March 22, 2012

"A System that Is Not Working for Them" and "the Government"


HARBESON: Is this school or prison?

by Debbie Harbeson

As originally posted: News and Tribune
March 7, 2012


Imagine you want to leave your current job. You have decided, for whatever reason, that the position is not meeting your needs.

Even if leaving might make life hard, and it’s quite possible you will have to endure negative consequences, you are at the point where leaving and getting on with your life is the best choice.

Now imagine that your employer says you can’t leave for two years.

Next, take this scenario and imagine yourself scoffing at your employer. Imagine yourself saying you’re going to leave anyway, knowing they can’t actually kidnap you and hold you hostage. But they respond by informing you that they can “turn you in” to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles who will revoke your driver’s license for the two years they want you to stick around.

This imaginary scenario is just too unbelievable isn’t it? It’s laughable to think that an employer would try to force someone to continue showing up at a workplace for two years after he gave his notice that he was going to leave.

Nothing even close to that could ever happen in real life, right? Wrong.

Since 2006, when the compulsory school attendance age was raised from 16 to 18, creepy scenarios similar to the one described above have been happening throughout Indiana. It is not a joke to say that schools are like prisons.

Why does the government refuse to let these teenage students leave? Surely government officials don’t think a person can benefit by remaining trapped for up to two years in the very institution that has failed to serve their needs.


What’s even worse is that teenagers who do decide to leave school without graduating already face the possibility of many negative consequences and yet government officials add more punishment by making it nearly impossible for them to get a job — the one thing that could actually help turn their life around.

Trying to prevent these young people from getting driver’s licenses and jobs is treating them worse than a felon just released from a “real” prison. As a matter of fact, interfering with their ability to get a job could be the first step that helps turn one of these kids into a felon in the first place.


It’s just amazing to me that government officials would be so vindictive to these young people who simply want to break free from a system that is not working for them. It’s as if the government wants to ensure that these kids fail.

Even if a school official is genuinely concerned, he or she must know that forcing a student to stay will not help. This continued coercion could even be downright dangerous for other students, teachers and school personnel because who can predict how a given individual might respond to this government bullying.


If a teenager, for whatever reason, decides it’s in his best interest to leave school, government officials should get out of his way so he can take responsibility for his life. Instead of looking for ways to force young people to remain in a place that does not serve their needs, school officials could be focusing their energy on creating a place that teens would actually attend voluntarily — imagine the schools being so inviting and useful that the schools had to work to get kids to leave, rather than forcing them to stay.

Imprisoning young people inside a system that they want to leave is a shameful way to treat fellow human beings. But hey, I guess if you can increase the compulsory attendance age and then brag about a lowered dropout rate, then it’s all worth it because obviously education has improved, right?

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson observes lots of creepy scenarios as she digs through government actions. Write her at Debbie@debbieharbeson.com

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