‘Schooling from home’ impacts reveal need for in-classroom schooling

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

As many of us emerge from our pandemic cocoons, sinking into summer schedules that no longer include the daily battles dubbed “virtual learning,” it is tempting to shut the door on the past few months and try to forget them. It would be easy to allow the dull heat to erase the emotional turmoil that accompanied the chaotic springtime shift to social distancing and schooling from home. Especially with all the important social changes being discussed right now, it’s tempting to rely on “someone else” to sort out what will happen with schooling in the fall.

It’s tempting, but it’s also dangerous. Taxpayer dollars directly fund the state education systems that we, as a society, rely on to turn out educated, adjusted, productive citizens. Therefore, as tax payers, we need to make ourselves heard regarding our preferences. 

The lessons learned from our national experiment of virtual schooling from home need to be examined closely before we make any decisions about what is to happen to our children’s education in the fall. Already some public school districts are rolling out plans that severely limit students’ ability to receive in-school education for the rest of this calendar year. But where is the public dialogue that is informing these decisions? Are we critically questioning the data on which these decisions are based? 

We’ve become a nation fascinated by infection rate and mortality statistics, and seem content to let these data sets, flawed as they may be, drive all other policies. Where are the statistics on the impact of “schooling from home” on: 

Students’ educational achievements? 

An NWEA working paper acknowledges that there is little data as yet, but that projections indicate students are likely to have only met two-thirds of expected progress in reading and less than half of expected progress in math as a result of school closures.

Students’ physical and emotional well-being?

Again, calls for research abound but meaningful data is still scarce. A United Nations policy paper reported, “Lockdowns and shelter in place measures come with heightened risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse… . Children’s reliance on online platforms for distance learning has also increased their risk of exposure to inappropriate content and online predators.” 

Additionally, a survey conducted by a British charity supporting mental health for children and youth reported that 83 percent of respondents felt the pandemic had made their pre-existing mental health conditions worse. 

How virtual schooling impacts the disparities between affluent and not-affluent communities? 

A June New York Times article reports on a study conducted by Brown and Harvard Universities that revealed “student progress in math decreased by about half in classrooms located in low-income ZIP codes, by a third in classrooms in middle-income ZIP codes and not at all in classrooms in high-income ZIP codes.”

Parents’ (and especially mothers’) ability to work?

RAND published insights on the U.S. populations group suffering most from the closure of schools and child care, based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Current Population Surveys, including that approximately 75 percent of U.S. households have children under 14, and up to 26 million families had no access to in-home child care during the pandemic.

The New York Times took a closer look at the impact on working mothers, highlighting that experts are predicting mothers are “more likely to lose a job and more likely to shoulder the load of closed schools and day care. For many working mothers, the gradual reopening won’t solve their problems, but compound them — forcing them out of the labor force or into part-time jobs while increasing their responsibilities at home. The impact could last a lifetime, reducing their earning potential and work opportunities.”

This article raised troubling questions for me about educator well-being, especially when the teachers expected to conduct virtual classrooms are also parents of younger kids. I’ve watched several friends struggle through this challenge since March, and was therefore disappointed that I could find no research or reporting on this segment of the U.S. workforce on whom so many of us have been depending for so much. 

As a result, I wanted to begin the dialogue on the importance of resuming in-person schooling locally by recognizing the incredible efforts our child’s teachers exerted during the pandemic. To that end, I waited until after the academic year was over and grades submitted, then sent letters to both of our son’s teachers thanking them for their resilience, dedication to their students, and caring. I also sent a letter to the school principal, emphasizing the excellence of the teachers’ performances and also stating my hope that school will resume in the fall. I’m happy to share copies of these letters with anyone who would like to use them. Just let me know in the comments. 

I know others who have written to their local legislators and state officials, and I would be grateful if they felt like sharing their experiences in the comments. I plan to do that too, and also to engage with my congressional representative on this issue. The more widely each of us reaches out, the more respectful dialogue we can promote, the more likely we are to come up with a solution that will serve our children as well as our society. 

Re-imagining The Space Between

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash
Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash

Pandemic rules repeatedly remind me that space is a relative concept. Even when lines have been painted on the floor, to some people six feet apparently looks more like six inches, while to others it appears closer to 60 feet. The measurement is not to blame. Humans seem to have always had a need to define their spaces, and as long as that need has existed, each human being has approached space with his or her unique understanding of what it is, how it should be, and how long they want to stay there.

When I first started this blog, my mental space was very different than it is today. I was stuck in the middle of a transfer from career professional to freelancer, and from one continent to another. I was working from home, with a baby and taking those first daring to steps toward becoming a writer. I was desperate to connect with other people who found themselves in similar situations.

I was incredibly lucky to meet Julie Patton, who could not only empathize, but was willing to take a little risk with me by writing about our experiences trying to find sanity in the spaces between, and stick it online. It felt bold and daring, sharing our thoughts with anyone on the web who would read them. We celebrated each new subscriber (yes, You!) and each new idea that allowed us to vent about something that had been driving us just a little bit crazier than we were to begin with.

However, the space Julie and I created here has begun to feel very small in light of all that has been happening in the world lately. Between pandemics and racially-motivated killings, blatant political corruption, and environmental peril, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm to write about tips to mitigate PTO drama, or how to use that drama to create realistic antagonists.

Recently, nothing that I felt comfortable writing about seemed worth writing. I’ve been considering whether to thank you all for your support and put this time toward some other endeavor. My farewell post is half-written, and as this afternoon I was fairly certain that today was the day it was going online.

As I stood in the shower trying to resign myself to closing out this fun experiment, I realized that my problem isn’t that I’m lacking for things to say. The problem is finding the courage to say the things that I feel need to be said.

I’m refocusing The Space Between. I want this to be a space to promote the risky, tricky, beautiful process of transformation. I want it to speak to all the spaces we find ourselves between these days.

I was listening to Unlocking Us with Brene´ Brown earlier, in which she interviews Glennon Doyle on her latest book Untamed. In the interview, Glennon tells the story she uses to open the book, that of a cheetah she and her family saw in a show at a zoo. The cheetah performs for the crowd, gets rewarded and is returned to her enclosure, where her entire demeanor changes. Although the cheetah was born in captivity, there is something wild about the feline form pacing the fence line. It’s as if there is some deep instinct within her that recognizes that there is more to the world than she has ever seen, and she yearns for that space.

Hearing Glennon tell her cheetah metaphor brought two things to mind. The first was the perspective-shifting poem from Leslie Dwight that stopped me in my mental tracks the first time I read it.

Continue reading “Re-imagining The Space Between”