Sunday, April 26, 2020

Education In Isolation

I have two kiddos (17 (M) and 14 (F)) in public High School. I have a nephew (10) and niece (7) in public Elementary. 

Needless to say the “education from home” amidst this COVID crisis has been troubling. In talking with my brother, it sounds like Elementary education has being going reasonably well for his family. These thoughts are primarily formed by my experience with my crew. 

As with the state of our Hospitals, the systems and frameworks we setup to educate our children (public and private) have failed deeply in this pandemic. While there is an immediacy to the physical health challenge of course, I’m faced with the longer-term impact of what this pandemic means to the next generation’s education.

A few things stand out for me:
  • Social. Humans are social animals (even us introverts), and the developmental window our children are in has been slammed shut when it comes to social/human interaction. As the state of our broader world today has proven to us, video/audio/text is not a replacement for healthy human interaction, in fact, it wreaks havoc on it. The psychological impact this isolation is having on our kids is heavy.
  • Curriculum. Watching the teachers attempt to morph their curriculum to “remote learning” has been a disaster. The tools they’re using to disseminate information, collect information, register attendance, and generally communicate is embarrassing. It’s hard to blame any of the teachers themselves; most are doing the best they can. Teaching younger minds through disconnected experiences en mass, simply doesn’t work. It’s hard to blame the administrations themselves either, as they had to turn on a dime into the unknown. Particularly troubling on the curriculum front has been that my kids can get all of their work done in just a couple of hours each day. Part of that is probably a stripped down curriculum to simplify the process during stressful times. Another part is of course because in-person education incoroporates socialization which is important. However, I’ve resolved at least a few hours everyday of our in-person schooling was probably a complete waste of time and wholely inefficient.
  • Teachers. Parents aren’t equipped to be teachers of the curriculum we’ve come to expect our children to learn. Teachers aren’t equipped to teach/deliver said curriculum “remotely.” We’re many decades into supporting a system (in-person, school-house, “teachers”) that wasn’t remotely designed for “at home.” To make things worse, that support has been pitiful at best over the past several decades. The system’s been crumbling for a long time.
  • Online. There is a non-trivial percentage of our population that doesn’t have reliable infrastructure (quiet place at home, network connection, devices) to support “remote learning” anyway, so, the above points don’t even apply. I read a story the other day about some kids being caught outside their school under a blanket huddling around a screen to use the school’s WiFi access point in order to do their schoolwork.
  • Welfare. I didn’t understand why our school district administrators were beating the “food distribution” drum so loudly from the onset. It turns out, we use our public schools as a means to actually feed a non-trivial percentage of our child population in the United States. I had no idea. This gets complicated when there’s no cafeteria to leverage for distribution.
  • The Gap. We are faced with at least a three-month gap in the education of our children at large. Are they learning during this period? Of course, but, not at all to the degree they were before the crisis. How does that play out downstream? From graduation, to college, to future employer expectations, etc.

I can’t believe things could be any more desperate for our education system than they have been over the past few decades, but, they are. Our districts are sitting ducks for the slick technology packages that technology driven education firms have been aching to sell. “5G? Now’s the time!” “Screens for all? Now’s the time.” “Digital curriculum? Let’s get you setup with that!” I fear that desperation is going to cause deep and wide contracts to be signed without a semblance of a broader plan for national education expectations. We may be entering a highly splintered education era.

It would be cool if we ralllied in this time of need and pulled together a comprehensive plan to educate our children. One that supports the children, teachers, and the parents. Education would be such a neat thing to throw weight behind in this moment. We have a chance to reboot the system. I’m curious to see how this goes.

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