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A Well-Rounded Education Cannot be Digitized

November 26, 2020

I am about one-fourth of the way into Jack Schneider’s and Jennifer Berkshire’s A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of Public School. As I experience one in three of my students in quarantine related to COVID-19, I am keenly aware of how limited computer-delivered education is absent immediate, in-person, teacher-student and student-student relationships.

Human beings grow and learn best in relationship, which should come as no surprise since humans are social beings.

And yet, as Schneider (no relation) and Berkshire so deftly explain, the likes US ed sec Betsy DeVos– who would like nothing more than to erase public education from existence– would just as soon also eliminate as many teachers as possible in favor of students interacting with machines– and all in the name of reducing human beings to “career ready” servers of the market. After all, machines are cheaper and cannot unionize, and a *successful* outcome is one that serves business and industry.

However, in this time of pandemic-induced, online-ed proliferation, it is the rare person who sees isolated students sitting in front of computer screens as pedagogically desirable. Having my students in quarantine connected to my classroom only via their Chromebooks is not an “answer” but a tolerated necessity during this COVID crisis, and it has me constantly trying to figure out ways to keep my students’ education afloat until next I see them in person– a “figuring out” that is tedious, time-consuming, and exhausting.

I am not saying I am against quarantining, but I sure do understand the push by some (admin, teachers, parents, and students) to convince authorities to ditch quarantining in favor of having students in school. I do not support this view, but I fully understand the critical role that interacting with my students in person and in real time has upon their growth and development, not only academically but more broadly as human beings– which brings me to a second point.

The issue that landed many of my seniors in quarantine was the effort by adults to give those seniors an experience related to a “normal” senior year (in this case, homecoming) while purposely ignoring the fact that one cannot simply will “normality” into being by ignoring current pandemic reality.

No more mid-pandemic party buses, please.

That said, I do get it. Despite the push of cost-cutters like DeVos to reduce education to cheaply-delivered core academics, school is much more than core academics because human beings are wonderfully complex. In the case of my seniors, they do need some delightful social celebrations to enhance their enjoyment of their high school experiences, for that delight provides an indispensable richness that nourishes not just today’s academics. That delight inclines the heart in favor of lifelong learning, to which “career readiness” is anemically inadequate.

I only ask those adults to create opportunities for celebration that also account for safety during a pandemic. It is not ideal; that is true, but it can be done. Forego the party bus in favor of a socially-distanced, outdoor dinner for a few friends, for example. That way, my seniors get their celebration, and I get to have them in class, in person, quarantine-free, and we use the Chromebook as an in-person, educational tool and not as the primary vehicle for delivery of tedious, remote instruction.

Everybody wins. Except DeVos.

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2 Comments
  1. Daedalus permalink

    I’m wondering if it wouldn’t have been better just to allow the kids to take the year off. By not attending pre-k or kindergarten, I learned a lot by just exploring my environment with a same-age friend. Certainly a one-year break is not a critical wound that would scar for life.

    Of course, in out ‘society’, that would have meant paying educators for not teaching, but during the year perhaps teachers could have been ‘assigned’ some readings in the latest research in their field (perhaps like an extra year of graduate school they were paid to attend).

    I remember a time when I was actually paid to attend graduate school (teaching assistantship) and was given free tuition. Why are things so much worse now than they were in the 1960’s?

    But, then, who would ‘baby-sit’ the teenagers with both parents having to work in order to sustain the lifestyle to which they have been suckered into? Well… That’s where adequate government support (and perhaps a bit of scrimping) comes into play. But, I’m talking about anathema to our current structure (I almost said ‘society’ instead of structure, but I’m not sure we have a society anymore).

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