When I took attendance for my eighth grade advisory this morning, several students were missing. That is not all that unusual, I have several chronic late arrivers, so I thought they would show up eventually. One of the missing, however, is almost never absent. I figured she had a doctor or dentist appointment and went on with the day. When my other 8th grade class came in, one of the boys asked me, "Is, C______ here today?" When I said no, he said "I think I know why." Under some questioning, he told me that there had been a shooting in the neighborhood late last night and he had heard that her older brother had been killed. I was, of course, horrified, and wondered when we would hear for sure. When would she come back to school? What shape would she be in? How would she and her family get through this grief? Would she be able to successfully complete 8th grade? If I were Arne Duncan, or Michelle Rhee, or Geoffrey Canada, or Bill Gates, or any other of the 'education reformers' we have been blessed with lately, I would say, "NO EXCUSES"--no matter what happens in kids' lives, the poverty, the instability, the murders, the chronic grief of the survivors, the inability (as a child) to make ANY of it better, SCHOOL must go on! You MUST achieve! PSSAs are in two weeks!
The reality of it is that, this situation--and others that are equally tragic-- are occurring every day all over this city and country and have a dire impact on kids' attendance and achievement in school. How important does 8th grade seem when your brother is dead? How important is first grade when you are hungry and cold at home? How important is finishing high school when your Mom has lost her job? We have dedicated and caring teachers and counselors in every school, but the reality is that no matter how hard they work, no matter how much of their own money, time, tears, and soul they pour into their work every day--they can NEVER make every child's life the way it OUGHT to be. There ARE people whose job it is to do that, but--for whatever reason--they choose not to. Teachers try every day to make school the way it ought to be, to make it a refuge for every child, and I think we largely succeed. We are not making excuses, we are holding back the flood of societal ills, and we cannot do it by ourselves. We need the no excuses crowd to step up and change the lives of children OUTSIDE of school, maybe then all kids can come to school ready and excited to learn.