My granddaughter is a high school senior. She will be attending the University of Wisconsin, Madison next fall and has, like seniors everywhere, “checked out.”

Last week she sent my daughter this picture of one of her classes. The teacher abandoned his lesson plan and she spent the hour on her phone.

empty classroom.jpeg

I should add that she attends Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, site of a mass shooting on February 14. They lost two weeks following the shooting, went back half days for several days and only started full days after almost three weeks. After a horrific period of funerals and vigils, they got used to simply hanging out with each other and having no homework. And their spring break starts in a week! This disruption to their routine has only compounded the challenge of getting her to take this semester seriously.

Hers is not the first generation to experience “senioritis.” I loved high school and was an excellent student. But I attended the High School of Music and Art which was then located in the City College campus and cutting classes to hang out there was far more enticing than Trigonometry. (M&A has since relocated to near Lincoln Center, which must be even more of a temptation to the current students.)

I never would have dreamed of not showing up at school to have attendance taken, although before computers it was relatively easy to have a classmate intercept the postcard home. (Just like my children intercepted the voice mails because they got home before I did.) I remember leaving through the back doors and slipping in pieces of paper so they wouldn’t lock. One of our teachers went around removing the pieces of paper and someone followed him to put them back.  

One Sunday afternoon in the spring of my older daughter’s senior year I got a phone call from her physics teacher informing me that he was going to fail her for lack of attendance. Since she left for school on time every morning I was shocked. I asked the teacher about her grades and he said they were the best in the class. She showed up for every exam and aced them all. Therefore, I told him, she clearly didn’t need to attend class since she got what she needed from the book (an early commitment to competency-based learning?).  And then I grounded her. She was also failing gym, her other early morning class, which in NY State meant she would not get a H.S. diploma. Already accepted to NYU with a significant scholarship, she didn’t much care, but I did. To make up the classes they made her go every morning and walk around the track. Truly punitive and with no pretense of learning, but I’m not sure that was a bad thing at the time. Ask my children how often I intoned “actions have consequences.”

So, the question is, what should my daughter and son-in-law tell my granddaughter? She can’t cut during the day because attendance is taken every period and a message automatically forwarded to my daughter’s phone. She wants to simply skip days. I lean toward “even a bad rule is a rule.” Yes, she must go to school. She must pay her dues before moving on to having autonomy at college (which she doesn’t yet realize is a mixed blessing), but now, as a high school senior, she doesn’t get to choose.

Luckily, I get to go home and leave the tough decisions to my children.

Barbara Viniar1 Comment