“After a child has arrived at the legal age for attending school, whether he be the child of noble or of peasant, the only two absolute grounds of exemption are sickness and death.” -Horace Mann
- Most teachers trained for teaching, not distance learning.
- Most broadband infrastructure gets a solid “D”
- Many parents want “school care” while they work
- Teachers want classroom privacy
- Distance public school is not home school
What We Learned About Home Schooling From COVID-19
Primary school in the early 1800s remained a local and private process. Families arranged the primary education through a local church or by subscription in a community. Washington Irving’s image of Ichabod Crane tottering into town on his poor horse reflected the reality of colonial America.
The public school movement in Massachusetts in 1837 was in opposition to the rise of parochial schools to educate poor Irish and German immigrant children pouring into the country.
Horace Mann, along with Henry Barnard and Catherine Beecher, gets credit for the common school movement in response to the “school wars” of the period.
Mann clearly believed that young savages could be educated into republican citizens. He said, “Jails and prisons are the complement of schools; so many less as you have of the latter, so many more must you have of the former.”
Public school steadily became compulsory until by 1900 Abraham Lincoln’s education of “bits and pieces”, his informal classical education could not exist legally in any home. Homeschooling gradually returned, but all fifty states only allowed homeschooling again in 1993, and then under strict state legal constraints.
Usher in the plague of 2020.
Teachers died and schools emptied until distance education was the new normal. Education Week said that by early May 2020, 80 percent of teachers reported that they interacted with the majority of their students remotely. Nearly two centuries of the Common School Movement ended with a bang.
Public and private schools displayed glittering unpreparedness. School in some places became giant staff meetings with teachers staring for hours into little Zoom windows of student faces, lecturing, holding up pieces of paper to the laptop camera, and sending off emails.
Even this electronic Common School covered only a fraction of the “savages” who had been in classrooms before the holidays in 2019.
The lucky students had broadband Internet in their homes. They watched their teachers in privacy. The home broadband allowed them to ask questions in real time, and submit material either on the schools platform or with email.
The rest, those in small apartments, or whose parents needed to use the computer to work, or whose parents were “essential workers” and could not watch them, it was much less education than even the staff meeting model. Many seniors graduated in the spring of 2020 without the school having any idea whether they had jumped through the common hoops.
True, some school districts provided distance education to students through programs like K-12 that the districts had been using for marginal and troubled students. These schools expanded the distance enrollment, added existing teachers as instructors, provided laptops to those families without home resources, and even sometimes installed Internet into student’s homes.
Most schools also continued the food and counseling programs on-site for disadvantaged students who were dependent on the nutrition programs. The problem was that the alternative programs originally charged additional fees for providing services. The common school adaptation of their resources were a substantial drain on district funds.
Most teachers who trained to teach in the classroom were unprepared for the remote classroom. Teaching distance classes challenged the eyes and the imagination. Besides, what happened to the value of socialization at school. The ghost of Horace Mann stood in the audience in mute horror.
Despite calls to restart schools and most schools complying in fits and starts, 2021 is apt to continue the process of remote learning. The near-monopoly on common education is gone, so what we learned about home schooling from COVID-19 going into the second year of the pandemic and intermittent school lock-downs?
A few things:
- Educators remain unprepared and under-trained for distance learning. Some Silicon Valley companies, like Oracle and Cisco, train staff extensively across the world on-line. The certification processes work in transferring complex knowledge to diverse populations; however, these classes automated applications. Public School Teachers never conceived of delivering education like that. That is, without them involved.
- The infrastructure in most communities stands woefully inadequate to deliver distance learning into any home where a student lives. Ramping up the infrastructure of broadband, particularly to rural communities is a national project costing billions of dollars and for what? To replace the government schools and political educators with online applications?
- Schooling in the home requires a proctor to supervise the child. Multiple job families provide no proctor for the child, and may need the computer and Internet resources for work.Continued home classroom requirements could require rethinking the entire two income economy. The school as babysitter and nutrition center is almost as durable a feature of common schools as the yellow school bus.
- Moreover, parents often chose public or private school over homeschooling because of the school and the teacher. To force parents to receive distance education from the school district, joins the unwilling with the unqualified. Again, the Oracle University model works, but present home school providers own best existing course-ware. Few public schools would be comfortable giving up their own curriculum.
- This applies to teachers too. Parents are often not welcome in the home classroom. Teachers find outsiders hard to deal with and believe that the home environment can have a chilling effect of open discourse. This may be ideological, but it may just be that nobody likes to work with strangers looking over their shoulder.
- The existing homeschooling parents went through the lock downs barely missing a beat. Those children are at least a year ahead of their common school neighbors. Reports of others filling their ranks during 2020 are unconfirmed, but likely. They may have been living on the cutting edge of the future of American education.
What We Learned About Home Schooling From COVID-19?
Can the obvious problems of teacher training, home infrastructure and family resources come up to speed? This conflicts with the mission of every government school.
Can a project the scope of this be implemented? Urban and rural? Affluent and poor? Across parties and political boundaries? Or will local governments just override the health concerns of teacher unions and parents and open up the schools anyway? After all, the “classroom to job or prison” model is deeply entrenched.
Who is going to drive those yellow buses into the next century? The public education sector employs millions. Powerful forces oppose this change.
What We Learned About Home Schooling From COVID-19? We learned that the venerated old institution of common schools must change. We learned also that the public sector has no ideas how to change it.