We are roughly two weeks into the school year and already kids are skipping. Am I teacher? No. Am I an administrator? No. How do I know this is occurring beyond a completely blind assumption based on my knowledge of the average school going youth? I will tell you.
This morning, around the back of my place of employment, which sits on a hill, overlooking a major road, an act of truancy was observed. Actually, it was more like, “Oh my God, there’s a kid lying dead in the grass behind the building.” He wasn’t really dead, although Ray Brower, as I will refer to him was lying in the grass unresponsive. All you could really see was a shoe, at first. Upon closer inspection, the body of the teen appeared to be sprawled out in the grass, clad in regular clothes, a can of Skoal and an iPod. Hence the unresponsiveness. He was told to move along and from there; your guess is as good as mine.
This delinquency reminded me of my own upbringing. I was never absent from school during the years between first and twelfth. I guess Kindergarten doesn’t count. Yes, I was one of those nerds. Actually, that’s a misnomer. I wasn’t a nerd because of that. I had years of 12 sided dies and playing in the marching band to cause the assignment of that label. For what it was worth, I should have enjoyed the days of calling in a “Lack of Interest” day from school. Of course, I more than made up for it in college. Hell, I skipped graduation. But from the age of five through the age of 18, I went to school every day and never complained. I spoke, briefly, about this feat in It’s Good to Be the King.
The reasons for why I never missed a day of school are simple. My Mother was a Stay At Home Mom and I never got sick. Now, I as well as any other person know that being healthy has nothing to do with skipping school. After all, the movie wasn’t called, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off With a Head Cold. But to that end, I never really wanted to skip school. Overall, I had a pleasant experience. Yes, there were times I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide but throughout those 13 years the good outweighed the bad. Even still, skipping school isn’t primarily about dodging a bully or gym class. It’s about bucking the system and telling Teach’ “I got better things to do.” But for me, I enjoyed being around my friends and having fun with them. I didn’t take school seriously as it was.
During my senior year I had three real classes (Sociology, English, and French V), three electives (Chorus, Band and Gifted) leaving two study halls. A new system was put into place giving students a different option for gym class. Instead of the normal two day a week schedule, we had gym everyday for half of the year then a study hall for the other half. I was lucky in that I had gym the first half. That year was a breeze as I hardly studied and still came out in the top 10% of my class of around 435. Of course, had a couple more kids actually graduated, I could have moved up to 9%.
I could have skipped, though. In fact there was one day I was supposed to skip, senior skip day. Depending on the social environment, it varies as to what day it will fall. The fogginess of approaching my mid thirties has degraded my memory of the rule but I recall it being the 93rd day of school which was also the number of the year in which I graduated. Also, there was a tradition of skipping the day after the class picnic to Kennywood. That had become such a recognized event that even the teachers paid little attention to the syllabus for that day. However, at that point in my scholastic career, I had already gone 11 years with no absences, what was another 87 days. Besides, I could only imagine what awards would await me for completing this mission. Perhaps I'll get a scholarship or maybe a new car. You never know.
As graduation approached, I counted down the days. During the ceremony I waited for my chance. I wasn’t Valedictorian or Salutatorian or even an officer. This was my only distinction among my classmates. When that moment finally came, as stupid as it seemed to other kids, I was proud to accept that honor. As the speaker began to run through the acknowledgements, I waited with anticipation. “One year of perfect attendance.” “Five years of perfect attendance.” Then it came down to it. “Twelve years of perfect attendance.” It was my time. Then, in a twist of fate, I found out that I wasn’t really that special.
Someone else managed the same achievement. Now, I had to share that bright, shiny car and distinction with someone else. How unfortunate? But I wasn’t about to let that deter me. Somewhere nearby had to be a car about to be driven in like on the showcase showdown on Price is Right. As I walked up to the stage, I passed by the other members of the “also ran” club. Their prize was a ruler. That’s right. It looked to be gold plated, but came off looking more like brass. Each one of them brandished it with some pride, but I scoffed at their inability to hold out a few more years for the grand prize.
I reached the middle of the dais and extended out my hand to be shaken. I would have settled for the principal kissing my class ring, but I didn’t want to appear too pretentious. With my other hand I reached out to accept the small box he held out as my reward for my achievement. My heart pounded as I imagined what I would find inside. It could be the keys for sure or maybe even a check for a scholarship.
As I stood there to receive a round of applause with the rest of the lightweights I opened the box. Inside was the same ruler. The only difference was the number of years of perfect attendance etched into its plating. I was crushed. I never had any accolades to speak of in school except the fact that I had been there every day and not earned one. This was my moment. This was my chance to be recognized and I was given the same measure of success as everyone else on that stage.
I got over it a couple of hours later. I even laughed at how silly I was. I didn’t take myself as serious in college as I missed a heck of a lot of classes over those four and a half years. Now that I am a Father and my daughter will begin her education in a few years, I wonder if she will try and sneak one past the judges when it comes to going to school. I probably won’t be as strict considering my own experience. Of course, I will want her to go to school every day and do well. I wouldn’t condone rampant absenteeism but if there was a day she wanted to just blow off for something important or like I said, “Lack of Interest” I wouldn’t become extremely upset but I would expect her to be smart and not camp out on private property like Ray Brower did this morning. That would be an inexcusable absence of common sense.