Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Why Should Anyone Celebrate "13 Years of Perfect Attendance"?

MSN has a story about a girl who's about to graduate from high school who supposedly has "2,340 straight days of school."

Stefanie Zaner, Iron Kid of Darnestown, is closing in on her 2,340th straight day of public school.

The 18-year-old is unlikely to get the standing ovation afforded Ripken for his streak when she arrives at Northwest High School on Friday for the last day of senior classes in Montgomery County.

I don't mean to pick on this girl, but she should not get a standing ovation for attending "2,340 straight days of school." All that means is that she has had a relatively easy life, with no serious illness, no real money problems, and decent genes. Good for her, I'm happy for her, but I'm not going to celebrate her. I'd be a lot more impressed if she came from a poor family and had to work, and miss a few days of school. Being out in the real world once in a while is good for you- it builds character and you learn more about real life.

But then, it turns out, that she actually did not accomplish what the story's headline claims:

But hers is a rare accomplishment. Not once in 13 years was Stefanie marked absent: not for a cold, a family vacation, a college visit or a senior skip day. She once went on a freshman trip to Shanghai with the school marching band and boarded the plane with her clarinet only after securing written assurance from the principal that the trip would not count as an absence. She has never broken a bone, thrown up or caught the flu or even a bad cough, she said.

First of all, she was privileged enough to get to take a "freshman trip to Shanghai with the school marching band" (how much do you suppose that cost?), and, again, I don't begrudge her that at all, but she strongarmed the principal into not counting her missed days as an absence.

This "13 years of perfect attendance" is not perfect attendance at all. Why should she get any extra consideration for her trip to Shanghai, when a kid who actually gets sick is going to get marked as absent?

Stefanie's story gets even sadder:

Her principal at Darnestown Elementary School, Larry Chep, gave out annual awards for perfect attendance. She won a couple, then found she "really liked being recognized for something." By the end of fifth grade, when Chep recognized her for six consecutive years without absence, Stefanie stood alone.

Chep remembers her as "one of those kids you want in your school." Stefanie returns to Darnestown Elementary each spring to help her fourth-grade teacher take down her classroom and organize her closet.

She gets a sense of accomplishment from merely being present? Is she that starved for attention?

And the students that principals "want in [their] school[s]" are the kids who just sit there and listen politely and do exactly what they're told. They don't want students who push them, or challenge them. They want the bland kids. That's like being told you live in a part of the country where companies test market products.

And just what sort of person earns straight A's for 10 years — make that nine — without missing a day of school? A perfectionist. A worrier. An overachiever. Stefanie is all of those, by her own account.
"There were times I felt completely overwhelmed and thought I was never going to be able to maintain this image that everyone had of me," she said.

She's not even doing this for herself. She's doing it because she thinks it's what others want her to do. Stefanie, stop it. Take off the day before graduation. Stop worrying about something that is absolutely meaningless.

Another kid is mentioned, Austin White of Mountain View High School, who "hasn't missed a day since first grade." Check out his bragging, but be sure and get out your hanky:

To keep the streak alive, the Stafford teenager has passed up national baseball tournaments. Even an ankle sprain sophomore year, he said, "wasn't a good-enough reason to stay home."

The parents are negligent in this case. Think of the memories this poor kid is missing out on. He passed up "national baseball tournaments," plural for crying out loud, so that he could sit and listen to a bored teacher read from his notes about the freaking War of 1812.

He might have hit the winning home run, or whatever it is that they hit for "baseball tournaments."

These kids are young, their bodies are stronger than they'll ever again be, their minds are learning at a more brisk pace than ever again, and they are wasting this prime time on attending class every freaking day.

That is to be discouraged, not celebrated.


A.Jaye said...

You don't know how much pride I take in the consecutive days I've spent online.

Ricky Sprague said...

But your blog contributes something worthwhile to the world. This poor girl's school attendance isn't contributing anything.

Be proud, A.Jaye!

A.Jaye said...

Remeber when Chelsea Clinton was a goofy looking schoolkid (as opposed to whatever the make over hell she looks like now)?

Add the amount of days she took off school to that which the Obama girls will take off, multiply it by the Bush girls absenteeism and you have the answer.

That kid will learn it's not how many days you spend in school. It's who your parents are. Or aren't.