"Lost time," is how one mother down the block described her kids' experience since school closed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Oh, they do the worksheets, she said. But it just isn't the same. They're not learning. And given the lockstep curriculum, she worries that when school picks up in the fall—if school picks up in the fall—then her kids will be woefully behind where they should be.
At least they'll have plenty of company.
This wasn't a scientific survey, mind you. Not even journalism. Just conversation. Though the Sun-Times' own Nader Issa looked at this issue last week and found e-education at best uneven. It makes sense that a system that struggles to teach kids in the flesh would not be able to seamlessly transition on short notice to a whole different manner of instruction.
I had the topic on my mind because I had just passed a series of chalk cris de coeur from another mother, of a special needs child, who the day before had explained how that child's teacher dumped a bunch of curriculum on her at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night, and then promptly vanished when she had questions about it.
My reporter's gut tells me that people without kids, or whose kids have been long grown, might not be all that sympathetic. Even a bit judgmental. In their eyes, what person is in a better position to teach their kids than their own parents? Just grab a piece of chalk and do it.
Forgetting that teaching is a skill. Forgetting that we are no longer in the 1950s, and many mothers have jobs, despite the virus, and can't suddenly morph into 7th grade social studies instructors, or whatever. They wouldn't take that approach about health care. Parents can give an aspirin, but they don't become doctors.
I was never any good at teaching my boys. I remember when the older one was writing a report on Andrew Jackson. He was sitting at my desk, was reading the Wikipedia entry on Jackson while I stood beside him, holding open one of those gorgeous graphic history books, the kind with cool layouts—oil portraits and maps and relics, gold pocket watches as if they were sitting on the page. I had snagged the book at work and kept it, waiting for this moment, to supplement his education. But first, I had to get him to shift his eyes from the screen to the book in my hands, held within his field of vision. I failed. He told me, in essence, to scram, and I shut the book and retreated.
Teaching is hard. I bumped into a teacher and her husband out walking Tuesday morning. I asked her how remote teaching was. "Kids don't listen online as easily as they don't listen in person," she replied.
No, a few months lost to the tender mercies of public education won't ruin many kids, particularly not in the suburbs. On one hand, some students go through years of school and don't learn squat. On the other, the loss to education posed by the virus doesn't seem to be on the radar of many. Perhaps we're too worried about dying. But it seems it should be a topic of conversation, on par with the risk to the football season.