Time for a rant, folks.
Last night on the local TV news I saw a story that was packaged as a "feel good" story, but all it did was piss me off. And then I read about it again in today's paper.
The tale? Some high school senior in Niagara Falls did something really remarkable. She was able to accomplish a feat that's just so damned amazing that she was awarded by her school district a car. And no, not a used car, and not some old beater with 150000 miles on it that would cost her a lot of money in gas and insurance and repairs but would somehow teach her something about self-reliance or whatnot. No, she got a brand new car. She got a 2005 Ford Focus for accomplishing this stunning feat. And what amazing feat did she accomplish?
Did she win some kind of state sports championship? Did she post a perfect 4.0 for her entire high school career, plus extra credit for AP and college courses? Nope. Maybe she made some kind of surprisingly useful serendipitous discovery in her high school chemistry lab...but no. So what did she do to warrant a car?
She posted perfect attendance this year.
That's it. And just this year. She didn't post perfect attendance for all of high school; in fact, she admits that she missed a lot of school in recent years. Nope, she managed to post perfect attendance in her senior year. That's it. What's more, she openly admits that she only posted perfect attendance because she knew she might win a car, and she says that now that she's got the keys, she might maintain her perfect record until the end of the year.
I have no problem with the fact that this student saw an incentive and decided to go for it. I have no problem with her conduct at all. But I'm really astonished that an incentive like this had to be offered in the first place. Talk about lowering the bar, shortening the goal posts, whatever you want to call it. We've now reached a point where merely showing up for school when you're supposed to is done not because it's what you're supposed to do, but because there might be Cash! and Prizes! For one of you, an iPod! For another, a laptop! For a couple more, some scholarships! And for a lucky one of you, a grand prize winner, a brand new car!
And just think: you don't even have to go on Bob Barker's show and demonstrate your knowledge of whether the Bayer aspirin costs more than the Parkay margarine to do it, either.
I know a lot of people who show up for work every day. And not school, but actual work. People with families, with kids. People who don't get week-long breaks at Christmas and Easter and in the middle of spring, and people who don't get off for the entirety of July and August. And those folks don't get handed free iPods, laptops, or cars just for showing up.
If school administrators want to encourage attendance, maybe they should connect attendance to grades or graduation, and not give the diplomas to kids who miss a lot unless they make up the time somehow. But handing out cars and other prizes? For just physically showing up every day? That's just crazy.
And you just know that there's some kid in that same graduating class who maybe only missed time on a single instance due to a death in the family. Or how about a kid who missed a day because that's the day his Reservist father shipped out for Iraq? I'm not gonna tell that kid that he's out of the running for the new car.
OK, I'm done. This wasn't my most coherent post, but as a rule I'm generally wary of coupling behavior that we should be encouraging as a matter of course to incentives that are wildly out of proportion to the accomplishment.
Getting a car for perfect attendance for a single year of grade school. Insane.
(Again, I'm not blaming the student for "playing the game", so to speak. I think that the game sucks.)