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VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Education Talk

When Is it OK to Play Hooky?

November 25, 2000|ERICA ZEITLIN

New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani drew fire from school officials and others when he encouraged his city's schoolchildren to skip school to attend the Yankees' World Series victory parade. Class attendance reportedly dropped up to 20% on parade day.

The outcry over the mayor's ostensible permission slip to ditch comes at a time when student test scores lag nationwide and school district funding depends greatly on student attendance, prompting the question: Is it ever OK--or even beneficial--for kids to play hooky? ERICA ZEITLIN spoke to one local expert about it.

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JAMES S. CATTERALL

UCLA professor of education; father of three

If the reason to skip school is a symbol of community togetherness and celebration or something that is really special, then I'm in agreement.

If it's something really memorable or valued--something that galvanizes the community or brings the family together or something spiritual, such as maybe a religious ritual--then that is also an important part of growing up and being human.

This is especially the case when an event would be stimulating for the whole family. I am talking about really special events that are sort of one-time-only things.

When I was growing up, if I could have gotten a ticket to Shea Stadium to see the Beatles, I would have stayed out of school. But they were a world event, not just one of the top 10 groups playing at the amphitheater. So when something really cool comes along that is significant, why not?

These opportunities present a break in the routine and can be invigorating for a kid to participate in. Really, what are the chances of doing harm or damage to the development of the child in these kinds of situations? I think that they are actually positive developmental things for children.

Clearly, [skipping school] should be the exception, though. The case of the Yankees' parade is on the list of legitimate things because it galvanized the community. I am in agreement with that, as long as the Yankees don't win the World Series every year.

Obviously, missing school must be done in moderation--maybe once or twice a year. As a parent, I take my kids to Disneyland on a Friday once every few years and I think it's good for them.

You obviously don't want kids to make a habit of that, but a kid remembers things like this more what than what he or she remembers in an average school day. It also teaches kids some values, such as flexibility.

Obviously, parents need to choose the occasion wisely and emphasize that this is a really special situation that warrants missing school. You certainly don't want to send the message that what goes on in the classroom doesn't matter. But occasionally, bending the rules can be necessary and can have positive benefits. The point is to be very judicious and selective about it, for things that come along once in a great while.

This goes for any child. I'm not just talking about for the A student. These reasons are universal and the benefits apply to every kid.

The overriding theme here is that the family is in decline in lots of ways in this society, and it's important to do symbolic things together as a family and as a community, and to take steps now and then to remind ourselves of that.

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