Boston hailing originally from Essex County, Massachusetts. The Essexmen were particularly eager for an extensive public school system so as to have the youth ‘taught proper subordination.’ For, as Essexman Stephen Higginson, a leading Boston merchant, put it, ‘the people must be taught to confide in and reverence their rulers.'”

Other values that arc now taught in

our public schools are more recent in origin, yet no less despicable. Sheldon Richman, the author of Separating School and State, has documented this disturbing trend all too well. “Despite the claim of moral neutrality,” he writes, “public education is linked to a particular set of values, namely, the values of the modern welfare, or social-service, state. Those values include moral agnosticism (erroneously called tolerance), government activism, egalitarianism, ‘welfare rights’ to taxpayer largess, collectivism, and a watered-down version of socialism that looks much like the economic theory of the 1930’s known as fascism.”

In other words, do away with the state’s compulsory attendance laws, and you do away with its ability to deceive most children into believing that mindless compliance with the government and its often wicked agenda makes them “good citizens.” No wonder Russ George’s single amendment engendered such a firestorm of dissent. It was a direct assault upon the well-being and future viability of the modern megastate.