Blowing off education is a decision to play without a full deck

Children and their families who turn their backs on education represent a social cost and a future liability.

At a time when mere citizenship and earning a living demand literacy, math skills and critical thinking, chronic truancy is a decision to play the game of life without a full deck.

Edward Stratton’s Monday article on truancy in Clatsop County schools was sobering. The saddest detail Stratton reported was that nearly one-fourth of kindergartners in the Astoria and Seaside school districts were chronically absent last school year. Kindergarten is where reading and development of social skills begin.

There is a bright spot in the county’s kindergartens and it is Warrenton, which has the second lowest rate of chronic absenteeism among Oregon school districts with more than 500 students.

You might say that Warrenton has put its chips on making a good first impression. It does that by reaching out to preschoolers’ families and by operating its own preschool inside the elementary school. It opens its building early for parents’ convenience.

About 10 years ago, Judy Bigby set an important goal at Astor Elementary School, of which she was principal. At parent-teacher conference time, Bigby committed her staff to making contact with one parent of every child in the school. Teachers and administrators went to front porches and into fish-packing plants.

Bigby’s offensive is exactly what smart companies do with their customers. In the broadest sense, they don’t let the customer drift away. And in the same sense, parents who participate in a child’s decision to just drift along are doing them a disservice that sets the stage for a lifetime of financial struggle.

As communities, we cannot succumb to the lethargy that says it’s OK to blow off education — especially the formative first years. Lessons ingrained in primary grades — the foundations of reading, arithmetic, how to study and interact with others — all are vital for the next stages of life.

Woody Allen observed, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.” This starts in grade school.

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