I invite you on a short mental journey.
Last night, before bed, my wife told me of an e-mail sent by the school district. It warned that any children who were participating in distance learning and were either failing to regularly attend or were showing drastically lower grades would be required to shift to on-campus learning. We both acknowledged that wouldn’t be an issue for us, but we were concerned for some of my daughter’s friends.
Shortly after waking and morning ablutions, I went to a nearby grocery store, or as I’ve taken to calling them, a plague box. I went inside because there are a handful of items that aren’t available for curbside delivery. After donning an N95 mask and nitrile gloves I made a quick trip through the store, purchasing the desired items. It took less than fifteen minutes but it felt like an hour.
This ratcheted up my stress level. I was therefore not in the best of emotional states when NPR provided the tale of an overstressed elementary school teacher who was in emotional turmoil because of the extra hours and the difficulties she was having trying to balance the instruction of distance learners and in-school students. The implication, that the teacher wanted a return to normal, was made clear when an NPR expert told the reporter and the listening audience that there were no good choices, only different levels of bad choices, and that therefore the obvious best answer was to end remote learning and bring all of the students back.
While an argument can be made that the city officials, mostly Republican, were promoting the Trump agenda, few would suggest that NPR is a Republican-leaning organization. The obvious answer – backed up by the decisions throughout the country – is that one rare point of commonality, aside from wanting to spend more taxpayer money, is that elementary schools should remain open despite the danger to both children and teachers.
For the record, there are less than fifty staff members at my daughter’s school. Since the opening this year, at least three have contracted COVID-19 and at least ten more have had to isolate because of exposure… and the official definition of exposure is far more lenient than someone who wears an N95 for a shopping trip would appreciate. The requirements for notification are when a person has spent fifteen minutes within six feet of another individual.
The teachers are overburdened, absolutely… and with classrooms more densely packed full of students who are not going to be uniformly taking all necessary precautions, there will be more transmission of the illness, which in turn means more children with long-term issues and more teachers who are dead.
It was in this frame of mind that I returned home to discover that my daughter was failing two subjects.
I don’t press the matter often, but my daughter reads at a high school level; exactly what grade level is not certain, because the testing provided ends at Junior year and she closed it out. She tests at seventh grade math skills, and in order to keep her interested and learning she has a weekly math class with a tutor in Canada. This isn’t something we pushed on her, it’s a reward for which she begged us. My concern was that she would be bored in school, so for the first and second year, prior to COVID-19, I would caution her: try to learn at least one thing every day.
Our discussions are typically whether we’re going to allow her to skip grades or whether we keep her with her friends. To discover that she’s failing, just after the warning arrived, was distressing. The urge to aggressively react was strong.
Instead, I focused on discovering the problem. It seems that my daughter is getting no credit for many assignments because she’s not completing the assignment correctly. Faced with basic multiplication and division, she’s putting down the answer but she isn’t showing the work… and thanks to Common Core, showing the work is more important than getting the correct answer. At that, it’s not merely showing work, it’s showing it in a specific way; 3×6 may need to be shown as 6+6+6, while showing it as 3+3+3+3+3+3 is considered wrong. Simply saying “18” is completely wrong. On the writing side, she was frustrated by the simplistic paragraphs she was being assigned to produce and was simply fulfilling the minimum requested in any task. She has also been repeatedly dinged for not paying attention when being taught phonics sight words.
I think it’s been addressed. She has the ability to revise her assignments, and spent much of the day doing so. We’ll stay on top of things, and she should be back to earning high marks.
But if I’m to caution her to learn something every day, I should do the same.
What I learned today, not for the first time since COVID-19 or the rise of Trump, is that emotion is a lousy substitute for reason when you’re trying to solve a problem. It may feel good to vent for a little while, but it ultimately accomplishes nothing. With any luck, application of that view will allow my daughter to remain in distance learning until children’s vaccines become available. It seems like a viable suggestion to others as they try to navigate a holiday season with a fraud squatting in the White House and far too many on all political sides preaching hate and divisiveness.