To Attend or Not To Attend, That is the Question
(cross posted at Socrates’ Wake)
We’re inching closer and closer to the start of the new semester. That means that it’s time to crank out those syllabi again. One question that I struggle with every time I put together a syllabus is: should attendance be required? Obviously, there are different ways to deal with this.
a. No attendance requirement at all (if anything, a student’s grade would suffer on participation, but in this option there’s no separate grade or penalty for not attending).
b. Attendance is required, and the student is given X number of points for showing up. Here, the student, loses points (whatever amount) based on absence.
c. In addition to (b), another requirement can be added: that for the student to pass the class, they cannot have more than Y number of absences total.
There are probably other ways to do this, of course. My main question, though is this: should we attach penalties to students who don’t come to class? I’m torn on this. Three different positions come to mind:
1. Paternalism: you can’t really get much out of a philosophy class that you don’t attend regularly, so the student should lose points when they don’t show up.
2. Consequentialism: the other students are robbed of part of what they pay for when students irregularly show up. It serves as a disruption to the overall class environment and moreover the regular students lose the ability to interact meaningfully with the absent students.
3. Libertarian: basically rejects the approach in (1), claiming that it is a student’s right to not show up if they don’t want. If that’s how they want to spend their tuition dollars, I shouldn’t be coercing them to show up by threatening them with grade penalties. Moreover, since it’s the student’s right to spend their money as they wish, (2) shouldn’t be an issue either. They didn’t pay to assume the obligation to assist others in their education.
Obviously there are lots of ways of framing this issue, and lots of different ways of listing possible responses to it. So I don’t intend the above to be exhaustive in any way. But it should help to at least get the conversation going.
So, to attend or not to attend? I’d especially like to hear from any students lurking out there. What’s your point of view on this?