You Can’t Learn if You’re Not There

You Can’t Learn if You’re Not There

As we descend upon a new school year, and teachers gear up for yet another 10-month span of trials and tribulations, mostly by way of consuming copious quantities of alcohol in the days leading up to their first day back in the classroom, many will be greeted by a rapidly escalating concern: attendance.  Yes, it seems that students these days just really don’t want to go to school.  And while that may not be anything new, the fact that their parents are allowing them to stay home more and more is.

Chronic absenteeism, as it has come to be called, has become a rampant issue amongst many of our nation’s schools.  Defined as missing 10% of regularly-scheduled school days, amounting to a whopping 18 absences for a given academic year, the number of students who now qualify for this distinction has nearly doubled since 2020 with roughly a third of all our nation’s students reaching this auspicious benchmark.  Sure, there are students who have serious issues of mental and physical health that prevent them from attending classes as frequently, and we must have an understanding for those unique circumstances.  But when the number doubles in just over a three-year span, you simply cannot account for the dramatic discrepancy with legitimate cases of student well-being.  At some point it becomes a matter of resisting the “I don’t wanna” syndrome.

Of course, kids don’t want to go to school.  That’s part of the drill.  But for centuries, we as parents have been, well, parents and told them that they need to go anyways because that’s our freakin’ job as a parent.  Sure, you may want to be the “cool” parent and just let your kid stay home when they don’t feel like going, but the harm you are doing is irreparable.  I get that we want to be sensitive to mental health concerns, but we also need to be attuned to when we are being played for suckers because there are a whole lot more of the latter out there than there are the former.

In fairness, I do not have my Doctorate in Education, and I have never served in an advisory capacity for educational consultation, but if there is anything my nearly 25 years in the classroom have taught me it is that students learn better when they are actually fucking there.  I know- mind-blowing, right?  But educational data point after educational data point demonstrate that absenteeism is having a massively detrimental impact on our children’s education.  This then festers into an even-worse problem as students resist going due to the backlog of work they have missed while they were previously absent.  The result is a vicious cycle that never should have been allowed to develop in the first place.

One of the leading causes for this precipitous increase in absenteeism lies in the lack of family support and structure.  The parents don’t give a shit about education so their kids don’t either.  Or parents, overwhelmed by the other elements of their daily lives, just don’t have it in them to stand up to their kids and enforce a rigid adherence to a school attendance policy.  Whether through apathy or lack of will, they stop fighting the battle to get their kids to school each and every day- they simply give up on them.  And then they wonder why their students aren’t learning a God damn thing and blame the teachers for their ignorance.  But teachers can’t teach you anything when you’re not even there.

As badly as this is impacting the current education for these young students, the problem is only going to be exacerbated as these young people grow up and try to enter a work force that just won’t tolerate their whining.  Can you imagine what would happen if you called in sick to your job 10% of the time?  Yeah, me neither, other than I would expect that it would not take long before my generally accommodating boss got tired of putting up with that nonsense and sent me packing.  But that’s just it- as all of us who have ever had to work for a living know all too well, school isn’t even as hard as real life.  As it is, school is only in session for a bit under 180 days a year.  That means that students already have more than half the days off in any calendar year.  But you still need “mental health days”?  Do you really think a boss is going to let you stay home more than half the days of the year just so that you can get your shit together in order to show up occasionally the rest of the time?  Life doesn’t work that way, my delicate little flower.

No, these third of students who have become habituated to moaning their way out of responsibility and accountability have a rude awakening before them when they embark on their journey in the real world.  Employers don’t give two farts and a fig leaf about your “mental wellness” if you can’t be bothered to show up on time.  And so they will float through life, expecting to be paid for a job they don’t really do, a perversion of the arrangement that will leave them unemployed soon enough.

So when your adult child comes back to live with you at the age of thirty because for some reason they can’t seem to hold down a job, recognise that you have no one but yourself to blame.  All that time you told yourself you were being the “cool” parent, you were actually just being the shitty parent, the one who didn’t care enough to do the sometimes difficult aspects of genuinely parenting.  And now it is you that has to pay the price for overindulging them in the first place as the sofa that used to adorn your living room once again becomes the bedroom you should have kicked them out of years before.


Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works.  Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at