For too many youngsters, cutting classes is the first slip down the icy slope
toward delinquency. As early as 1915, sociologists were calling truancy the
"kindergarten of crime." A 1979 study of 258 adult re-offenders showed that 78%
had been arrested for truancy, and two-thirds of the remainder admitted they had
been chronically truant but were never arrested. (Gavin 1997)
There is a sense that parents fear truancy as if it were an infectious disease
that will strike their own kids if it isn't eradicated. In the book, Fear of Falling:
The Inner Life of the Middle Class, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote that middle-class
parents now see education as the only way they can help their youngsters succeed.
Gone are the days when kids who hated school could still find a secure
home in the military or a high-paying job on the line in the factory. A high-school
diploma today is no guarantee of a job that pays enough to raise a family.
Concerned parents worry that high school graduation is merely the minimum their
kids must attain. So it is easy to understand why people are quick to demand
drastic action to bring truancy under control. Yet when challenged to think of all
the reasons that a youngster might cut school, it quickly becomes clear that
solving the problem defies a quick-fix, get-tough approach. Certainly, there are
kids who cut classes to hang out with friends and, left unchecked, today's lark can
become tomorrow's chronic bad habit. There are also kids whose parents simply
do not care - maybe Mom and Dad hated school, too, and consciously or
unconsciously send that message. But tough talk will do little to help the kids who
fail at school because of abuse at home. Youngsters who endure physical,
emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of their parents may well face more of it
if the parents are forced to pay fines or do jail time if the youngster cuts classes.
Sometimes parents are not the only causation for truancy, A detective in Lansing,
Michigan, who was investigating the chronic truancy of two adolescent girls,
discovered that a 27-year-old man had lured them into spending time at his
apartment during the day. And what of the youngsters who are bullied every day,
forced to hand over their lunch money? We know how merciless kids can be
when teasing those who are different - too tall,...