Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Temps perdu

      "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.
 

12 comments:

  1. Hard to believe that Wikipedia will have existed for twenty years as of 2021, and has over 500 million readers evrry month, worldwide. The English edition alone has over six million articles, equivalent to over 2,600 print volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica. If all language editions are included, Wikipedia has over 52 million articles, equivalent to nearly 20,000 print volumes. Meh, so who needs school, anyway?

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    1. Facts are one thing. And a very important thing in today's world of alternate facts, but they are not the sole purpose of education. Good teachers, teachers that are remembered long after they taught, don't teach facts; they somehow instill a love of learning in their pupils along with the techniques for acquiring that learning. I use Wikipedia a lot and appreciate its availability and so far its dependability, but school is where I got my love of learning for its own sake and the tools to pass on that love of learning to my children and grandchildren as best I can.

      john

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    2. Hell, yeah. My sixth-grade teacher made me want to learn more and do the research that allow me to succeed, and to exceed what was expected of us. Tough as nails. Took no crap from anybody. But I enjoyed every minute of that school year.

      She even created her own library for us to use, including old children's books and National Geographics from the Forties and early Fifties. They fascinated me. First owner of a VW Beetle I ever knew. Hard to believe it's been over sixty years. How lucky I was. Thanks, Mrs. Perkins, thanks. I really mean it.

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    3. Totally agree. My Grandmother taught me to read and instilled a love of learning, but many subsequent professional teachers built on that. I've done some part time teaching at the junior college level. Knew the subject matter well enough but looking back now realize how poorly I put it across.

      Tom

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  2. I didn’t like online education before this mess started. Even if the parent or guardian had good teaching skills, nothing can replace the face-to-face interaction between student and teacher and student and student.

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  3. There's no doubt that this is tough for parents. Just having the kids home all the time in and of itself, irrespective of education issues -- I don't know how they don't go crazy.

    As for education, I really feel sorry for parents who can't afford good internet connections (or any at all). This has put their kids behind the 8-ball for years; the virus lockdown will just exacerbate that situation.

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  4. One thing about the teaching profession is that it's constantly in flux. Curriculum changes, methodology changes. The best and brightest teachers lead the way, always adapting to a changing world. When this pandemic is over, school districts everywhere will assess the outcome of today's efforts and learn from the experience. They won't be caught flat-footed if there's a next time.

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  5. teaching is very hard. I am not a teacher. I recently took a quick course in teaching ESL, and was assigned a student just before all this broke loose. There is a very organized adult education program in our county, and I was depending on the support from staff as the student and I met on site.
    Well, that is out the window for now. The student is very motivated, and we are trying to keep going. Yesterday I was asked, 'what does "would" mean?'. I did not know where to start. Teachers are special, and I am not one, yet I am trying to live up to expectations on the student.
    Thanks for your columns.

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    1. I was a volunteer ESL teacher once, or tried to be, with mixed results. If you grow up speaking English, you never realize what an illogical language it is until you try to teach it to someone.

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  6. This is the only thing that the stay at home order luckily hasn't changed for us. Our youngest is a HS senior and has been enrolled at a virtual academy since 8th grade. He's been doing for years what districts are having to scramble to figure out. Spring break was last week, and now he's back in classes from 8-3 everyday. I have a feeling virtual academies will have a surge in enrollment come this fall. To be a teacher is incredibly difficult, I know, I am one, and not everyone is cut out to do it. I really do feel bad for the parents who are overwhelmed by sudden homeschooling, like things aren't crazy enough, now they have to deal with algebra or diagramming sentences again.

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    1. All well and good for those who have reliable access to the Internet. How about those who don’t? There are many in Chicago who fall into this category. These are the same kids who have limited resources with minimal if any parental support. What’s going to happen to them now? There will be many secondary catastrophes that follow this outbreak. The fact that our country is turning into an Autocracy could be the worst.

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  7. I think Wikipedia is great but my kids have been told by teachers not to use it, in very certain terms. Maybe because anybody can edit the thing, maybe because it’s too easy to copy, paste, and plagiarize. The teachers want to see research cited and citing Wikipedia is not acceptable. In my opinion it is a great way to get a general idea of things and get going in the right direction.

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