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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Class Attendance and Freedom

Now that we are almost to the end of the semester, I decided to think a little bit about one of the things we hear about a lot during the semester: attendance policies. I thought it would be interesting to analyze how regulation effect class participation and apply what comes of this to government.

In one of my classes, there was a strict attendance policy. We were required to attend class unless there was an extreme extenuating circumstance (e.g. a death in the family). The cited reason for this policy was that we needed to learn the material for the class.

Another one of my classes had a slightly more relaxed attendance policy, but there still wasn't complete freedom. We were allowed to miss a certain number of classes before our grade would be dropped, and we were allowed an unlimited number of absences if we got them excused before class.

Yet another of my classes had no attendance policy. Our grades were entirely based on our performance on exams.

I noticed throughout the semester that the attendance in the classes with attendance policies was lower than my classes without them. The more freedom students were allowed, the more inclined they were to attend class. The classes with no attendance policy generally provided incentives, such as learning how to do things that would be on a test, for students to attend class. The only exceptions to this pattern were my seminar classes, in which attendance was required because most of the work for the class was done in discussions in class. What I noticed in particular, though, was that the class with the strictest attendance policy had the lowest level of attendance based on what percentage of students regularly attended class. I think the low attendance level in the class with required attendance was interesting because it showed how regulation often works. People cheat (in this case, having other people sign the attendance sheet for them) or just choose not to care. The policy had little to no effect on the students; many of the students that came would simply not pay attention. Based on this it seems that it is yet another example of why regulation and coercion are not particularly effective. People come up with ways around regulation; it does not matter whether the regulation comes from a professor or from the government. In addition, if regulation is used, often the result of the regulation is not the intended result. Instead of regulation, it makes sense to allow incentives to motivate people to behave in certain ways. I think this is why economic freedom perspective is a good perspective: rather than regulating more than what needs to be, the freedom perspective dictates that all that needs to be done is the creation of incentives against harming others.

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