Absent Without Leave – Why so Many Children Skip School

Absent Without Leave – Why so Many Children Skip School
Absent Without Leave – Why so Many Children Skip School

One sign of a disordered society is a disordered educational system.

“We can teach anybody,” is one of the most common catchphrases in American Education. Consider the names of the education programs of the last two presidents.

Government Education Programs

President Bush wanted to be known as the education president. When he took office, he worked extensively with Senator Edward Kennedy to devise a bipartisan plan called “No Child Left Behind.” It passed the House of Representatives and the Senate by ten to one margins. The plan was bipartisan until it failed. Then all of its supporters took one big step back and pinned it on President Bush.

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By the time that President Obama took office, the partially successful but thoroughly discredited Bush-era plan was set aside. President Obama’s plan was called “Race to the Top.” It put states and school districts into competition for some of the four billion dollars that were committed to it. The money was spent, but little improvement was seen. Late in his second term, President Obama tried to sweeten his legacy with the “Every Student Succeeds Act.”

Each of these presidential plans had a major flaw. None placed responsibility on the students.

The Only Student Who Cannot Be Taught

Unfortunately, there were going to be children left behind, not every pupil was going to race to the top, nor was every student going to succeed. In the  majority of cases, this was not the fault of the teachers or the schools. The real problem was that there were many young people in school with no intention of learning.

You cannot teach someone who does not want to learn.

More common  are the students who simply do not want to go to school. This may be because other activities (shopping, going to the beach, playing video games, or smoking marijuana) appear to be more fun. Sometimes the bullied child cannot persuade himself to endure another day of mistreatment.

If a student shows up at school, he might learn something, even if he does not care much. However, those who skips class will learn nothing.

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This represents a serious problem for school districts. The child who skips school is still on the rolls. He is still going to be counted when the government looks at that school when awarding all that federal money. If ten (or twenty or thirty) per cent of the children registered in a school don’t take the test, the school looks bad.

Opting Out

There are many reasons that students do not go to school. Irresponsible and sometimes drug-addicted parents may not care about education. Parents who are barely supporting their families by working three jobs may not have the energy or time to force a reluctant child out the door. Children may be ashamed of the clothing that they own or do not have the facilities to groom themselves properly. An adolescent may be working because he has to provide for himself.

There is one more group of skippers, those who see no value in learning the things that are taught. This group is growing. One cause is a phrase that began floating around in the last decade, “college and career readiness.”

Like much of the language of the educational profession, this phrase sounds reasonable. Every graduate should be able to do something when they leave high school. For the majority that means either going to college or getting a job.

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Schools That Do Not Meet Student Needs

To school administrators, “career” means a profession that requires college preparation. To meet these goals, schools have significantly increased their graduation requirements. The four years of English required for generations have been joined by four years each of mathematics and science. Add in three years of social studies, two years of physical education, a year of some fine art, and a couple years of foreign language, and there is not a lot of room for other classes.

Absent Without Leave – Why so Many Children Skip SchoolThe programs that were cut were exactly those programs most likely to appeal to those who do not intend to go to college. Auto shop, wood shop, metal shop, sewing, typing, bookkeeping, and home economics are hard to find on the modern high school campus. Society still needs people with these skills, but  high schools no longer teach them. Far too many students whose God-given talents incline them in those directions see no reason to go to school and suffer through what they think are useless classes in trigonometry, physiology, or history.

There is also the plight of those who have no choice but to attend schools in which disorder often prevails.  There are far too many schools in which the administrations have simply given up in the face of society’s resistance to any standard of behavior. A reasonably intelligent student might ask “Why should I go to classes when  I do not learn anything?”

So they skip school.

Keeping Them in School

Many schools are trying to help those young people decide to go to class. The Wall Street Journal (8-31-18) spotlighted some of them. The focus was on students who are ‘chronically absent,’ meaning those who have missed fifteen days or more in a school year.

There are three basic responses; rewards, counseling, or punishment.

Rewards include gift cards, televisions, and raffles for cars. College scholarship funds can be created for those who successfully turn themselves around. Ft. Worth, Texas schools are trying cold hard cash, having set up a $1.5 million “student incentive find” for the purpose. The problem with rewards is that they only work if the payout is large enough. If the task is too large for the reward, the plan fails. Will a one in a thousand chance to win a used car persuade someone to show up every day for a class that he hates?

Counseling goes beyond just getting together for a chat. It is an attempt to help the student deal with those problems that may be keeping him from school. It can include providing school appropriate clothing or an in-school laundry so students can wash their clothes. Victims may be offered strategies for dealing with bullies. Economically disadvantaged students may get help applying for government programs designed to assist them. However, all of these tasks involve a lot of hours by counselors and others that cash strapped schools cannot afford.

Punishments are far less expensive than either rewards or counseling programs. Chronically absent students may be withdrawn, and their parents charged a reenrollment fee. Parents may be fined if their children do not obey state education laws. The chronically absent can be punished with stays in the local juvenile detention facility. The problem with punishments is the converse of the problems with rewards. The punishment has to be severe enough that the students and/or their parents actually fear or are ashamed of them. Shame and fear are rare commodities in many modern families.

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The Real Problem

The base problem is with the idea that education is a right, rather than a privilege to be earned. Like so many other programs in our increasingly socialist society, education is paid for by those who do not directly benefit from it. Those who benefit the most pay little or nothing, and nothing is often the value that the recipients place upon it.

Disorder breeds disorder. The disorder in our schools leads to a disordered society. It is an old lesson that, like too many other old lessons, goes unheeded in modern life.