Confronted by the School Question in a Time of Pandemic

Confronted by the School Question in a Time of Pandemic

Summary:

Among the ways that COVID-19 has up-ended our society has been the question of schooling. With the closure of schools in the spring of 2020 and the shift to remote learning followed by the big question about the re-opening of schools in the fall, our society has had to grapple with the best way to educate our children and even what education is for.

Among the ways that COVID-19 has up-ended our society has been the question of schooling. With the closure of schools in the spring of 2020 and the shift to remote learning followed by the big question about the re-opening of schools in the fall, our society has had to grapple with the best way to educate our children and even what education is for.

Many parents, afraid of either sending their kids into crowded schools or of their children falling through the cracks of remote learning, have decided to find alternatives like homeschooling, so-called learning pods, and private schools.1

A lot of the hoary, old shibboleths of education are being questioned and re-examined. Some parents complain that their remote-learning children either ignore their assigned work (which is where the parent steps in?) or get all their work for the week done by Tuesday afternoon. Of course, this the lesson that many long-time homeschoolers have learned: A lot of school time is busywork and babysitting, that school learning shouldn’t take 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, never mind additional hours of homework.

Spark curiosity

Another parent says they want to enroll their children in an elite private school because they want to see an academic curiosity and spark in their children again. But I would say again that this isn’t the school’s responsibility, but yours as parent. You can spark your child’s curiosity with your own, your enthusiasm and encouragement, just as Melanie and I have done with our kids and which we have seen among countless other homeschooling families.

And we do it all in a few hours a day. Our kids spend a couple hours in the morning doing math and writing and then a few hours in the afternoon in literature, science, and history through group read-aloud. And in between they have imaginative play and they read books and play games. And we regularly (when such things were possible) went to museums, nature sites, and other institutions that bring them into contact with the world around them.

Of course, one of the big concerns is that only those with sufficient means can afford private school and that the poor are stuck in public schools with dwindling enrollment.

Experts say the shift is predictable, but it could also have heavy consequences in the near and long terms, as these families — who are typically middle or upper-income — take with them vital funding and political advocacy for the public schools.

Well, advocacy is one thing—although most smart folks will understand that advocating for other people’s kids to succeed is good for everyone including their own children. A rising tide lifts all boats. But the funding question is moot under the current situation since every family has to pay to support public schools through their taxes whether they send their kids there or not.

They also worry that taking wealthier kids out of the schools will lead to more segregation and lower outcomes for those who are left.

Kahlenberg noted that research shows low-income students perform far better when they attend economically mixed schools compared to schools where most students live in poverty. “It’s that one-two punch — reducing economic prospects for families and increasing economic segregation — that help spell disaster for low-income students,” he said.

Of course, there’s a solution that the public school advocates don’t want to hear about: tuition vouchers. Let families without independent means take the value of their child’s public school per-student funding and enroll in a private school, just like the rich kids. If the welfare of the kids was the primary goal of the politically liberal public-school lobbyists they would agree, but of course it’s not. Union jobs, votes, and social engineering are all more important.

Whither Catholic schools?

Meanwhile, lots of private schools, including Catholic schools, are seeing big enrollment increases. This should be good news, but there’s a dark lining to that silver cloud.

“I’d like to think it has to do with the spirituality and theology foundation offered at St. Mary’s, but, I’m just being honest, that has not come up in the last 30 conversations I’ve had with new prospective parents,” said John Dolan, St. Mary’s head of school. “It’s been all about academic quality: ‘I can’t afford to have my child miss another year of school.‘”

I think he misses the entire point. Whether or not the parents are sending their children to his school for its theology or for academics, this is a huge opportunity. (And, to be fair, maybe Dolan said as much to the reporter and they didn’t include it in their quote.)

Catholic schools need to embrace their primary mission: Evangelization. Like all Christians, we have a mission that underlies (or should) all of what we do, no matter what else the mission is: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a)

Every school should see this as an opportunity to provide the top-notch education that parents are seeking while also giving the students a precious gift far above an academic degree, which is a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Selfishness

Predictably, the liberal pro-public activists see parents’ concerns for their children as selfishness: “Parents are choosing to use their pocketbook and their self-interest to try to provide the best education they can for their children,” says one of them, but of course it’s clear that this isn’t a good thing. And the solution, as always, is more and more tax money, i.e. money sucked out of the pockets of the families who aren’t happy with their children’ educations.

It used to be a given that parents would do whatever they needed to take care of their own children, that they were the primary guardians of the children’s well-being. For a large swath of bureaucrats and pundits and ideologues, that’s no longer the case. It is the state and the bureaucracy that does whatever it must for all children, that all children fall under their purview, and that if some must get less in order for others to get some, then so be it, regardless of what the parents can or want to do.

In a weird way, we can thank the pandemic for exposing this agenda so clearly and making the conflicting world views so evident for us.

  1. Learning pods are a group of families who band together to hire a teacher for their kids, which is essentially like the 19th-century one-room schoolhouse we see in books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lucy Maud Montgomery.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
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