• Rob Bligh

    Habitual Truancy
    Not a disease. Just a symptom.

    No sensible person can rationally oppose efforts to suppress habitual truancy. The parents or guardians of all children covered by our compulsory attendance statutes should be forced to see to it that their children attend school. This has been the law in most states for at least 110 years and it is a law worth enforcing. Unfortunately, habitual truancy is merely a symptom and not the disease.

    Consider children who adopt the habit of truancy. Such children almost always do very badly in school. It appeals to our humane instincts to imagine (1) that they do badly in school because they do not attend regularly and (2) that, if we could just get them to school on time almost every day, we could do something that would improve their academic performance.

    We want to hope that habitual truancy “causes” academic failure and that, if we can remove the cause, we will prevent the failure. There is little evidence to support that hope. It seems much more likely that truancy and academic failure are not cause-and-effect. Rather they are two effects of a single cause.

    Habitually truant children are living (I cannot say “being raised” in inadequate households. They fail in school for the same reason that they are habitually truant. Such children act the way they do because they are effectively taught to do so by the inadequate “adults” they live among.

    What makes us believe that we could successfully educate inadequately raised truant children if we could just get them to attend school regularly? We already have a group of inadequately raised children who are not habitually truant and who are still academic failures.

    Except for school attendance patterns, children who regularly attend and still fail are very difficult to distinguish from the habitual truants. What these two groups of children have in common is that they live in inadequate households. Over 91 percent of every childhood is spent somewhere other than in school.

    Forcing inadequately raised children to appear in school regularly is no cure for their academic failure. Indeed, it can barely be called a treatment. Forced school attendance will not quickly (or even eventually) cause badly raised children to act as if they have been responsibly raised. For at least the last half century, America has ordered its public schools to fix a long
    list of non-school social problems that all other American social institutions have failed to fix. It has ordered in vain.

    Schools everywhere are very successful at educating those children who have been responsibly raised. Schools everywhere can do very little for those children who have not. The problem is not a school problem. The solution is not a school solution. If America really cares about its habitual truants (and all of the other children who fail in school), America must do something about the inadequate households that produce them. Children who fail in school – and in life – do not need better teachers or better schools. They need better childhoods.

    Ordering schools to “fix” the problems of generated by inadequate families is like prescribing aspirin for a malignant brain tumor. Even if it can sometimes make the patient feel better temporarily, taken alone it is the education equivalent of wishing the cancer away.

  • Angie Santos

    Very informative journals and reports, helpful for those students who are researching on how to improve truancy in their schools.

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The role of mentors in reducing chronic absenteeism

What we know about absenteeism

Tackling absenteeism in Chicago  

Chronic early absence: What states can do  

Battling chronic absenteeism