The tragedy of a champion attendee

Just when the summer holidays are upon us and we thought we could all put school behind us for a good six weeks, I find myself enraged by a news story in the weekend papers that really shouldn’t be worthy of news at all.
An 11-year-old boy is pictured under the headline ‘Disney World? I’d rather go to school’ after refusing an offer from his dad to go to one of the most amazing theme parks in the world just so he could go to the last few, usually completely pointless, days at school and thus uphold his 100% attendance record that he has kept since he was four.
I can’t help but think that the picture shows a boy trying to look proud but struggling to hide the hint of sadness in his eyes as though this sorry state of affairs isn’t actually down to him and that he would much prefer to be going on some fantastic rides and hanging about with Mickey Mouse et al in Florida, rather than leaning on a fence in the playground for some local snapper.
Poor boy, I mean poor boy. Is this really something we should be celebrating and encouraging?
That it made page five of a regional newspaper is very much a sad reflection on the things that society holds up as being most important in life.
I remembered being equally enraged when there was an assembly at my daughter’s school which had been organised specifically to recognise and congratulate the kids who – like this lad – had made it into school every day for seven years without ever having to be absent through sickness or, heaven forbid, to allow their parents to take a holiday with them without having to pay the vastly unjust and over-inflated prices that all holiday companies charge during the official holidays.
Assemblies like these are wrong. We should not be encouraging or celebrating 100% attendance rates for five simple reasons:
1. Luck. That the likes of this lad hasn’t ever been poorly enough to take a single day off school is purely down to luck. Even his mother says as much in the newspaper article. Since when did luck merit an award? Would we give a prize to someone who had won a tenner on the lottery for the past seven years? No we would not.
2. Selfishness. I am sure most statisticians would be baffled by the rate of probability required to avoid all bugs and viruses on a set 195 days over seven consecutive years. There must be a fair few days in this time where a champion attendee thinks they would be better to stay at home but they could actually make it in and through the day if they push themselves. So in they go without a thought to whomever they are going sneeze on or have breathe in their germs. They avoid having a day off sick themselves but in the process make another ten kids need two or three a piece. Yeah, thanks for that.
3. Unfairness. Usually when there’s a really sick kid in a school who has to be off for weeks and even months on end, their classmates will rally round. Whole lessons will be quite rightly devoted to making cards and presents to wish their friend well and much will be made of the subsequent presentation, even calling in the local paper to do a little piece. Finally the sick kid will come through their battle and, thanks to the support of their fellow students, will summon the strength and courage to come in for the very last day, only to have to bear witness to someone far luckier than them receiving recognition for being well enough to come in every day.
4. Bad message. What kind of message does it send to children to encourage them to not ever feel that you can or should take the day off school? Work yourself to the bone. Illness is the sign of failure. Your health comes second to work. Whichever way you look at it, any message is going to be far from positive.
5. Bad performance. It doesn’t matter what those adverts for flu relief capsules say, any kid who defies their illness and drags themselves to school isn’t going to perform their best. Surely one day in front of the telly watching Dangermouse and sipping Lucozade and the next in school feeling much better will be more productive than spending both days in school feeling awful. If a kid still feels compelled to work while poorly, then they should just swot up from the comfort of their own sick bed. Work from home in other words.
Everyone takes sick days at some point in their life. If this 11-year-old lad was a man in his 60s who’d never taken a day off in all his 40+ years of working, our gut reaction would not be ‘oh, well done’ but ‘you poor thing’. And all for a flipping carriage clock.
So let us end this routine celebration of superhuman and quite possibly super-selfish kids who regard school attendance as the most vitally important thing in the whole world. It isn’t. I mean, it’s pretty important. I’m not saying we should encourage our children to take liberties. But when they need to take a day off due to sickness, they should be able to do so without feeling a shred of anxiety or guilt. Or indeed when the opportunity arises for the holiday of a lifetime.
Because that’s the saddest thing of all – that this kid felt he had to miss out such on a fantastic holiday just so he wouldn’t miss a day of school.
I hope it’s not too late for this lad. Maybe his folks can book a holiday to Florida just after the new year once he’s had the chance to settle into his new secondary school. It’ll teach him there’s more to life than school and work. Goodness knows he deserves it. And it will certainly take the pressure off him having to strive to be in class every day for another seven years. Yes he may get in the local paper again when he’s 18 but such reports just become tomorrow’s chip wrapper. A trip to see Mickey Mouse and his pals is something that he (and the whole family) will never forget.
Right, rant over. On with the summer holidays please.

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