Home Schooling is Hard. For Most, it’s an Impossible Responsibility
Home schooling is hard work, really hard. Ask any mother or father engaged in the task. It requires discipline, hard work and the most important element, a parent or adult to assist in the process. The modern day working family where both parents are involved in eking out an existence doesn’t have this luxury. The idyllic setting depicted above exists exclusively for the privileged classes and isn't a solution for the average American working class family.
The unspoken agreement between family and state
Schools don’t just serve as a repository for knowledge and learning, they also act as day care centers, feeding schemes and melting pots for healthy peer based interaction. It is an unspoken social contract that exists between family and state. Educate and take care of our children and we will enslave ourselves in the pursuit of dinner on the table and the great American dream.
The Covid pandemic has meant lockdown. Lockdown meant no schooling and while most families were quarantined together, everything was okay, after a fashion. Little Johnny or Susan had parents on hand to assist in the new distance learning strategy, but all that has changed.
With lockdowns relaxed parents were offered the opportunity to return to work. There was a problem though, a huge one. Their children. Trump called for the reopening of schools to facilitate the return to work. Remember the unspoken contract. There was a massive outcry, teachers revolted, parents were horrified and the media turned the whole event into a circus, not that it needed much help.
I’m not in the US as I write this, but in the Philippines. They’ve opted for not reopening schools and have instead chosen to send workbooks home to the children. Here, family units are still mostly intact and their is always someone on hand who isn’t working to help the child. A parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt.
Whilst this sounds like a viable solution it isn’t. Workbooks are poorly constructed, written in English and are not age appropriate. Many questions focus on the emotional effect of the pandemic on the child. You’re supposed to be teaching the child mathematics, not gathering data for a thesis twelve months down the line.
I’m an adult and I have problems verbalizing and processing my emotions with regards all of this. How then is a ten year old supposed to process their thoughts? What has become glaringly apparent in our Filipino household is that the responsibility of the teacher in a formal schooling environment has now been passed down to the nearest available adult. A hopelessly unqualified and woefully prepared adult, for the most part.
Ten year olds cannot self-motivate, they cannot self-study and they cannot decipher poorly constructed teaching aids. They require an adult, and this fact holds true, irrespective of their geographic location. What to do then, if there’s no adult available? If mom and dad have to work. Are many western children simply being abandoned at home to their own fates?
I suspect, for parents with no other options, that this is in fact the case. A generation of youngsters abandoned to their own lot, snacks (if they’re lucky) in the refrigerator and a lecture before the parents leave.
Remember to do your work. Don’t switch on the telly and I am going to test you when I get home
This isn’t a solution. It is a generation of children with gaps in their education and strong feelings of societal and parental abandonment. It’s millions of parents saddled with additional guilt at a time they can least afford it. Grandparents cannot step in as they are isolating to protect themselves from the virus and Western families no longer follow the Asian model of extended families under one roof.
We are separate and distinct units, parents and children, each functioning in dismal isolation from the larger group, each engaged in their own battle to stay afloat. Which brings us to the crux of the matter.
If the state (government) is unable to fulfil their societal contract with families through no fault of their own – we can’t blame the pandemic on governments, only their inept responses – where does this leave families with young children?
It’s not simply an educational issue, although that’s the key point here, but other factors weigh in heavily on the closure of schools. School feeding programs — critical in many areas and often the only decent meal a child will receive for the day. Social interaction with peers — essential to the development of a healthy mind and later life skills. These are important factors and all point to one thing.
We need to address the widespread reopening of schools as a priority. Our concern should be with the children. With their need for education, mental health physical wellbeing and our obligation to provide them with these.
It’s all too risky
Are there risks involved with reopening the public schooling systems? Hell yes. We’ve seen the consequences first hand, but that doesn’t mean that the first ill-informed and poorly executed attempt for a return to open schools should dissuade us from trying again. It doesn't mean that the media should latch onto isolated outbreaks as justification for closing down all schools.
At the height of the first lockdown in America businesses still functioned. Deliveries were made, garbage was collected and systems functioned in the background whilst we remained isolated in our homes. It had to happen and we found a way. Schools have to happen.
We need to try again for the sake of our children.
Yes there are risks. There always will be in a situation like this but they are worthwhile. There are always solutions to any problem and a well formulated plan developed in conjunction with teachers and parents and that enjoys their support would be the starting point.
Pay the teachers a decent wage to start with. They’re risking their lives right now to educate our children, so reward them commensurately. Stop being cheap, now isn’t the time for it. Live stream teachers into classrooms. We have the technology and a system like this could be deployed quickly and cost effectively. Just one idea to mitigate exposure risk. There are many.
We know children can die from Covid but the risks are so minimal as to be negligible when balanced against the needs of the community at large. Those fortunate enough to be able to spend time with their child at home should allowed the choice to keep their children home until we come out on the other side of this. Things are difficult for everyone and if we learn one thing from this pandemic it should be this.
Democracy and its processes matter, now more than ever, and the principles of equal and equitable representation need to be applied to all our institutions affected by the pandemic, from schooling to healthcare. We cannot have isolated institution's run by individuals with distorted and often unrealistic views of the reality on the ground, making decisions that influence all of society.
All the players need to be identified and consulted. This is the how we arrive at cohesive, sensible pandemic strategies that favor everyone. No one left behind.