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Skipping Class Is Skipping Class

Last month there was a giant protest by school kids for gun control. You probably heard about it. This put schools in the awkward position of having to figure out how to handle it from a disciplinary standpoint:

The ACLU-VA recently sent a letter to school superintendents in the commonwealth warning that they cannot punish students who walk out of school as a form of protest more harshly than if they were absent from class for any other reason.

“The bottom line, we’re saying to superintendents and principals work with your kids, work with their parents, work something out that allows the students to express their point of view and be safe,” Guthrie Gastanaga explained.

The ACLU has it right. If a kid walks off, you can’t punish him more because it’s a political protest. Likewise, however, you shouldn’t punish him less. The rules are the rules, and if we can skip them here then we need to re-evaluate the existence of these rules.

Now, logistically, a large-scale protest can’t (or shouldn’t) be handled the same way as a kid going across the street to sneak a cigarette or a kiss with his sweetheart. I do understand schools seeing a potential safety hazard and deciding to try to accommodate it. Depending on how they do it, I may have to let that pass. If they’re allowed to protest, they should be allowed to protest for or against any cause they want to, including something unrelated like anti-abortion or a counter-statement in favor of the right to bear arms. If it’s a moment of silence or whatever, then silence it is. For everybody.

Ultimately, though, the traditional rules need to apply. If it’s the case that the school can afford to let students do this thing on this day, then maybe we worry too much about keeping them in particular places at particular times. If we want to make sure they’re looked after and we want to arrange safety measures for them – a reasonable goal – then maybe we should start setting aside time more generally to register their protest, be heard, and so on. Either we want to encourage this or we don’t. It should not depend on the urgency of gun control at this moment in time.

The notion that this special event, or this special cause, warrant special measures should be resisted. Giving them too much leeway due to power in numbers should be especially resisted, as that sends the message that the leeway the system gives you is tied directly to the popularity of your cause. So if enough of your friends agree you get to protest, but if you’re the lone kid at your school, the hammer comes down. That’s not how this should work. I would rather see school closed for the day, and another school day added at the end of the year, than a specific accommodation here, given to protesters where their cause is most popular.

I will grant that this whole post, and my stance on this, is to some extent me being an asshole. Let me explain: I not only understand the desire to accommodate a protest, I almost like it. What I don’t like is that the rest of the time we come down on everybody like a ton of bricks. What I want more than anything is to reconsider the relationship between school and learning.

In some schools, the children of astronauts were not allowed to see their parents launch into space. Children of the Challenger explosion watched their parents die in a classroom. The rest of the time, they had a parent doing something extraordinary, and they were spending most of the day learning about Grover Cleveland’s administration in US History class. What the hell is wrong with us?

In one of the great family sitcoms of all time, Boy Meets World, Cory stayed up late with his dad watching a no-hitter and as a consequence missed (or flunked, I can’t remember) a test the next day. He wanted to retake the test but his teacher wouldn’t let him. Mr. Feeny told a story about how he wanted to stay up late and watch Harry Truman announce the end of World War II and his father wouldn’t let him because it was a school night. So the next day he went to school rested and ready and learned… well, he couldn’t remember what. But, in a defense of the penalization, he argued: “Education is not about obscure facts and little test scores. Education is about the overall effect of years of slow absorption of concepts and philosophies and approaches to problem solving. The whole process is so grand and all-encompassing that it really can’t be threatened by the occasional late night no-hitter.”

Bullpucky. He should have watched Harry Truman’s speech. A kid staying up late watching a presidential elections is going to get a far better lesson than what he loses by being tired the next day, and it’s not even close. And while I’m not going to say that the rules should have been bent for Cory, the periodic baseball game with his dad is more worthwhile than some overall effect of years of slow absorption. The kid who never stays up late to watch a baseball game ought to have a better grade, to be sure, but one’s overall academic livelihood should not be threatened here. We went to Disney World earlier this year because next year Lain won’t be able to because of attendance requirements. In some districts, one unexcused absence is enough to flunk you. She’s only young once, and sometimes it seems that’s despite our education system’s best efforts.

My point with all of this is that if we want to talk about lessons outside the classroom, then that doesn’t begin and end with a popular protest of gun control. If there are balancing priorities to consider, let’s consider them. To me, closing the conversation off by making an arbitrary exception for these kids isn’t actually doing that so much as it’s doing what feels right while ignoring all of the implications. And if we’re going to say that it is critically important that children be at the designated space at all times, and that order must be preserved at all cost, let’s live with the implications of that, too.


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Will Truman is the pseudonym of a former para-IT professional who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He is also on Twitter. ...more →

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138 thoughts on “Skipping Class Is Skipping Class

  1. Well said.

    Another aspect here is that it was a political protest, and as far as I’m, aware, nonviolent in both conception and execution. Applying the rules has an added benefit of providing consequences for the protest. Accepting, or at most passively resisting, those consequences are an integral part of participating in non-violent protest.

    I believe a number of students articulated this at the time. Making some kind of exception would, I think, have diminished the students’ actions.

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  2. I agree. I supported my kids in their decision to join the protest, as did most parents and the School Board since we’ve had several incidents of threats leading to lock downs at both jr high and high schools in the past couple years. Speaking up and joinging students across the country to say there needs to be *some* response beyond ‘thoughts&prayers’ seemed entirely reasonable. All the moreso since my son has reached a part in American History where protest plays an important role.

    But those who marched and protested for Women’s Suffrage, or Civil Rights, or in protest of wars, were often attacked by opponents, beaten by police and/or jailed for raising their voices. Even free speech comes with consequences and that is an important lesson as well.

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  3. I don’t think anyone on the left is saying that kids should not be punished but I think people were pissed that school admins announced preemptive punishment warnings. Some of those warnings did seem harsher than a kid skipping a random class like telling kids they could not go to prom. I doubt one incident of hooky would cause that kind of punishment.

    Somewhat related, I saw a bunch of colleges announce that they would not factor in Parkland protest punishments in their admissions decisions? Do you think that is wrong?

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    • I’ve been saying some variation of the above since it was announced. Trust me when I tell you there is resistance to the idea of kids being punished at all, or at a similar level for skipping class for other reasons. The resistance is kind of embedded in one of the articles I linked and in others that I didn’t end up using.

      As far as colleges go, I have a couple sets of answers. Private universities are free to do what they want, but if they’re making a one-time exception for this, they’re falling into the category above. If they’re taking the view that political protests in general won’t count against them, then I think that’s grand. With public schools, it’s not clear that they can legally be inconsistent. Chris Lawrence (@lordsutch on Twitter, recommended to the tweeps here) drew a good compare and contrast.

      But neither of these would or should be an issue because if they are it’s an indication that either (a) administrations are coming down harder on kids who skip class for this reason, which is wrong and illegal besides, or (b) we’re placing too much emphasis on the wrong things with college admissions anyway.

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      • It’s not just people on the left. Burt seemed reluctant to want to punish them. Jay Cobb was against punishing them, as were some others.

        It could be a function of time, though. Like, a month ago people didn’t want to but now they’re seeing things more as I do.

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  4. My neighbor skipped school so much that he would’ve been the only senior who could legally buy whiskey, so the school administration threw him out because he would be too old when he graduated. Now he makes $30 to $50 an hour mowing lawns at various universities (and the VA), which is more than the professors make.

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  5. This was a good piece, and not just because I agree with it. Protest that is permitted and really tacitly endorsed by enforcers of the rules being broken isn’t protest at all.

    When I was in law school there was a walkout over tuition hikes. This was a real issue, and the dean eventually resigned over the fact that JD students were being used to finance non-law programs with student loans hugely disproportionate to earning expectations. I of course walked out with everyone else but the whole thing felt staged and really designed to accomplish nothing. No one was penalized despite very strict attendance rules (miss 5 classes and they’d fail you, no appeals, no discussion). At best it allowed people to let off some steam without any kind of change being on the table.

    I’d take a lot of the protestors much more seriously if they were being sanctioned under normal disciplinary rules. I think it’s also no coincidence that the cause at hand seems to line up with the partisan sympathies of many teachers and school boards. There are plenty of issues where you’d never see this kind of leniency.

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      • I don’t think extra punishment is warranted either, just whatever is normal. That’s unless we are going to say that political protest is always an exception and accept that sometimes that might be bong hits for Jesus. If they are willing to take their medicine over it then props for having the courage of their convictions and I welcome them to the adult table.

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    • Most families don’t have the resources to home school their kids. You need two parents with one staying at home to monitor and teach the kids. For one parent families or families with two working parents, home schooling won’t work.

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        • This comment connects to a lot of things.

          Thirty years ago, most people had moms that didn’t work. Also, many people spent their careers at the company they started with, developing loyalty (and fair pay) that benefited both sides. Now, both parents work, job stability is low, etc.

          Being able to home school might not have been a luxury, but now it is. And not because home schooling is one weird thing, but because EVERYTHING about raising kids and starting a life is different. Useful perspective, IMO.

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          • This fun Reddit Thread blew up on the twitters.

            Is it true 30/40 years ago people were buying homes and supporting multiple children on a single income? (self.history)

            submitted 1 day ago by Sponsored_Redditor

            I can’t figure out what has changed or if this is just a sentiment people have about life in the 60’s/70’s? I can’t imagine a single income supporting 3 children, wife and being able to buy a car and house nowadays with a common factory job.

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      • Homeschooling definitely doesn’t work for everybody; but lots of people prioritize making homeschooling work – and those costs are part of the prioritization. Most of the people in our homeschooling circles are sacrificing an income and living on the median or below median wages of a single wage earner.

        You could help people homeschool with educational vouchers, or if you don’t like that, we’ve seen some schools experiment with college type “block” scheduling to allow for “off-campus” high-school instruction.

        There a lots of things we could look at to help ease the burdens of homeschooling more families…

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      • Or a co-op nearby. My brother and sister-in-law are planning to homeschool their daughter (now 5) and there is a co-op in their area with people who can handle some of the coursework my brother isn’t comfortable handling – and the good news is they may hire him (apparently for money) to teach some of the physics and advanced math. (My brother has been the stay-at-home parent, doing a little freelancing here and there, and also he makes stained glass art)

        Honestly, given the “social” experience I had in school, if I had known homeschooling was an option, I probably would have begged my parents to do that.

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  6. I’m going to disagree. The kids should not be punished. Nearly every legal system trying for some measure of justice develops tools for allowing the law to ignored or fudged when a mechanical application would result in an even bigger injustice. There is no good reason why children should face mechanical application of the law while adults at least get the benefit of a lawyer to hopefully get an exception. It’s authoritarian. As Saul noted, the political nature of this issue and the fact that school laws aren’t written down allowed school officials with conservative leanings to impose harsher punishments than usual. That is teaching kids another wrong lesson about the law. Special situations warrant a special response in for children and adults.

    Millions of the nation’s young people felt unsafe in a place where they were supposed to be safe. Thy acted in the only way they could, they went on a very brief student strike. Why should they be punished for politicking in the one way they can?

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    • Why should they be punished for politicking in the one way they can?

      Because they broke the rules. If breaking the rules isn’t a problem, then maybe we need to reconsider the rules. The only “special circumstances” slack I am likely to cut are for kids really close to the strategy. Though in those cases, I would try to make an accommodation rather than an exemption.

      The kids should be punished no more or less than skipping for other reasons. I didn’t spend much time on the “more” because I didn’t expect anybody here to be advocating that opinion, but they shouldn’t do that and I hope the ACLU sues anybody that does.

      Shorter me: Most schools have rigid structures for handling kids who skip school, skip class, leave the premises, etc. Really rigid and really strict. Let’s use them or reconsider them.

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      • I remember my high school did not have a rigid stricture around attendance, but… the way it played out was at least as dysfunctional as the alternative. There was essentially a two-tier system, where if you were a good student in Honors or AP classes, you got a lot of leeway. If you were average, they’d come down on you for skipping class. Even that wasn’t super-draconian (it was a single detention unless it was really bad), but it was striking.

        Nice for me, since I was a good student, but even then it was hard not to think it was pretty unfair. And that it didn’t correlate with popularity [1] and social class.

        As much as I want to agree with about loosening rules and being less strict, I’m really skeptical about how this will play out in real schools with real administrators and real students and real social dynamics.

        [1] It may not be this way at every school, but at mine being a good student would generally make you more popular. I was an awkward, edge-lord nerd in high school and had plenty of friends among the “in” crowd. I was in the same classes with them and could help them with their math homework.

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      • I’m saying that school rules aren’t exactly codified like adult laws are. From what I can tell, schools have a list of things that students can’t do but don’t have a corresponding list of punishments. They seem free to impose any punishment they want. They can go really harsh on a minor infraction for whatever reason or they can go leniently on a major infraction because it was done by the football team. Championships are coming up, don’t you know.

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        • Rules involving unexcused absenses and skipping class were actually very codified at my school. Because it was all black and white (you were either where you were supposed to be or you weren’t), it was one of the most codified things there were. Those rules may be bent from time to time, but that’s usually agreed upon as a bad thing.

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          • After complaining above about the problems at my school with this stuff, one thing that made sense then (and makes sense now) is that all you needed to excuse an absence was a note from your guardian. There was a limit on how many classes you could miss before you might not get credit, but it was pretty high, like 15 or something.

            When you turned 18 you could sign your own notes. Entirely coincidentally, most seniors attended the bare minimum of classes the second semester.

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        • In my state, legislation codifies requirements for public schools to identify, report and address unexcused absences. School Boards are required to further codify rules pertaining to absences. Again, I think you are inferring something about school practices that are least true with regard to attendance issues.

          Part of the problem is students have privacy rights with regard to discipline, so nobody on the outside ever really has a clear idea of what happened.

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    • I don’t agree. The whole point of civil disobedience is to show that you are willing to take the punishment in order to highlight and injustice or wrong. But I do agree that the punishment should be a day or two of detention at most.

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      • One can argue that if civil disobedience requires a willingness to take punishment than
        a draconian response from the schools is also appropriate because even liberal states tended to smash down hard in the face of perceived disorder. A disproportionate penalty to the actual disobedience is also part of civil disobedience.

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        • Disproportionate penalties can be part of the civil disobedience – it’s usually an instance of the state playing right into the hands of the protestors. Water cannons and dogs for sitting in the wrong lunch counter in the US south or fetching one’s own salt from the ocean in India, riot police beating people for putting a piece of paper in a cardboard box in Catalonia, etc.

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  7. Arguing that the students should be punished in this case is too much like Anatole France’s famous quote about the magnificent equality of the law. Punishing the kids for skipping class in the situation seems like treating all rule breakers alike but it is really misssing some important factors.

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    • With the exception of schools in the area in question, or maybe the state of Florida, I don’t see important factors here being overlooked. That some kids feel vaguely unsafe certainly isn’t one. That a tragedy occurred has never been one before, and I cringe at the thought of having a protest against Islamist violence a month after 9/11. The righteousness of the cause is political and subjective so that can’t (or shouldn’t) be one.

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      • Parklan was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. The protests came after what kids see as years of inaction by adults regarding all sorts of violence against children. Not only school shootings by deranged morons with guns but things like Trevor Martin. The initial brutal indifference of the Florida Legislature was too much.

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        • So the kids have feelings opinions. Fine. The school shouldn’t endorse them by granting them automatic legitimacy any more than they should for kids horrified at all of the lives that abortion takes.

          All of this ignores the second half of my piece, though. If this is okay, then why should we spend the rest of the time believing that school attendance is do-or-die? I’m fine letting these kids off… as long as we start reconsidering the larger questions.

          Giving these kids a pass without reconsidering the larger questions is putting the thumb on the scale in a really big way.

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          • One factor is that the kids weren’t skipping school (which I think of as not showing up for the school day), they were walking out and holding a moment of silence for 17 minutes.

            Kids leave class for short periods for other things all the time – everything from meeting a counselor to making posters for a school dance. Those are excused because someone in the school or a parent approved them. In the case of my local school system there was a large body of parents and a number of teachers supporting the protest so that the school board decided the fair thing would be to let all students who wanted to take part without penalty. Otherwise you get the students in a civics or history class whose teachers all it as a lesson or kids whose parents write notes being excused and others punished.

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      • I think this comment nails the disconnect on this issue pretty squarely. “Why are mass shootings in schools and gun violence in general such a big deal?”

        For 20 years we have been slapping band aids on a problem that finally bubbled over into our schools. And I don’t mean “finally” in the sense that Parkland, I mean “finally” in the sense of Columbine. And for 20 years we’ve shrugged, thumped our chests about “ma rats!”, talked about the “price of freedom” and done more or less the same thing.

        I think that the walkouts at schools are really resonating because unlike other political causes that students (and citizens) may be fired up about, this is one that happens ~at~ the school house. You cited the horror of millions of children dying in abortions which I can see some of my students wanting to champion. It also happens ~not at school~. From Columbine to Parkland, these are school events so a protest ~at~ school makes the most sense.

        Then you look at the solutions proposed: Clear backpacks, blaming the kids for being bullies and bringing it on themselves, arming teachers, more metal detectors, more armed security.

        If you ask me, we should be grateful that the kids are willing to work with us to make their voices heard rather than testing the larger system and refusing to attend school en masse. Or taking pages from their parents books and fire-bombing the ROTC buildings.

        My daughter does “hide and quiet” drills where 25 kindergartners and two teachers hide in a class bathroom and see if they can stay totally silent no matter what is happening out side. This should not be normal.

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        • My daughter does “hide and quiet” drills where 25 kindergartners and two teachers hide in a class bathroom and see if they can stay totally silent no matter what is happening out side. This should not be normal.

          It shouldn’t be normal, but that’s because it’s bad policy. Guns and shooters aren’t doing that, we are.

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          • It’s been 19 years and we don’t have any other policies to point at.

            Also, these policies aren’t happening in a vacuum and the suggestion that “guns and shooters aren’t doing that” strongly implies a disconnect about why these protests are happening now, why they’re happening at schools, and what a generation of kids who are being told “it’s not guns, it’s just bad people, people you bullied” thinks of them.

            Our real choices now as Americans is to ask what’s more important, teaching the kids to respect the law, or finally having the tough talks about how we’re going to end the era of “hide and quiet” drills.

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            • We have plenty of policies to point at (turning our schools into fortresses, armed police on site, etc). They haven’t really worked (schools are safer than they used to be, but those aren’t reasons why) but neither do active shooter drills. And we (by which I mean adults) could end those today, but we choose not to.

              We should end active shooter drills whether we have gun control or not, whether we turn our schools into fortresses or not, and whether there is a decline in school shootings or not. It’s far from clear we would stop doing them even if shootings did decline. They are bad policy through which we instill terror on our children for our own psychological benefit. The shootings aren’t making us do that. We’re doing that on our own.

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            • …or finally having the tough talks about how we’re going to end the era of “hide and quiet” drills.


              The plans on the table are:
              1) Outlaw “assault rifles” (which basically means normal guns with some distinction like the ability to have a bayonet)
              2) Dismantle the 2nd AM and become a gun free land.
              3) “Serious gun control”… which means some combo of convincing mass murderers to follow the law and treating everyone as a potential school shooter.

              I don’t expect much from any of these. There’s talk of giving the police+courts the ability to take guns away from the mentally ill. How that’d work in practice is unclear; For every future school shooter the SWAT team disarms they might shoot lots of people people they’ve been told are armed and mentally ill.

              What would have worked in Parkland is having law enforcement do something about the self identified (and multiple times reported) future school shooter. IMHO the police and FBI not viewing it as part of their job is fixable.

              What would probably work in general is…

              1) Don’t glorify the shooter. We’ve had 50+ copycats of Columbine because from the shooters’ perspective the tactic works. They end up a national celebrity and have a hand in shaping national policy, i.e. they become someone of importance.

              2) If we’re going to insist on “bunker” drills, then 25 people hiding in the bathroom isn’t the way to do it, with airplanes we just gave the pilot a lockable metal door.

              3) Or alternatively, if we really want a “tough talk”, we need to explain school shootings are so rare we don’t actually have a problem. It’s more an issue with the media reporting local news as though it were national news. We have FAR fewer children die from school shootings than we do from them texting while driving.

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    • Not really, no. It’s taking the [public] schools out of advocacy politics.

      That might be closing the gate to the barn after the horses are in another county and the barn has been burned to the ground… but that’s a principal worth defending.

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  8. My kids’ schools authorized a time period to protest. My question is whether these public schools are now an open forum and required to provide a period to protest for everybody/anybody?

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    • The Supreme Court held in Miller that children’s constitutional rights do not stop at the school house gate. Courts probably won’t hold that schools are a public forum that must allow for speech. They would probably be considered semi-public forums or government property depending on the circumstances.

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      • Yes, though it is also noted that there are significant limits on those freedoms when the exercise of speech is disruptive or offensive to the other students. Because Student A can’t get up and leave the company of NeoFascist Student B, we have to curb Student B’s free speech.

        That said, students cannot be disciplined for political speech that is not fundamentally disruptive such as “Not my President” or “Hillary for Prison” shirts.

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  9. The closest thing to this from my school days came when there was a large oil spill off the coast near where I lived, and many kids planned to skip school to volunteer to help do cleanup work, in particular to help rescue aquatic birds. To prevent this, the school administration threatened suspensions (harsher than the usual penalty for one unexcused absence) though they would honor parental notes. The latter turned the former into a pretty empty threat.

    By the way, is a note from a parent no longer a Get Out of Jail Free card? I missed occasional school due to religious holidays, family trips, and other special occasions, as well as illness, and a note was all that was required. Once the 26th Amendment passed, 18-year-olds could write notes for themselves, and yes, that was abused. Badly.

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    • I once dated a young woman who grew up in a relatively observant Jewish family in Louisiana. There were only a handful of Jews in her school district. According to her, her school called her parents because she was missing too much school because of the Jewish holidays.

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    • Notes are disfavored at our kids’ schools, phones calls from a parent are requested until high school when they are required.

      Religious observance, travel with parents, illness would all be excused absences, but there is a cap on ten excused absences and after that, a doctor’s permission slip will be required for re-admittance. So there is some sort of adjustable cap that depends on the child’s health or timing. Or the ability to find a doctor of religion willing to certify your religious observance is a high holy holiday.

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      • At least in CA, public school funding is based on days children are actually in school, so if you take your kid out of class the school loses (a little bit of) money.

        Means you ultimately get some pushback on family vacations and the like.

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        • Yeah, and there is federal funding that requires attendance tracking and standards. More broadly, I think a lot of changes were brought about the No-Child-Left-Behind ethos. It’s not acceptable to just allow kids to pass through the school system, learning little. Schools are expected to intervene and engage in more social work to get kids to be physically present in school.

          So, for example, our school considers “car problems” as an unexcused absence. The parent is going to have to call. The call presumably will be an opportunity for the school to have a discussion with the parent about the importance of getting the kid to school and make sure the parent is aware of the buses and other services available.

          And then one has to read about how public schools are not underfunded because of administrative bloat, as if the public didn’t pass a bunch of laws requiring more administration.

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          • So, for example, our school considers “car problems” as an unexcused absence. The parent is going to have to call.

            Yes, basically everything is unexcused. Calling to let the school know I’m still in charge and informed is one of my duties as parent.

            The call presumably will be an opportunity for the school to have a discussion with the parent about the importance of getting the kid to school and make sure the parent is aware of the buses and other services available.

            Out of all the times I’ve called, I think I’ve gotten through to a human being only once. I leave a message on their machine, and some robot somewhere sends me nasty-grams at certain thresholds.

            The reality underneath the nasty-grams is schools work for me and are my resource. My kids are my responsibility. It’s a mistake to lose track of that and try to delegate those responsibilities to the State.

            It’s hard to see how schools can “fix” bad parental behavior. Society tasks them with those duties, but schools are (correctly) lacking the tools and the authority.

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  10. I kinda-sorta agree with this post, not because I want them to be punished but because I am 100 percent on board with skipping the occasional class (not weeks or months at a time which is what truancy laws are about) not being a big deal.

    Heck, when and where I went to school, it wasn’t a big deal. In *theory*, if you were caught at it you’d be punished. But I had the same teacher for a morning class and an afternoon class, and while I won’t say she encouraged me to skip a few classes as a senior, she also had zero problems with seeing me in the morning and marking me absent in the afternoon, multiple times. (She and I both knew that I knew the beginning part of the material in her afternoon class, and that I was likely to distract someone else in the class who wasn’t as solid in it, by being more than willing to chatter with him, may have been part of it. *sheepish look* I was kind of a brat senior year, mostly because I was so freaking bored by then.)

    We did have a “no more than 15 absences, even excused by illness, from any class” policy (which is another kettle of stupid I won’t get into), so I suppose there was a consequence – but I had a lot of wiggle room.

    And other people, while perhaps not so blatant as I was, also did not get into trouble. My boyfriend skipped from a different class to go with me, most of those times; plenty of friends skipped…. as long as it wasn’t more than a handful of classes a semester, literally no one cared that you were doing it or what it was for. And this was for “I really can’t deal with this class today” level stuff, not actual reasons like Will discusses in his post above.

    Now, where I *differ* from Will is that I don’t agree that making a one-time exception for this strengthens the general rule. I have found that making exceptions to rules encourages the making of more exceptions to rules and sometimes leads to the dissolution of rules. Once something isn’t rigid anymore, it loses some of its power….

    So I’m all for any exceptions to skip rules that anyone wants to make.

    (PS though, I do agree that it’s weird and wrong for schools to play favorites about protest topics. however, on the local level, schools have been playing favorites about all kinds of societal things for freaking ever – and not always because of teachers – often because of parents… and I don’t see that changing any time soon.)

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    • I definitely agree it happens, and it happened here in both directions. I think it’s still something that should be pointed out and either resisted or defended. (I don’t think the defenses of it are particularly good, except that the two have to be treated differently from a logistical standpoint.)

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      • I don’t think the defenses are particularly good, and my quasi-defense of it boils down to “I hate rules like this and every single exception to a rule like this weakens the rule just a little like a pebble coming out of a wall.”

        I mean, I’d be just as in favor of an exception to skip for reasons I abhor, because that’s how stupid I think the authoritarianism of schools is…. but then I’d be just as upset about the unfairness to the kids who did get punished for skipping, in the meantime. And I’d be upset about that here too.

        For me it’s the tension between making something ridiculous go away by any practical means, and caring about what happens to people in the meantime.

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  11. I’ve got no problems with the usual punishments — but only the usual punishments — being applied for skipping class.

    But, that also includes honoring the usual excuses. Specifically, if a parent’s note excuses you from school in general, it should excuse a child here.

    Apply the rules as they’ve always been applied. If a note was sufficient, and the school didn’t care why, then honor a note now, and don’t care why.

    If the normal punishment for being absent-without-permission is a detention, assign a detention. Don’t make it greater or less than it would have been otherwise.

    This should be easy, as last I checked they issue students (and families) with a big honking rule book that covers exactly what the punishments are for truancy, and what is and isn’t truancy, and under what circumstances a parent’s note is acceptable, etc.

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  12. I can agree in principle with the notion that rules are rules and civil disobedience needs to carry consequences.
    But I have to note that historically, civil disobedience becomes necessary when The Rules themselves are corrupted.

    In this case, I notice how certain things are quietly normalized with the structure of the system. Clear backpacks, metal detectors, active shooter drills are all part of the same regulatory structure that enforces truancy.

    Which is to say, that the structure subtly “nudges” acceptance of our gun culture and the status quo.
    You must go to school and you must have a clear backpack and you must pass through the metal detector and you must participate in the drill. Refusing to participate in any of this is punishable.

    Again, I don’t mind a punishment for disobedience of rules. I just think the bigger picture here is that civil disobedience makes the statement that the structure itself is unjust.

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    • I don’t really buy that it has a lot to do with ‘gun culture.’ When I was in high school in the 90s we had periodic ‘lock downs’ where the police swept the schools with dogs looking for drugs in lockers. There was also debate about metal detectors due to concerns about weapons, mainly knives (though that never actually happened while I was there for budgetary reasons).

      I am not defending this, it seemed crazy and heavy handed then just like it does now, and in the vast majority of places it is. Security theater has been the American way for decades now.

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      • My high school experience was more Fast Times At Ridgemont High, than Bowling With Columbine.

        At my high school in 1978, students were given permission to smoke (cigarettes) in a specially designated smoking area. It was an open campus, without any sort of secure perimeter and in fact students were allowed to come and go freely. It wasn’t uncommon for the stoners to toke up at lunch and spend periods 5 and 6 in a daze.

        Different times, man, different times.

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          • When I was on Facebook, periodically I would see one of those posts about “when we were teens, we respected our elders, hitched our pants up and wore our caps facing frontwards!” from people my age, and just wanted to roll my eyes in derision.
            I once lost control and got all reverse-Grandpa Simpson and wrote a post about how
            “When I was a teenager, we smoked and drank and had wild unprotected sex* and drove without seatbelts, and we sassed our parents and listened to Cheech and Chong records and flipped off our teachers, not like these sissy kids today who sit up straight in their seats and study all the time and never get wasted listening to Dark Side of The Moon.”
            Click like and share if you think we need more of these old time values!

            *I didn’t, but not for lack of trying.

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        • It’s not just the times. We had no lockdowns and a cigarette smoking area at my school as well…. in the 90s…. no hall passes, let alone security guards… but then we were a bunch of laissez-faire Canadians after all :P.

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        • Must’ve been nice. Granted I don’t want to make my experience sound more severe than it was. People did regularly leave school to smoke. I skipped school a lot, and there was plenty of partying. We had these sporadic shows of force and weird bureaucratic procedures that came and went without much explanation but also a lot of loopholes and inept/inconsistent enforcement. In practice people got away with a lot.

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  13. So you support beating children for participating in political protest? You linked approvingly to a post about locking children in steel cages, and the child would have been severely beaten if she disobeyed guard orders.
    This isn’t hypothetical. Arkansas children were beaten by government officials for participating in the walk-out day. Presumably you likewise would have been on the frontlines with Bull Connor hosing down those criminals violating lawful orders to disperse.
    How brave of you to support this contrarian position! Are you bucking for a job at Slate?

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    • So you support beating children for participating in political protest?

      No, and nothing in this post suggested I do.

      You linked approvingly to a post about locking children in steel cages, and the child would have been severely beaten if she disobeyed guard orders.

      I did not.

      This isn’t hypothetical. Arkansas children were beaten by government officials for participating in the walk-out day.

      That’s terrible.

      How brave of you to support this contrarian position!
      I don’t.

      Are you bucking for a job at Slate?

      Slate is mostly about leftward confirmity these days, so if I wanted to get published in Slate I would post something differently entirely.

      Others managed to read what I actually wrote. It’s a pity you didn’t.

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    • Did you read the whole post?

      Don’t attack our authors. You could have made your points without personal attacks and hyperbole.

      This is the 2nd time I’ve told you not to attack our authors. Last time I suspended you for a week. That means I’ll be suspending you for 2 weeks this time.

      Jeez louise. There was an interesting argument buried in that drama, try focusing on that way of commenting once you’re unsuspended.

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  14. There is absolutely space for schools to interrupt the status quo for something special.

    We close for this holiday but not that. We cancel 7th period for this assembly but not that. If a school’s leaders decide they support a special event and want to allow — or even require — kids to partake, they absolutely can. And do.

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    • If it’s organized by the school than that falls under accommodation and no rules were broken. From there it depends on what’s being accommodated. A moment (or 17 minutes) of silence can be, or space to protest generally maybe as well, but can’t be something to protest for one side of a political issue (and probably doesn’t count as a “protest”).

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      • Who defines what’s political?

        There are still people who object to MLK Day and yet schools close.

        Many object to Columbus Day. Schools close.

        There is no requirement that schools remain mum on political issues. In fact, we demand they instill certain political values regularly.

        If the school wanted to accommoodate this event and no others, they can.

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        • Its the job of politicians to make political decisions, and those are political decisions about school holidays. Most states have laws preventing government employees from using public resources for political activity.

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            • Not around here. To be clear, the state legislator creates the holidays, not the superintendant. And its a wholly political whether a state decides to give Kashmir Pulaski a holiday.

              But in terms of instruction, surely you see the difference between teaching about Marxism and taking students to a Marxist rally? Whatever this particular rally was about, whether it was about life or death, or something in between, its clear that it was getting close to politics because the ACLU, as referenced above, is warning schools that their treatment of students cannot be political.

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              • Lower level school leaders can’t run afoul of their superiors. No arguing that. Not without consequence, at least.

                But schools can, do, and *should* engage with political issues.

                Do American schools promote democracy?

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                • Here’s a memory from my high school years:

                  Someone, probably the secretary of education, in the Bush administration (Bush Sr., not W) made a decision that supposedly led to some funding being cut from public schools. The school organized a small rally to oppose that decision. The principal, as I recall, was on board with that.

                  It bothered me, even at the time, that the school would do something so obviously political, especially because it seemed to favor one view over another. At the time, while I certainly didn’t know the issues, I was a knee-jerk defender of Republicans. So it bothered me that the school would take such an openly political stance. (However, it wasn’t necessarily partisan….because I presume the same principal would have sponsored/signed off on a rally if a Democratic administration had cut funding.)

                  I wish I could leave it at that, but here’s a problem with my anecdote. I don’t know how much of it is true. What I wrote is pretty much exactly what I remember happening, but it seems to incredible to me now. Perhaps one or both of the following is true: 1) the rally was really about something different, or it was something more open-minded than I remember being advertised (I didn’t go to the rally…..I understand it was optional); 2) maybe it was an unofficial rally and not really “sponsored” by the principal.

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                  • Some of the Chicago schools send students to Springfield by charter bus every year to protest the lack of state support for public schools. Not a lot, like maybe thirty or so, and I don’t know if they are volunteers, or who paid for the buses. But having some of the highest paid teachers in the country arrange for a day off of school to lobby for more money is one of the least astute political tactics one can see.

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        • Whether a school literally can or can’t without legal repercussions depends (What do you do with dissenters? How much consensus is or isn’t there on the issue? Etc). The answer to your question is “the courts” because there are wrong answers to those questions.

          I stand firm that using schools to rally kids to one side of a contemporary political issue, whether anti-gun or anti-abortion or pick your own, is a bad idea. Defining it can get tricky in places but a vague “anti-violence rally” is fine in a way that “gun control now” can become a problem.

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            • That’s one of the questions, though it is sort if answered by the specifics of a school’s plan and what they do with dissenters). Keeping it nebulous was pretty effective in this regard. I think it did open the door for other students to demand a March nebulously in favor of “life” if kids are so inclined (which, in at least one place, they were).

              Schools may not be able to avoid politics, but there are some real limits. During the West Virginia strike, there were things they were and were not allowed to say on their school cancelation notices. More than just being a legal/constitutional thing, I think there are some real reasons why we want to avoid open advocacy (or favoritism in Tunis respect) on contentious issues.

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          • I’m just arguing against the notion that schools should be apolitical. They never have been. Do they give equal wait to the tenets of Communism, Marxism, Islamo-fascism, and Nazism as they do capitalism and democracy?

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            • I don’t think this question is totally unfair, but I think it matters that our country is a republic. It makes sense to spend a lot of time focusing on how our system works/is supposed to work.

              Debating the 2nd Amendment, gun rights, whatever political issue is totally fair in a class room setting. It’s things like this though that make me feel like there’s something else going on. Astro-turfing is probably too strong a word, but it’s something like it. I went to Catholic school as a kid and they used to bus everyone to DC for the March for Life (a big anti-abortion protest on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade). This seems similar and I think most people would agree that a public school doing what my elementary school did was inappropriate.

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              • Since our country is a republic and most of our schools funded by taxes and run by the government, our schools are inherently political. During the 19th century and up to the early 20th century, they taught a sort of ecumenical Protestantism as the corner stone of American identity. From around WWI until the end of the Cold War, public schools were inoculators of patriotism. Saying that schools should be apolitical really ends means they end up supporting conservatism more than liberalism.

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  15. Good piece, Will, I really enjoyed it.

    “The rules are there for a reason.” I used to hate it when adults said something like that to me, because there was always some mitigating set of circumstances that made perfect sense to me at the time and totally justified the rulebreaking.

    Like OBVIOUSLY Harry Potter HAD TO start Dumbledore’s Army and meet in secret no matter what Dolores Umbrage had to say about it, because Voldemort. And OBVIOUSLY people can come up with a lot of really great reasons why, in this case, skipping class wasn’t really skipping class and thus did not deserve a punishment.

    But there is a practical, real world consequence here, which is that the administration has to be able to enforce the rules, or else the privilege starts to get abused. If “kids protesting stuff” is a legit reason for skipping school, and the skippers have no consequences, come on. There will be more and more protests until the entire concept loses meaning.

    I think it’s fine for administrators to make exceptions for certain things and not other things at their discretion. When our school went to the state basketball finals, for example, most of the kids were gone and no one was punished that day. Yet every year, senior skip day rolled around and even though the entire senior class was absent, those whose parents did not write them notes still got detention. It was a rite of passage, man, why didn’t the administration GET that?? Oppressors!

    There is always some reason, and it often feels like a good reason, when the rules are broken. Good reasons aren’t enough, because the rules are there for a reason, and if the rules are eroded even for good reasons (VOLDEMORT, or senior skip day) they can end up being meaningless. No one knows this better than people trying to run a school. The kids can decide if taking the punishment is worth it to them or not. It very well may be, even for things that are not nationwide political protests. Both sides are right – to make and enforce the rules is right, and to break them sometimes is also right.

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  16. My 2nd daughter was all torn up about whether to protest or not. She doesn’t actually care (or doesn’t view the protest as being useful), but also didn’t want to face social pressure.

    The timing of the protest was awkward, it was in a math class the day before a big test. She knew she didn’t understand some of the material and she really needed either a lot of review or to meet with the teacher after class (which her scheduled other activities wouldn’t allow).

    Personally I thought the whole mess was a fine learning experience, she had to pick what her priorities are and mix-max appropriately.

    In the end she stayed, let the rest of the class leave, and spent the time grilling the teacher on the material she didn’t understand. She aced the test. Her friend, who yielded to social pressure, did poorly.

    In 10 years there’s a better chance she’ll need that math than she’ll care about standing outside trying to convince Trump to outlaw murder. She’ll most certainly need that grade next year when she applies to college.

    The whole process is so grand and all-encompassing that it really can’t be threatened by the occasional late night no-hitter.”

    I get nasty grams from the schools EVERY YEAR, on my kids missing class. My kids have activities like First Robotics Competitions, or even family trips, that rack up absences. I continue my policy of not caring what the school thinks. The only “punishment” the schools impose is having them fail the class if they fail the final so whatever.

    I also allow (but try to discourage) strategic absences. They’re scheduled to take five tests in five classes and would do much better if they could do one or two of them as a retake. So very clearly I view “once in a lifetime” activities to be worth missing school over if they’re truly “once in a lifetime” activities… and if school doesn’t suffer for these activities.

    “The occasional late night no-hitter” is a problem for multiple reasons. The general idea is to have a plan, understand what you’re trading. If the kid knew watching the game wouldn’t be a problem then he wouldn’t be in this situation.

    Much worse, you don’t know it’s a “no-hitter” until after the fact. Staying up late to watch a twice-a-year event you set up with the teachers ahead of time is one thing, staying up later every game in the hopes of seeing it is something else. These sorts of “one off” activities are NOT “one off” activities if your priorities are such that watching baseball is more important than school.

    If you’re trying to get a 4.0 (or even a 4.86) in order to get into medical school or whatever, then over the next few years skipping that test may be a lot more important than watching that game. I’m fine getting a nasty gram over skipping school, I’m not fine with the GPA suffering because of it.

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  17. It’s worth pointing out here that the vast majority of schools are closed two days per week. If they care enough to skip class, but not enough to sacrifice a few hours on a weekend, do they really care?

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  18. I’ve thought about this a lot.

    I think, perhaps, the students should face the typical (I assume: small, not like expulsion or anything) penalty for skipping a day if that’s what they did. (I would feel the same way about school kids going to the state Capitol here to protest for better school funding, provided their school was open that day). They shouldn’t be given a free pass because it’s a cause the administration might agree with, because then you butt heads when some students want to protest for some other cause (that might be reasonable; I’m not going to go the “let the neo-Nazis hold their rally alongside the March for Our Lives” route) and it’s something the administration might not be so down with….and then it seems like privileging some forms of speech over others.

    However, I also think the students should face *no worse penalty* than a regular skip day (or skipped class, whatever).

    I think it’s different with high school students where there is still at least a little expectation of “in loco parentis” – I know many schools did not permit students to leave the school grounds out of concerns over “what if they crossed a busy street unwisely and got hit by a car?”

    My high school allowed us to sign out of lunch, but only one day a week. Same with my brother’s high school in a different state five years later. But we were expected to be in class and our parents would have got a call had we not been….of course, if we had been out at a rally or something our parents could have chosen to support or discipline us and that would be their business.

    I teach on a college campus. We are expected (for financial aid reasons) to keep track of unexcused absences. I am not going to lie – it is a giant pain and a headache and it’s the part of my job I most often “fudge” (as in: when required to report “last attended day” I might not have the BEST records, so I look back and see when did they last take a quiz/exam or hand in work). Also, oh my goodness, this semester – it’s been illness after illness (so: either begs for excused absences, which I grant, or more annoyingly, complaints after the fact that “you said I was absent three days but I was SICK and you should have known that” when there was zero communication).

    I admit my definition of “excused” is loosier and goosier than some faculty (1). I count illness with or without a doctor’s note (2) as excused. I also count family emergencies like sick children, having to take a disabled relative to the ER, etc. as excused. And funerals. And things like jury duty or having to go testify in court (it happens more often and for sadder reasons than I like to think about).

    So, if a student went to a protest or something and explained their reasons, likely I’d sigh and mark them excused. (Though again: if it was a hate group rallying I most likely would not, but I have never encountered a student who was open about membership in such a group, if I ever had a student who was in one).

    But yeah. It’s complicated and the judgement call of “what counts” is frustrating and a pain – I have had people request excused absences so they could take a younger sibling to the previous night’s “midnight opening” of some movie, and they’d be too tired for an 8 am the next day, or wanting to drive many many miles to see some band play. In those cases I’ve said “sorry, no” but some folks don’t like to accept no as an answer and I HATE that.

    Some faculty member just have “three absence passes” or some such where you can use them but when they’re gone, they’re gone, but I worry that that might discriminate against students with chronic illnesses – of which I have had a few over the years.

    Missing exams is a bigger issue and if someone wanted to skip taking an exam to go protest or something….I might have a bigger problem with that. (Then again, I may be embittered, because this has been a nightmare semester for people missing exams for “valid” reasons like illness or their team was on the road, and I’ve had to do SO MANY MAKE UPS)

    (1) I just object to the idea of requiring ADULTS to be in class. Yes, I get “but the taxpayers are paying for some of them to go to school” but the thing is: it’s almost an entirely self-correcting problem : the people who chronically skip tend to fail, and get put on probation. The people who are there (both in body and spirit) usually do OK. I would rather not have the headache of “what counts as excused and not” and also the record-keeping.

    (2) we are also in an economically depressed area with many students near the poverty line, and I am well aware that for some, a co-pay JUST to get a doctor’s note is probably an undue burden, so I don’t make a deal about it.

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    • I agree with your footnote number 2. Completely. I’ll add that if someone is sick, but not seriously sick, a trip to the doctor can disrupt the healing process. When I have a severe cold, my self-care is to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Getting up and going to the doctor’s–a process that depending on transportation and whether the dr. is late at honoring his/her appointment–can easily take 2 hours, 2 hours I could’ve spent resting.

      I’m torn about your footnote number 1. I agree that the “but the taxpayers…..” is weak sauce as a rationale. I also agree that if we’re dealing with adults, it’s insulting to impose attendance requirements.

      Still….in classes I’ve taught, participation and attendance have always played some kind of role in how I assign grades. A marginal D/C will probably get a C- if they’ve attended class and made an effort to participate while a class-skipper with a comparably marginal grade will get the D+. Now, there are at least three ways I can approach this. One, disregard attendance and participation entirely and focus only on scores for exams and papers. Two, take attendance/participation into account, but just keep it to myself or make some vague reference to it in the syllabus. Three, make it a requirement, so students know the stakes.

      Option one is really hard to do in a humanities class like history, where even the scores on exams and papers are quite subjective (not necessarily arbitrary, but subjective). Option two might lead some students to think that only their performance on required work matters, and those students will be relatively disadvantaged compared with students who attend a lot and participate. Option three is infantilizing to a degree, but it also makes it clear that attendance/participation will count and alerts students to that fact.

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    • When I was in college, virtually no class I took had attendance [1]. I’d never really even heard of them for plain old lectures until I got to grad school and started having to take attendance as a TA (and later an adjunct at a different school). I felt very similarly: if students didn’t think they needed to come to the lecture, well, they were probably wrong but maybe not.

      I skipped most lectures as an undergrad but got a lot of value out of the structure of having to hand in problem sets, prepare for exams, and the like. Unless the lecturer was unusually good, I got very little value out of sitting there trying to keep my mind from wandering for 45 minutes.

      Some people have learning styles like that.

      [1] If there were attendance requirements it was around discussion sections or labs, and I cleverly avoided the former by not taking any humanities.

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      • I went to a small university where the rule of thumb was, “If you skip a class, you will bump into your professor sometime later that day.” That kept it from being too much of a problem, mostly.

        A friend of mine had an integrated circuits class with 8 people and was the only one to show up to class one day. The professor didn’t have a great sense of humor in general and drove a very long way to teach class, so that wasn’t much fun.

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        • Uff. I had a class once with four people in it, but I taught it close enough to home that it was tough to get too bent out of shape the time everybody failed to show up.

          It was like an hour and a half long, so getting the time back was pretty nice.

          Smaller classes were a lot easier for me (usually) since they were more like discussions, with more room for lectures.

          The intro to econ class with 150 people in it? Not so much.

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      • yeah, no attendance was ever taken when I was a student. (I still attended nearly all classes: I was anxious that way, afraid I’d miss some essential announcement)

        It IS infantilizing. I understand the “taxpayer money” argument but it annoys me greatly that we’re now so hounded to report attendance, when, about a dozen years ago I reported someone THREE SEPARATE TIMES for nonattendance, nothing happened, nothing until the local “workforce” agency paying his way called me up and asked me how he was doing in my class and I was like, “Well, let me tell you….” But that seems always the way. We’re asked to do stuff out of the goodness of our hearts and nothing comes of it, and then all of a sudden we are forced to do it, I presume because a critical mass of people said “hell no.”

        I still have people who SHOULD have dropped who have not. (Friday is the deadline. I had one person e-mail me and ask HOW to drop and really he should know that but I told him because I just want him and his silly excuses gone.)

        I have had some small classes and once or twice, when fewer than half showed up (it happens) I took a poll: do you want to go ahead and everyone else just misses the material, or do you want to just cancel? In some cases they voted “go ahead,” I assumed that was people who had made a bit of a commute to come in.

        I admit I am annoyed when I have prepared for class and less than half of them are there. But i get REALLY annoyed when some of those folks come into office hours and fundamentally want me to re-teach the stuff just for them. (I will do it if they were genuinely sick/had an emergency but more often it seems it’s hung-over/there was a game that ran late last night/wanted to start the weekend early…)

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          • LOL. I missed that econ class’ final because I missed the repeated announcements that the time and place had changed.

            I also had forgotten to register, but with the department chair’s permission you could register for the last day.

            I showed up, right as the final was ending, gave the professor a sob story that tried to make my reason for missing the test sound slightly more sympathetic than laziness and inattention, and it worked.

            Then I handed him the add form.

            He signed it, then handed it back to me and said, “Shouldn’t you have waited until after you saw how you did on the final?”

            I continued to make questionable life choices.

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          • I only skipped the (largely useless) “recitation section” of intro chem the mornings after exams (we had 7-9 pm THURSDAY exams. That would never fly here: people have to work or have kids). The a-hole TA would go over the exam – it wasn’t graded yet, and we didn’t get it back then – and after the first day I walked out going “that’s it, I’m failing Chem” (when I actually earned a B) I realized that it was pedagogically useless to me to have an exam gone over when I don’t have it in my hands.

            (And now, in teaching: I don’t go over exams until they are handed back)

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        • I’m required to take attendance, and I don’t mind it. The students in our classes can miss two weeks worth of classes (this is college)–excused/unexcused doesn’t matter (though University things like athletic events are different). If they go beyond the two weeks, they lose 30% of their course grade. It’s classified as class participation because we don’t lecture–students in my courses spend time writing and working (there’s some discussion and lecture, but it’s not the majority of class). When students advise me ahead of time of absences or emergencies as they happen, it doesn’t really hurt their grade. I even tell them to plan accordingly: if they skip class five or six times and then have an emergency, too bad.
          This may seem harsh, but we do make exceptions; we just don’t advertise them. I’m in Colorado, and we tend to have harsh storms in the spring semester. If a student is worried about the road conditions, I tell them not to worry about making class–safety is more important. Ditto for other kinds of emergencies. And the students who aren’t showing up (in my classes–I’m sure it’s not true for all courses) aren’t passing anyway.
          I also remind them that regular attendance is a basic lesson in responsibility, one that many college freshmen need. Have you ever had a job where you could miss two weeks without contacting your employer and still have that job? Have you had a job where you could miss two weeks worth of work in a 15-16 week period and still have that job?

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    • My argument would be that school officials that want to impose extraordinary punishments on the kids who protested for seventeen minutes technically have a good reason to do so. They were met with an extraordinary act of disobedience and can argue that a mass student walkout, regardless of cause, requires imposing a punishment beyond the norm to teach students who is in control.

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      • Clearly the ACLU thinks there would be a case to be made against this, but I’m sure the kids themselves would find arguments as well.

        Plus ‘to teach students who is in control’ strikes me as reason very likely to backfire. First because a lot of kids will take it as a challenge, and second because this generation has been taught since kindergarten how to identify bullying and respond to it. “We’re going to use our greater power to show you who is boss” doesn’t come across well in that context.

        Lastly, when it comes right down to it those actually in control are the School Board, who are answerable to the parents who may well be quite unhappy with imposing extraordinary punishment here.

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        • My guess is that the schools would only do it in places where the parents would be behind them. So hard red counties, mostly, and cases where you only had one or two kids do it.

          The school could try to make the case that it wasn’t the protesting per se but the mass disobedience despite a direct warning and a similar enhancement would have been applied if they’d all left together to do something else under those circumstances.

          I wouldn’t buy it, though.

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      • They were met with an extraordinary act of disobedience and can argue that a mass student walkout, regardless of cause, requires imposing a punishment beyond the norm to teach students who is in control.

        In the suburban high school I attended 1969-1972, and the suburban high schools my kids attended, efforts to impose “beyond the norm” punishments would be doomed to failure when a bunch of the well-to-do parents and the ACLU get involved. This would be particularly true if the harsh punishments were for behavior that could be interpreted as “political speech”.

        In the school district where I currently live (and where my kids went to school), the board attempted a few years ago to change the content of AP American History. Large student protests during school hours ensued (far more than just the AP students). The teachers were instructed to accommodate. The parents organized a recall drive. Sufficient signatures were collected in record time. (As I’ve remarked before, they set up outside the public libraries. It’s the only time I’ve seen people standing in long lines to sign a ballot petition.) The three board members who had passed the change were all tossed by the voters, and it wasn’t close.

        Even absent that bit of history, protests over school shootings would have been accommodated — Columbine High School is part of this district.

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        • What kind of changes to the AP US History curriculum could inspire that kind of resistance and still cover the material that will be on the test?

          Maybe it’s changed, but when I took the class way back when, we struggled to cover everything that was included.

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        • It would probably be the same in my affluent suburban high school. There were two many parents and teachers with positive memories of the 1960s Counter-Culture to get away with draconian punishment for political speech. Most parents identified politically as liberal democrats.

          Maybe, it was also a straight-laced academic place, so the parents might not like anything that disturbed the school day or year either. When I was a freshman, the high school band, choir, and orchestra participated in music festival in Toronto. We did so well that we were invited to participate in a musical festival in Paris. The music teachers were enthusiastic about this. The parents were split down the middle between those that saw it as an opportunity not to be missed and those that hated it immensely.

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  19. Will,

    One thing you seem to be subtly and indirectly arguing is the harshness of some skipping-class penalties. Or maybe “arguing against” is too strong and just “raising the possibility that our policies aren’t always necessarily appropriate.”

    At any rate, for the sake of argument, let’s assume the punishment for skipping class is reasonable and unobjectionable (however we determine that). Even with that assumption, it’s hard to violations of a rule when most people violate it. Maybe it’s not impossible. But practically, it’s harder, and harder in a way that doesn’t imply the stated punishment is unreasonable or unobjectionable.

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    • Part of the issue with group discipline, at least how discipline is handled in our kids’ schools, is that discipline is cumulative. Kids who have a record of infractions are going to be disciplined more than those with none. Also, teachers are not required to give a test that was missed that day or homework that was due that day. So a group of students engaged in the same activity may feel that they are being treated differently for the same conduct because their situation is different.

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  20. LeeEsq: My argument would be that school officials that want to impose extraordinary punishments on the kids who protested for seventeen minutes technically have a good reason to do so. They were met with an extraordinary act of disobedience and can argue that a mass student walkout, regardless of cause, requires imposing a punishment beyond the norm to teach students who is in control.

    The idea that schools are about “who is in control” is a bedrock of what’s wrong with how people are approaching education.

    You can make a kid come. You can make a kid sit quietly. You can make a kid write down what’s on the board. You can make a kid write down stuff on a test.

    You can not, can NOT, make a kid learn.

    If schools are to be about strict discipline and obedience alone, they cannot succeed and they cannot compete. Yes, yes, other countries are known for their “strict schools” but they also have a national cultures that value learning, celebrate knowledge and encourage education. One or two points of comparison is not enough.

    And the truth is: If enough students refuse to participate in the learning process, be it lectures or labs or Socratic seminars, a school will fail. Beating kids with “you will obey because we are the school” is a surefire way to unite a school to that cause.

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