June 13, 2024

We all know the drill. You wake up with a throbbing headache, dry throat and runny nose. You use the remainder of your energy to reach over and grab your phone to email your teacher that you will not be able to attend class.

But it doesn’t stop there. Once you do feel better, you need to get a doctor’s note to then submit to the admission’s office. You then have to wait to see if you get approved for the days you missed class. And if you cannot get a doctor’s note or have to miss class due to some other emergency that cannot be approved through a note, you are marked as unexcused.

This unexcused absence then takes a toll on your grade. Depending on the professor, even one unexcused absence can bring your entire grade down.

Is it fair to be punished for not being able to attend a class that you are paying for either way? No.

Although I can understand why some professors may view grading attendance as a helpful way to give students extra points or to encourage students to show up, at the end of the day, it is the adult student who is receiving the grade. We are in college and can decipher for ourselves whether or not we need to attend class. If we do not attend and then receive bad grades as a result, it is a lesson to be learned.

But requiring the rigorous process of getting an absence excused through the school as a result of having a contagious sickness is infantalizing. It sends the message that students are not able to think for themselves and negotiate whether or not the missed class is worth it.

Also, grading class participation encourages students to come to class even while sick an even greater concern since COVID-19. Although teachers usually tell students at the beginning of the year, “Stay home if you don’t feel well. Take care of yourself first,” this notion means nothing when an absence will still cause the students to lose points. It is much easier for a sick student or a student who has an emergency to just show up to class anyways rather than to stay home and then have to try to get their absences cleared later on through the school. If we are encouraged to take care of ourselves first, again, why are we being punished for doing it?

Although making class attendance optional would most likely result in fewer students showing up to class, it teaches students how to make decisions for themselves. They are losing out on learning and wasting their own money that they paid for the course if they rarely show up.

Not only does it teach students to rationalize on their own — as they will have to do once they graduate and enter the ‘real world’ of needing to maintain a career — but it also shows that having emergencies come up in life, including sicknesses, is not a shameful thing. It is human.

Students can understand that showing up to class is not something that should be placed above everything else; dealing with emergencies and health crises requires just as much importance.

After all, we can only learn if we are healthy and have the right mental state first. What is the good in showing up to receive points but yet retrieve none of the class information because we were too focused on covering our sneezes and not coughing too loud? The bigger message being sent by passively encouraging students to show up no matter what other emergency is going on in their lives isn’t a good one.

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