Monday, August 29, 2005

Teaching Punctuality

Here is a subject near to my heart.

In an apparent accident of fate, I was born with the annoying "punctual" gene. I don't think that during my fifty years of breathing, I've been late more than a half-dozen times (except for circumstances entirely out of my control, such as massive traffic accidents or the fault of others). I do admit, I have forgotten a lunch date or two -- but forgetfulness is a different animal than tardiness.

This has caused me a substantial amount of stress over the years, because -- well, because as a general rule, the whole rest of the world is at least fifteen minutes late.

I have always regarded this as an outrage, but one that I am helpless to affect. So, following the old maxim that "if you can't beat them, join them," I have only recently begun to relax my punctuality standards. Of course, for business meetings, hearings, committee meetings, appointments and the like, I remain a minimum of ten minutes early. But for the garden variety social occasion such as meeting someone for dinner or a drink, I can casually stroll in five minutes late and feel no guilt at all.

And then wait another twenty minutes for others.

So I find this new initiative in Massachusetts schools to compel students to be on time for class admirable , if also a bit too late:

Fed up with students routinely strolling into class well after the bell rings, high school principals across the region plan to crack down on excessive tardiness with new punishments, and to lure pupils with new incentives.

In Needham, starting tomorrow, officials at the high school will try to entice students to show up on time by offering approved days off.

In Springfield, authorities at one high school plan to hand out T-shirts and water bottles to pupils with records of punctuality.

In Wellesley, high school administrators plan to reward prompt juniors by letting them leave for free periods -- a perk normally reserved for seniors.

Rewards for the exhibition of common courtesy! Now what have we come to. According to one official:

''There's something in today's youth. They're just not putting value in showing up on time," said Paul Richards, the principal at Needham High. ''The sheer number of students who are late to school or late to class is pervasive."

Do you suppose it has anything to do with conditioning? Monkey see, monkey do? "I wanna be like my dad?"

Now I will grant (being the owner of two) that a sleeping teenager is a dangerous animal to disturb. And the notoriously slothful body clock of the common teen may have much to do with being late for first period. But third period? Gym?

There's more at work here. And high school principals are just the people to grab the bull by the horns. After all, since public schools are now feeding and medicating our kids, it's not too much to expect that they might instill some of the basic courtesies that parents have no time to instill (if they ever had them).

Oh damn! I'm late -- gotta go.

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