School attendance has social value

A discussion swirling around Twitter today got me thinking about school attendance.

Several people said that school attendance was foundational for school achievement. I’m sure people cannot achieve in school unless they are there, just as I could not walk on the moon without being on the moon. However, you don’t have to look too hard to find people who have become educational achievers without ever being in school. There is no cause-effect relationship between seat time and scholarship.

School attendance does, however, have one societal value that educators sometimes overlook: Showing up for school is an indicator of whether a person is likely to show up for work after they leave school for a job.

Years ago I directed an online summer program for  students who had failed at least two eighth grade classes and were seen by their school counselors as likely high school dropouts.

Each morning when I connected the program sites, there was one student who was always at her site. I’ll call her Sue, though that was not her name. Sue was not outstanding in any way, except for her reliability.

Nearly every morning after I greeted the site teacher, I said hello to the girl, often accompanying my greeting with a comment like, “We can count on Sue’s being in class on time.”

At the end of the program, when students were asked what was the best part of the program, Sue said the best thing was being praised for being on time.

The story didn’t end with her feeling good.

Sue went on to graduate with her class.

I’m sure that we didn’t teach Sue any academic content that made the difference between a dropout and a graduate.  What made a difference was discovering there was something she could do well: she could show up.

Showing up is a small thing unless you happen to be an employer. In that case, an average Sue who shows up is superior to a genius who goofs off.

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