Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Why I Don't Take Attendance

Of course, I do take attendance for academic administration purposes. But I do not take attendance in order to make attendance a part of a student's grade. I never have. In 46 years of teaching, attendance has never been mandatory. I'd like to share with you the "why."

When I was in high school, the school board experimented with optional attendance. They thought that teenagers would be self-motivated to attend class. 

You attended classes if you wanted to, and you didn't attend if didn't want to. Needless to say, I never wanted to. Neither would you if you lived at Kailua Beach and surfed. The year I graduated (1970), the school board did away with that policy. It had been an abysmal failure.

Fast forward to 1980. I am enrolled as a student at the University of Basel in Switzerland. 

My first semester in Basel I took 20 hours of weekly lectures. The second semester I reduced that to 15 hours since I had already begun writing my doctoral dissertation. Please note that NONE of those courses was required. We took them simply because we wanted to. I mean, who would NOT want to take Dogmengeschichte under Martin Anton Schmidt (the son of Karl Ludwig Schmidt) or theology under the great Czech theologian Jan Milic Lockman or the Gospel of Mark under Markus Barth, the son of the famous theologian? If the end is appropriate, then the journey becomes intrinsically meaningful in and of itself. 

By definition, education involves an ethos of self-directed and self-disciplined habits. The job of a teacher is to harness and direct that impulse. You have to get that impulse on your side as a teacher and encourage it. Attending college or university is an act of maturity. It is not subjugation to an external contract. It's acceptance of a voluntary system of self-disciplined structure. When you approach your classes that way as a teacher, you see just how happy your students are. As the great Winston Churchill once said, "It's easy to lead and hard to drive." As someone who has raised sheep, goats, and Angus, I can attest to the truth of that statement. A goal-oriented educational system of consensual goodwill will always outcompete a goal-oriented educational system based on compulsion. 

Educating the young involves helping them to understand how much they want an education. And how noble it is to want it. I want each of my class sessions to begin with a tingling sense of anticipation. I tell my students, "Yes, it's going to be hard. But it's also going to be great. Greek is a beautiful thing. And we are going to learn it together. And, after we have learned it, we will be different for all of eternity."