We are only a third of the way through summer but the start of another school year is nearly upon us and many questions about it still remain. Among them, will classrooms be open and if not, when? It isn’t an easy question, of course, because the answer depends on many unknowns such as the course of the COVID-19 pandemic which affects different parts of the country and even the state differently, progress in containing the pandemic and the degree of risk we are willing to take. It’s a fluid situation and there is still a lot we don’t know about the disease, although there’s no shortage of opinions, not all of which are based on what we do know.
Meanwhile, California’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, have opted to start the school year on August 31 with online instruction only. Others, like Orange County, plan to resume classroom teaching and still others are keeping their options open as conditions change. It’s no small decision because of the lead time and expense involved in configuring classrooms and making other changes to reduce the risk of infection and the need for working parents to make necessary arrangements if the schools don’t open or stay opened.
Because of the many factors to be considered and the fact that the disease affects regions differently, the decision should be made by local authorities and politics should not be a factor. And yet, it always seems to be these days in almost every important decision. Republicans tend to favor reopening schools and accepting the risk. Democrats tend to disagree. I find it strange that some parents who believe that reopening schools would be too risky apparently saw little risk in taking their children to crowded demonstrations to “watch democracy in action.” On the other hand, pressure to reopen schools and threatening to withhold federal funding for those who don’t is yet another bad idea from Washington. This not a problem that is amenable to a “one size fits all” solution.
Local decisions on reopening classrooms ought to be based on input from all stakeholders, especially parents, teachers and health authorities. Adults being generally more at risk than children, teachers’ concerns should be respected and if they are not comfortable with the risk because of age or underlying conditions, perhaps they could be used to facilitate online teaching. Likewise if some parents are too uncomfortable with the risk, they should be able to choose online teaching or home schooling.
Most educators agree that while online teaching is suitable in many applications, in-person teaching is much more effective for most children. There can be too many distractions at home and some children do not do well with online instruction. If I still had school age children, I would be heavily-influenced by the belief that depriving them of in-person interaction with their classmates and teachers for a prolonged period could have a harmful effect on their emotional and social development, perhaps more harmful than any learning gap that might occur or risk of infection.
Speaking of parental input to school opening decisions, parents would also do well to get more involved with what their children are being taught, online or in person, particular with national attention focused on racial inequality. Schools may find themselves under pressure to embark on re-education programs that emphasize white privilege and white guilt. It’s worrisome enough that many university students are subjected to a steady diet of radical progressive views imparted by overwhelmingly liberal faculty members. College students, most of them at least, are mature enough to make their own decisions on what to believe or will be, hopefully, soon after graduation and exposure to the real world, but children should not be indoctrinated to feel guilt about events of the past that they had nothing whatever to do with or to feel guilty about advantages their parents provided them by dint of hard and honest work.
Parents, not teachers, should have the lead in instilling values in their children. Teachers need to stick to their job descriptions which should not include indoctrinating children or making them feel guilty about their race or believing that their ancestors were evil and that their country is not worthy of their allegiance. It may be uncomfortable for many parents to get involved in what their kids are being taught but nobody said parenting was easy and, unfortunately, many parents may not be up to it. Not all learning occurs in school, though. Much of it should happen at home and many of the problems that we blame on schools are not a result of poor teaching but rather poor parenting. So get involved. Attend school board meetings and parent/teacher conferences. You have a voice and you owe it to your kids to use it when their future is involved.
Dr. Kelly is a freelance writer and retired Navy Captain who commanded three San Diego-based ships, a research and development center and taught ship handling, seamanship and navigation at Naval Station San Diego. He earned his doctorate in education at USD, taught graduate students and was a senior vice-president and director of training and development at Great American Bank. He has written over 1500 newspaper and journal articles and has been a regular contributor to the Eagle&Journal since 2001.