Send Them Back to School

I sat transfixed as the image of Mr. H and all of his luxurious hair was hanging on the wall in front of me. My teacher, a perpetual gentle smile on her face, possessed an unending supply of patience. It was all fascinating—it was kindergarten.

Mesmerized by his energy and enthusiasm, we listened to Mr. Nelson, as he told tales of his musician friend, a member of the popular band Mr. Mister. We were a class of students from all over the world at the International School Bangkok getting ready to embark on our sixth-grade field trip to Khao Yai National Park.

Dreading lunchtime, where finding a location to make myself invisible would be necessary, I listened intently as Mr. Friss explained the meaning behind the classic, 1984. A black sheep (before being a black sheep was cool)—if someone had told me then that school would be closed for the remainder of the school year, I likely would have done cartwheels of joy across the parking lot.

Fast-forward to today’s world. My son, a kindergartener, doesn’t seem to have the blurry memories of people and events that I have of his age. He remembers events in great detail, as far back as 1 year of age. In his kindergarten class, he is well ahead of learning about Mr. H. He is learning how to read books, summarize them, and write paragraphs. He is learning addition, subtraction and even algebra. Yes, algebra in kindergarten! He absolutely loves school. He loves everything about it. He thrives in a structured environment.

When we were told that the school would be closed in an attempt to limit the possible spread of COVID-19, and teachers would be switching their classes to online virtual learning, we all wanted to be positive and take it in stride.

But my son, upon hearing that school was going to be closed for a while—his face fell. My once always-smiling son is now visibly sad upon even the mention of school. I find him looking through old photos, struggling to understand why the life he had so cherished has been yanked away from him, while I struggle to find facts and data regarding how many children are actually dying from this virus.

It’s nice to think that we can all homeschool our children, spending more time with them and becoming more engaged in their education. We take our cutesy pictures of our newly designed home schools and share them proudly. It’s nice until you realize that people go to college to learn how to become a teacher. In many cases, people go on to earn a Master of Education, specializing in certain subjects and specialties—to include autism, learning disabilities, and other such “special needs.” The numbers of children in the United States with these special needs has been increasing year by year.

Teaching is a profession, and it’s not for everyone. Not everyone is qualified to be a teacher. In my case, I am lucky to have an actual teacher living in our home. My husband now is called upon not only to teach his regular elementary school class completely online but also to teach our kindergartener while keeping our preschooler busy.

Teaching online might seem like the way to go, in today’s internet-driven world. It can get the older-grade children prepared for their future online learning endeavors. I am a huge fan of online learning myself. I have taken hundreds of classes online as a way to keep my brain from atrophying during these work-at-home/stay-at-home mom days.

But learning online requires an incredible amount of self-discipline, motivation and a strong mind. I’m not so sure it works for much of the elementary school grades. It is especially hard on the youngest grades.

There is no substitute for hands-on classroom learning for the youngest children. It is in these young beginning grades core, basic skills must be learned to set our children up for future success. Reading is a skill that is best hardwired into a child at a young age, in order to give them the best start possible. Skills such as writing, down to the proper way to hold a pencil—these are taught by our lower grade elementary school teachers and cannot be taught via Zoom.

I cannot help but feel that the longer we have our schools closed down, the more my son, and children like him, are getting a raw deal.

As I write this, I can hear the clamor of parents, shaming me, shrieking that I am making an “irresponsible” statement. Surely I must understand that if their child goes back to school and catches this virus, their child could die!

Except, the data does not support this panicky assertion. All of the facts and figures that I have seen, though not easy to find and certainly not being covered by the media, show that the case fatality rate (deaths from confirmed cases of COVID-19) in the 10-19 year age range is 0.2 percent. In the age range of 0-9 years old, the death rate is zero.

While I’m not as good as my son is with math, it seems clear to me that it is unlikely your child will die from attending school. Perhaps schools could be reopened according to district and county versus a blanket state order. The number of cases and actual deaths should also be factored in. Once schools reopen, there could be an option for parents of children with pre-existing conditions to continue distance learning until they are otherwise comfortable with returning to school.

I don’t know much—I was merely a CIA officer in a past life. But I do know that teachers are not replaceable. We are all giving everything we have and hoping for the best. When this nightmare is over, we must be sure to remember the teachers. Let us never minimize a profession for which most of us are not qualified. Let us not forget that our children are our future, and they need to get back to school.

Photo: Cavan Images/Getty Images

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