Truancy is not a trend among poor or troubled children as some might assume, but rather the direct result of students acting as consumers of their education, according to a study of high school students conducted by Bruce S. Cooper, Ph.D., and Rita Guare, Ph.D., of Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education. The study found that 90 percent of the 300 students surveyed admitted to cutting classes, proving truancy is widespread and not so easily pegged to one specific race, sex or economic class. Truancy can be linked more easily to the consumer-driven nature of contemporary society.
“Students are actively deciding what classes they want to attend or don’t want to attend because consumer culture has trained them to exercise their freedom based on their personal tastes and desires,” said Cooper, whose research with Guare forms the basis of their forthcoming book, “Truancy Revisited: Students as School Consumers” (Scarecrow Press, 2002). “If word gets out that a substitute is teaching a certain class on a certain day, then a student may decide to skip that class.” Cooper believes that the college registration process is a successful example of consumer-based education and that age should not be a deterrent to adopting this model in K-12 environments. He believes that those in education have to acknowledge that today’s students are more sophisticated than past generations and that the old adage “kids don’t know what’s good for them” does not apply to contemporary education.
“When you view education as ‘the law’ and treat students as prisoners, you rob them of their natural desire to make their own decisions, which becomes a very important attribute later on in life,” said Cooper. “But, when you treat students as consumers and rational choice makers, they become both informed and involved partners in their own education.” A former principal, Guare experienced truancy firsthand and was struck that class cutting did not always revolve around general rebelliousness or day trips to the beach. Instead, she noticed that many good, responsible students skipped class to hang around in the cafeteria or wander through the hallways.
“Generally, students believed that classes in which they were invisible or voiceless could be more easily missed than those that demanded their full engagement,” said Guare. “For the most part, our research found that students are rational decision makers who have a clear sense of the choices and consequences of their decisions. Now is the time for educators to help empower students to make sound decisions not only about classes and curricula, but also about the more profound ethical and moral choices that they will make in their lives.” According to Cooper, treating students as consumers would counteract national truancy and drop-out statistics and provide valuable information on ineffective teachers, classes and programs. “Students are in school 180 days a year for 12 years, yet they are the last constituency group to be consulted when it comes to matters concerning their education,” said Cooper. As a city like New York reevaluates its faltering educational system, perhaps consumerism is the best way to face this critical moment in the history of education.