Flickr / Dafne Cholet.
We sometimes like to think of breaking habits in terms of how
little effect one transgression will have on the big picture.
"It's just one slice of pizza," you might argue, or "It's just
one day off from the gym." No big deal.
And in a way, you're right. One day isn't really a big deal
when you compare it to the other 364 days in a year.
Or is it?
How to answer the question
These kinds of questions can be hard to answer empirically
because so many variables are involved. But, funnily enough, bad
weather can provide a kind of external mechanism that makes it
possible. In an ingenious
, public policy professor Joshua Goodman of the Harvard Kennedy
School of Government found that there's a stark difference in the
impactof school absences versus school closures .
The negative effects of snow
Goodman found that more kids stay home from school when the
weather is bad, but that all kids miss class when the weather is
really bad and schools close. That's fairly obvious, but few have
taken the time to separate out possible differences in the
effects of each situation.
Goodman determined that school closures don't affect student
outcomes (defined in this case as standardized test performance).
On the other hand, individual student absences do have an impact
-- especially when it comes to math achievement.
The power of the individual
How can this be?
Flickr / audio luci store.
It's probably because when schools close, teachers can easily
reschedule their lesson plans for the whole class, so it's a case
of no harm, no foul. But when one individual misses a class --
particularly math, where lessons are cumulative -- both that
student and his or her classmates are affected by the disruption.
With students missing school at different times, coordinating
where everyone is on the syllabus becomes more challenging, and
thus performance declines.
Goodman found that these types of disruptions can have a
significant impact on math performance, and that it can explain
up to 25% of the income achievement gap: Poorer kids tend to miss
What does this have to do with me?
There is also
indicating that partners in a relationship can influence
each other's habits (for good or bad), meaning that one person
falling off the exercise wagon, for example, can encourage the
other to do the same.
With that in mind, I'd venture to guess that the downsides of
missing one day don't just apply to school. In the adult version,
think about your colleagues or clients, who might be waiting for
something from you in order to do their jobs. What about the
effects on your family when you don't tackle that retirement
savings program, or when you stop eating healthfully?
So the next time your kid wants to stay home on a snowy day to
watch movies, or you feel like splurging your savings on
something frivolous, consider the lesson of the snow day: What
you decide can not only affect your own life, but those of
others. Is it worth the splurge?
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Why "It's Just One Day" Isn't a Good Excuse
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