Students Need to Get Out of Their Hammocks

Down and out! Down and out! Here I come with a sharp knife and a
clear conscience!

–traditional bosun’s cry, Royal Navy, circa 1800
“Down and out! Down and out! Here I come with a sharp knife and a clear conscience!” –traditional bosun’s cry, Royal Navy, circa 1800

I shouted the above at my daughter Anne one day when she was taking her own sweet time. She laughed at me, and asked what it meant.

I explained that in a British warship, the hands slept in hammocks. When it was time to rouse them, the bosun would shout that phrase and other such words of encouragement. If a man was tardy in getting out of his hammock, the bosun would cut the rope that suspended it. The man would hit the deck, literally. The bosun would not feel bad about it; rousing the sailors was his job.

Assistant Principal Mani Corzo and the bosun of yesteryear have similar jobs: the bosun got sailors to work on time; Mr. Corzo gets students to class on time. They have different sets of tools. The bosun had a good set of lungs, a sharp knife, and, for incorrigible cases, a grating and a cat o’ nine tails. Mr. Corzo has a megaphone and some trash bags.

According to The Dispatch article dated Sept. 28, students are tardy at GHS approximately 2,500 times a year. That is a lot of tardies: approximately 14 a day. But there has been an enormous improvement since three years ago, when 16,000 tardies occurred in the course of a year, 89 in an average day.

Mr. Corzo’s trash sweep plan is credited with the improvement. Today, students who fail to make it to class on time are handed garbage bags and forced to pick up litter for five minutes. It seems to work; GHS’s new principal James Maxwell says our tardy rate is far lower that that of other schools where he has worked.

Despite its apparent success, the plan is under board scrutiny right now, as it seems to conflict with board policy 6116, which aims to protect classroom instructional time. Trustee Tom Bundros, for example, says “it’s inconsistent … to take students out of class for missing class.” Mr. Bundros would prefer to see the consequence administered during lunch, after school, or on Saturday.

I see Mr. Bundros’s point, but I believe he is overlooking the extreme effectiveness of an immediate consequence.

Consider: although there were 2,500 tardies last year, it would be inaccurate to say that 2,500 students were tardy. Rather, a small number of students lollygag repeatedly.

Case in point: student Jaime Cavallero is quoted in that same Dispatch article as saying that he has been tardy five times this year – no mean feat, since school has only been in session a scant six weeks. He estimates that he had trash sweep duty 25 times last year. He thinks trash sweep is an ineffective punishment and offers as an alternative solution: “Give us more time to get there.”

I would suggest that being late to class and possibly missing some vital tidbit of information is enough of a deterrent for the highly motivated student who sees that his education is important to his long range plans. That student is apt to have good impulse control. He weighs the immediate pleasure of flirting or eating that last cheese-fry, and decides that he better drop everything and get to Algebra II.

The student who is not intrinsically motivated to be on time to class is likely to have poor impulse control and an equally poor sense of cause-and-effect. This is precisely the student who needs immediate feedback, not some vague threat of a consequence three hours or three days hence.

As for Mr. Cavallero’s suggestion, I disagree. When I was in high school, in addition to having to walk 40 miles to school, in the snow, uphill both ways, we had five minutes to get to class. (The five minutes is not a joke.) When the first bell rang, there was no time to consider whether we had a few more minutes to dawdle. We moved.

Maybe GHS should decrease the amount of time between bells. Or buy Mr. Corzo a cat o’ nine tails.

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