I’m still an optimist – I like to think that every educational policy gone bad at least started with good intentions.  At the same time, we all know of the paving of that infamous road south, don’t we?

I taught a class for a local institution this past semester in order to interact with students again, which is something I have missed.   But, I was also reminded of some of the things that I didn’t miss.  Some of them fit the description above, and just one of these is the subject of required attendance.

The e-mail from a student arrived about mid-semester and was only two lines long – no subject line and not even signed.  It said simply “ Hey I was wondering when our next test is? And can you tell me how many days I have left to miss class? Thanks”.   It’s only been after years of receiving similar notes that I’ve learned that it IS possible to laugh and cry at the same time.  🙂

You might have guessed that I had announced (aloud and on Powerpoint overviews) when the next test was in every class period for at least the previous two weeks.  And this student, whom I’ll call Sally (name and possibly gender have been changed) was almost always in class!

Actually, the questions about the test and attendance don’t really bother me, but they connect with – even lead to -today’s topic really well.

I’m more intrigued by Sally’s view of attendance, and I’m wondering if that attitude – as stereotypical as it may be – was (certainly unintentionally!) fostered by this institution, which only allows a small number of ‘misses’ for a class.  On the surface this requirement is a noble goal, as we’d all like to believe there should be an obvious relationship between attendance and learning.

But is there?? Not always, it seems.  It’s pretty clear that Sally has missed that connection.   Recall:  Sally was in attendance for several of the classes in which the test date was mentioned, and had clearly missed the information.  Her usual attentiveness – or lack thereof –  in class suggests to me that she has missed much other material, too. (This is not necessarily a criticism – she ‘knows’ much of the material.  Indeed, this is part of the problem!)  And further, she wasn’t trying to hide her absence planning.

So, from my perspective, Sally is not there even when she’s attending!!  If she doesn’t want or need to pay attention (and isn’t distracting others), I’m not going to waste class time trying to make her.  She’s an adult.  And I wonder: if she’s not paying attention, why should she be required to be there?  There’s a strong case that she and I (and the class!) would be just as well served if she weren’t.

There are many other examples of similar ‘requirements’ or rules that don’t really achieve their purpose, and I plan to include more in future blogs – including one or two of my real pet peeves.  But, as always, let’s keep the perspective clear:  The subject here is not necessarily to debate mandatory attendance policies Instead,  I’m trying – as always – to underscore the fact that educational issues aren’t easy, and policies – especially those that try to govern behavior – aren’t always as effective as they might seem at first.  Sometimes less is more.

Postscript:  Sally did not do well on the test in question, nor, for that matter, the class in general.  I’m guessing that fact alone may do more to increase her mental attendance in future classes (including this one, if she re-takes it) than any rule requiring her to be sitting in the seat.