Posted by: bkivey | 26 May 2011

Back in the OSSR

When I was child during the height of the Cold War, we were regularly indoctrinated with the differences between the good, freedom-loving capitalist system, and the evil, repressive Communist system. One of the points of difference was that in America one was free to choose one’s work, whereas in a centrally planned economy, one did the work the State decided was best for the collective. No matter where your talents might lie, if the tractor factory needed someone to sweep the floors, off you went. In America, the government would never tell you what you had to do with your life. We were free.

Unless, apparently, you’re a high school student in the Oregon Soviet Socialist Republic. State representative Tobias Reed (D-Beaverton) introduced legislation that:

Requires student to complete and submit application for apprenticeship program or post-secondary education institution or for enlistment in branch of Armed Forces or National Guard, or to attend orientation related to apprenticeship or training opportunity, in order to receive high school diploma.

 So, in addition to completing the coursework, passing the competency tests, and, in some districts, ‘volunteering’ for mandatory public service, the prospective high school graduate must now select one of three state-approved life choices in order to get a diploma. Congratulations on getting through high school, comrade. Now please to select how you will serve the State.

In the story breaking this news in the local fish-wrapper, none of the objections quoted from legislators addressed the immorality of the state forcing people to make what is fundamentally a personal decision. Or should be, in a free society. In support of his bill, Mr. Tobias said:

“This bill does not intend to tell anyone what the right choice is for them, it merely aims to prompt the consideration of those options and encourage students to think about what’s important to them.”

Well excuse me, but telling people ‘what the right choice is for them’ is exactly what the bill does. If you don’t make what the state considers to be a ‘right choice’, you don’t get your high school diploma. Whether or not a person is thinking about what is right for them, and teenagers think about that a lot, is no business of the government. The bill is quite clearly not about what is best for the individual, but what’s best for the state.

If this bill had been law at the time and place I graduated high school, my diploma would have been in jeopardy. I had no interest in college, I hated school. It was boring. If I hadn’t been a somewhat talented and respected member of the various school bands, I would have quit on my 16th birthday. The military? No, thank you. I’d spent more than half my childhood on or near various Army bases, and had had enough of that. Career training? I’d had a full-time job since my junior year, why would I need training?

What I did after graduation was work my job. I opened a business with a partner a little later, and eventually moved to San Francisco. None of those choices would have been acceptable under the proposed legislation. Whether or not the decisions I made were ‘best’ for me is irrelevant; they were decisions I made, not some bureaucrat or legislator.

Tellingly, the bill would exempt those who obtained a GED, or a modified or extended diploma. People, who for whatever reason, don’t make the standard four-year high school journey. In this way the bill provides a perverse incentive to drop out of school. Don’t want state interference in your life? Quit school, get your GED, and move on. You can still get work and a driver’s license while thumbing your nose at The Man, an appealing prospect for your average rebellious teen.

For the moment Oregon high school students can rest easy. While the bill passed the House, it’s been sent to committee in the Senate, where it continues to languish. One may hope that wiser heads than Rep. Reed’s have prevailed.



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