The Myth of Perfect Attendance

March 25, 2019

One of the concepts in modern schooling that I find most disturbing is perfect attendance - this idea that a good student is one who shows up to every single class every single day of the school year. Around the world, students are encouraged to attain this goal - schools in Japan, China, certain schools in Russia and in the United States give out awards for perfect attendance, even “free-thinking” European schools (nevermind the aforementioned ones) punish students for an unjustified lack of attendance. But is perfect attendance actually possible?

 

The idea of perfect attendance, like most concepts in our school system, is likely to have its origins in the industrial revolution. If you’re there for every lesson, then you’ll learn everything there is to learn - right?

 

This theory, logical though it may seem, has a fatal flaw: it regards people as robots rather than humans. A robot would show up every day, open their head, have the knowledge poured in and would, therefore, be a successful student. Human beings, especially teenagers, are a little more complicated: their bodies are a constant mess of conflicting mental states, hormones and biological processes that encroach on their ability to think and reason. A girl on her period or a guy who’s just broken up with his partner, a girl exhausted by stress or a guy overwhelmed with work will not be able to learn as well as they could on a day when they’re feeling better, let alone pay attention to what their teacher is saying. In the later years of schooling especially, worry about the future and general fatigue from the amount of work teenagers are expected to do would warrant a “mental health day” - a day when instead of going to school and piling on to the pressure you’re under you sleep in, drink tea and get yourself organized.

 

What would actually happen if you came to school every day of the year? Would you actually learn more than if you took a break once in a while? I highly doubt it.

 

You might be wondering - what are weekends for? Weren’t they designed for precisely that reason? And holidays, too?

 

The thing is, in most schools, holidays are few and far between (and there’s not enough time to relax and get all your work done in them). But even that is not the root of the problem - essentially, the fault in the system is that there is a system at all.

 

As I explained earlier, humans don’t function like robots. It would be great if we could save up all our heartbreak, illness and fatigue for the weekend, but that’s not generally how it works. The worst comes right when you need to be paying attention, and by the time the weekend rolls around, you’d be ok coming to school.

 

I’m not proposing that you take a day off for every minor inconvenience - far from it. What I’m arguing is that the way we deal with students’ illness and mental health is inhuman - we try to organize it, plan ahead, assume that we work in cycles. The truth is, human nature (and therefore human problems) are very unpredictable. In my opinion, school systems should allow for that.

 

So how then do we deal with people who “cut class” not because they actually need a break, but just because they can’t be bothered to come in? How can you tell whether a student is missing school because they need to rest or because they’re off galavanting around town?

 

I think the solution here is to place more trust in the students. If they feel like their decision to stay at home and sleep for a few more hours is respected, then they’re more likely to return that trust into the school system and come to class when they feel they can. Teenagers are all about rebelling - if you want to make them stop doing something, then take away their incentive to do so.

 

So to all the students reading this - spread the message. If your friend is feeling overwhelmed, encourage them to take a break. If someone is being punished for taking one, then step in and defend them. School is for the students, not the adults. Remember that.

 

 

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