My niece was fired from her job recently, and she was lamenting that it was unfair. She had missed a few days, sure. She had been late, yes. But she had a doctor's note.
As a teacher, this misguided belief should not surprise me. In high schools, an excused absence (often based on a doctor's or a parent's note) is the gold standard. If you have an excused absence, you can come back to school, get all your homework and enough time to complete it. Administrators tell us teachers that we may not penalize a student in any way for an excused absence. In response, I have had a few students miss my class EVERY DAY a large assignment is due, and I can do nothing about it. In many ways, that sends the wrong message. We, as educators, need to instill in students the knowledge that sometimes you make mistakes that cannot be rectified easily.
For instance, a few years ago, I was speaking to a counselor about a student who was going to graduate after flunking many, many classes. I asked her how the student had managed to earn the credits necessary to graduate. She stated that he had some credits waived. In fact, the student had more credits waived than he had earned.
So, in an effort to be kind, we are cruel. We teach the student that a pattern of bad behavior, exhibited over a span of years, can be rectified with a few keystrokes. Let's say this student, years later, decides not to pay his taxes for a few years. When the I.R.S. catches up with him, will the auditor show mercy? When the power company sends its third late notice, will the students protestations earn him a day of free power?
We have created a group of kids who believe that someone will bail them out of any difficult situation. This creates a false optimism. And after high school, they will learn a hard lesson that they should have been taught years before.