A father and professor on TikTok who goes by “The Speech Prof” got some attention with a video talking about the pervasive practice within U.S. schools of giving kids awards for perfect attendance and the harm that does to all of us. While these schools are unfortunately motivated by government policy that gives out funding based on attendance, the messages this practice sends, he argues, are a problem both for public health and individual health.
“Last month, my son won an award for being a good reader,” says the professor. “And at that ceremony, they also gave out perfect attendance awards. And I was like, ‘How? How are we still doing this after what we just went through and are still going through?'”
He is, of course, very likely referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still actually ongoing as cases continue to rise and fall throughout the country and result in hundreds of daily deaths.
As public health experts continue to have concerns about this still poorly understood new virus as well as the high potential for new pandemics to come, motivating kids to come to school no matter what with awards seems like a poor choice.
“And I realize that it all comes down to funding, but in the current state of the world we live in, should we really be encouraging parents to send their sick kids to school?” the TikTok dad asks. “Is that the message we should be sending? Or should we be rewarding the students that are responsible citizens for staying home when they’re ill, instead of coming to school and getting their classmates sick?”
Anyone who has ever been to school knows that these places are one of the biggest vectors for spreading infectious illness, since children are not the best at personal hygiene and we’re crowding them in their like unhygienic little sardines. COVID-19 spread rapidly in schools after kids started returning, even with protective measures in place that have largely now been ditched in favor of pretending there isn’t a problem anymore and surely never will be.
But even outside of the current reality and future potential for pandemics involving deadly pathogens, people also argue that perfect attendance awards send the message that it’s wrong to ever stay home and rest for your health.
“Because what’s the lesson that we’re teaching children?” the TikToker continues. “That they should feel guilty for getting sick that they’re somehow less than? They’re not worthy of an award? Simply because they caught a cold?”
Getting enough rest during an illness is one of the most important steps a person can take, as pushing through an infection can result in a delayed recovery as well as an increased chance of developing complications. Children are especially vulnerable to developing secondary infections from simple colds and flus, and COVID-19 comes with the added risk of what is commonly referred to as “long COVID,” which can be both debilitating and dangerous.
Beyond that, there are many measurable and obvious benefits to the practice of taking mental health days. Mental and emotional exhaustion makes it harder to learn as well as perform, and failing to take the rest you need puts you at risk for burnout, which can take much longer than a single day to recover from.
Many TikTok commenters expressed a similar distaste for perfect attendance awards, with some pointing out additional reasons that the practice should be left behind.
“Attendance awards bummed me out bcz there was no universe in which a Jewish kid could honor our holidays & have perfect attendance at a public school,” one user pointed out.
“I was a good student but I was born with a [health] defect so I missed a lot of days of school,” said another. “Always felt left out when they handed those out.”