Every time I read a report on chronic absenteeism I look for the reason why.
Typically, these reports lump excused and unexcused absences, and even suspensions into their calculations. They talk about how students will fall behind, need remediation, and be at a greater risk for dropping out of school altogether. They discuss the damaging effects of prolonged absenteeism, often seeking support from parents who they say are ultimately responsible for addressing this problem. Most reports don’t mention the adverse effect chronic absenteeism has on the school district itself. When kids aren’t in school, the district loses money.
Reports rarely tell us the raw truth – a lot of kids hate school. Why is that so?
They may hate it for various reasons, but what they have in common is an overwhelming sense that school is not a positive or worthwhile place to be. Their reasons may include bullying, lack of belonging, little to no student input into decision that are made, and just flat-out lack of interest or boredom with the curriculum. Incidentally, students may or may not be able to clearly articulate these reasons to adults who may ask, but they are nonetheless true.
Apart from staying home due to illness or other allowable excuses, kids are regularly held captive in school five days a week, 6-7 hours a day, in a place that sometimes looks and feels like a prison, especially the older they get. Many feel controlled and coerced, bribed and programmed in the form of grades, GPA, homework and testing. I hear it all the time, maybe you do too.
As one may assume, not all students feel this way. Some have learned and accepted the system’s programming and have adjusted accordingly. However, a great many have not, and those students tend to be the ones that find little value in coming to school.
We tell them to just suck it up, get with the program, and go to school anyway. We recycle the familiar excuse that it was good enough for us, so it is good enough for them. We tell them not to question school authority, unless we believe there has been an injustice. This offers little hope for those middle school and high school students who may be searching for the real meaning of school.
There is hope for this chronic absentee problem. It has to do with a long-held, only one-way to do school, paradigm. If we could only think outside that BOX, amazing learning can happen.
I am waiting for the day when we discover that learning is a personal journey propelled by personal interest and motivation. I am waiting for the day when we fully embrace diversity in learning as the norm and not a questionable alternative. I am waiting for real learning to be anywhere, anytime, without the confines of a place called school.
Until then, we may have to deal with a general lack of interest on the part of our students who find themselves skipping school, dropping out, or suffering from an unknown illness that keeps them home.