People vary widely on the question of how much we should force educational experiences on kids against their will. It’s ultimately a matter of opinion, of course. But I do think there is sometimes a confirmation bias in the way that people think about the issue.
I hear two common reactions to the topic, variants of “I was required to take a foreign language, and now I’m glad I can speak Spanish,” and “I wish someone had made me learn to play the piano when I was young.”
In both examples, there is a kind of cherry-picking going on. You wish you could play the piano, so you wish someone had made you learn it. In reality, though, it would have been other people—parents? schools?—choosing what you would have to learn. There’s no reason to think they would have chosen the one thing your later adult self would like to have learned. Maybe it would have been field hockey, or equestrianism, or something you would have loathed. Maybe it would have been ten, twenty, or thirty things. And if you weren’t interested in learning piano at that time, how can you be sure it would have worked out as you now wish? (And what’s stopping you from signing up for lessons now, anyway?)
You’re glad you know Spanish, so you’re glad someone made you learn it. But many people would eventually choose to learn a language even if it were not required; are you sure you’re not one of those people? Moreover, the kind of people who would make you learn a foreign language are likely to make you learn a lot of other things, too, including things you might never have had any interest in; are you taking those costs into account? Can you be sure that the value of speaking Spanish outweighs the value of what you might otherwise have chosen to do with all that time if you had been given more say in the matter—including the value of gaining experience with independence and with making decisions for yourself? And isn’t there at least some reason to think that people who choose what to learn will learn it more effectively? It’s easy to support coerced learning when you compare it with nothing at all, but that’s not the real alternative.
That said, I’m much more comfortable with parents making those decisions for their own children than with the schools making a blanket decision for all kids—especially if that decision is being made by distant politicians and bureaucrats who know nothing about the kids as individual human beings.