Friday, May 24, 2013

Why Perfect Attendance Awards Are Promoting an Imbalanced Work/Life Culture

Act #144:  Play hooky if you have (or want) to.

Unlike most schools in America, my son's kindergarten doesn't give out perfect attendance awards, and I am glad.  For starters, if such an award were to be given out, my son would never, ever be a recipient.  Well, there's that time I pulled him out of the Disney on Ice field trip to offer him a more gender-neutral educational experience at the aquarium.  And the time he had that nasty stomach bug, and we kept him out for three days - two to recuperate, and an extra day just to make sure he didn't share the bug with his fellow kindergarteners.  And next week, my son will be missing three days of his final week of kindergarten, for a beach trip with 5 of my college girlfriends and all of our offspring.

While there is something to be said about commitment, focus, and honoring your responsibilities, does rewarding someone just because they consistently show up, really worthy of such high accolades and value in our society?  I can't help but worry that by placing such value on one's capacity to be physically present, regardless of life's circumstances, we are somehow contributing to our current dire imbalance of work/life culture.  I used to work at a place where my boss didn't bat an eyelash to miss her son's birthday because an important client just couldn't find another date and time to meet.  I've seen new mothers pressured to hand their babies off to strangers practically as soon as they give birth, because they are needed at work. Last year I watched a single friend struggle to care for and house her brother who had no one else, and who was suffering injuries sustained from a horrible car accident, while her employer refused to grant her family leave because he didn't fit the definition of "family".

Our five-year-olds are getting the clear message that in order to be successful, you have to show up at any cost.  Even if it means going to school when you feel crappy and your body needs to rest.  They are getting the clear message that there is nothing more important in life than being at their learning centers and participating in guided reading five days every week.  Not even spending invaluable time with your family, or taking part in real-life experiential learning outside of the classroom.  Our five-year olds are getting the clear message that there is no one, no thing, more important in the world than his/her classroom. And that all life outside of that classroom is somehow of less value. 

We are raising our children to grow up to become part of a culture that emphasizes work life, over a well-balanced holistic, and healthy life.  A culture that places more value on measurable bottom-lines, where loyalty to profit and end-results are fostered, and where things like family, personal growth, and community service, are not only discouraged, but grossly undervalued.  

If it is somehow necessary to give out awards to five-year-olds, rather than rewarding them for their ability to consistently show up, how cool would it be to reward them instead for showing compassion, for being innovative, for expressing themselves, for applying what they learned in the classroom outside of the classroom?  As a parent, I know that I will be doing my job, if my son never, ever receives a perfect attendance award.  


  1. Jane, I completely agree! I also see the value of spontaneously taking ours out of school for no reason other than to go have fun and a date with their parent! I feel learning to not always have an "excuse" or reason to miss school or work is a hard but valuable lesson to learn!

    I currently work as a SpEd teaching aide and one of my students (a fifth grader) won Star Student of the Year in his gen ed class. Sounds great right- I am all for inclusion and valuing all students but the qualifications for receiving this award: no late assignments, not missing assignments, no incompletes, finishing all your work, etc. He turns in NO WORK for this class! What about awards for citizenship, character, leadership, perseverance, positive attitude, servitude, or any that you suggested.

    1. Angelina, thank you for the great work that you do and for your refreshing perspective!