Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Missing a Day of School Is Like Missing a Day's Pay": Moms, Repeat This

So says some brochures in my school's guidance office to encourage good attendance. It's true, even beyond its metaphorical truth: attendance is an excellent predictor of Regents and SAT scores, on-time graduation, and advancement to higher education. Sure, it seems like a no-brainer to us adults, but some kids are still genuinely shocked when this revelation comes to them.

I decided to take this line one step further and use it on a recalcitrant student of mine that I'll call Ross. Ross seems to be a good sort at heart, not a bad kid at all, but a kid much more inclined to spend his in-school hours dozing and his out-of-school hours talking to girls, playing video games, and, um, also dozing. I believe him when he claims to be popular with the ladies: he's nice-looking and well-dressed, and his sleepy charm might be cute to a 15-year-old girl. But all of these stellar qualities that Ross possesses nevertheless do not serve him well in the classroom, so I had to give him a pep talk.

"You know, Ross, it's great that you're here every day," I told him. "Good attendance is really important. But now that you're here, you have to do work. I mean, you wouldn't just show up at a job and sit down and do nothing, and expect to get paid, would you?"

Ross looked at me with sleepy eyes, not defiantly, just quizzically.

I soldiered forth. "So you sitting here and doing nothing is like going to work and doing nothing. So you don't get paid, and there's no payoff academically."

"But I don't get paid here," he pointed out, this seeming to him to irrefutably seal the argument. "Where's my paycheck?"

"It comes later," I explained. "When you're able to get into college because you did well in high school, and when you're able to get a much better job because you went to college, you'll make more money."

"You only have to graduate from high school to become a garbage man," commented Hector, who sits behind Ross. "That's what I'm going to do."

"That might be true," I said, "but right now the city might have to lay off lots of workers." ("Have to" is relative, I know, but for the purposes of this discussion, play along.) "And that means, in the future, they might not hire as many trash collectors. So then where will you be?"

"I'll just live with my mom," Hector said.

"Me too," Ross added.

Moms of New York City, this is what your children are thinking. I need YOUR help to get this thinking out of their heads. After all, they won't be living with me until they're 47.
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