Saturday, November 23, 2019

Not Perfect

I’m headed towards the two week mark of this relentless chest cold and it’s taking its toll on everything, including my writing. It isn’t the sickest I have ever been, but it just won’t quit. I keep taking over the counter medicine, drinking lots of fluids, and going to work. I cover when I cough and wash my hands a lot, something that doesn’t always happen at work, because:

The people I work with are preschoolers. They don’t always cover when they cough or sneeze, use tissues in a hygienic manner, or wash their hands effectively. They are little. They are just learning. And like me, they often come to work sick because they have no other choice. And that really means because their parents have no other choice.

So they come to school sick, and then classmates get sick, and teachers get sick, and very rarely do any of us get to stay home and recuperate adequately. That’s just the way it is. If you are a parent or a teacher you are already painfully aware of this. About once a year or so I hear some news piece on the radio telling me that research shows that Americans don’t stay home whenthey are sick and that this is really bad for everyone. Well, duh. We know this. Give us something better. Like a solution.

So when I came upon a discussion online as to the benefits of perfect attendance awards at school, I already had plenty of opinions. Just because we’ve awarded perfect attendance for as long as any of us can remember doesn’t mean it has ever been the right thing to be doing. It could very well have been a stupid idea in the first place. A perfect attendance award is either rewarding children who have the fortune to have robust immune systems, really high quality home and health care environments, or who just come to school sick and miserable.

We need an award for that?

If we are looking for other ways to honor children other than the traditional academic awards, let’s look at kindness, willingness to take academic risks, persistence, divergent thinking, creativity. There are plenty of ways that children distinguish themselves day in and day out that aren’t of the “highest grades” variety.

And none of them are perfect attendance.

Lurking under the surface is the dirty little secret that some folks think we ought to have perfect attendance awards in order to motivate “that population” that is innately kind of slovenly and irresponsible if left to their own devices. Every time I see people float this sort of talk I wish that they would experience the instant karma of becoming a member of “that population” to see what it is like.

At this point I would award anyone who was committed to changing our societal expectations that everyone needs to go to work and school sick. There exists a possible world where health and wellbeing are centered. We would have to let go of some old attitudes and so would employers. But it could happen, if we worked to make it a priority.

As for me, I don’t want a perfect attendance award. I want to get better.

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