School districts and counties across the US, including counties in COVID-resurgent Texas this week, have mandated that all public and private schools not start their school year until after Labor Day (Sept. 7). Even after that Fall start date, some areas witnessing the current resurgence of cases, such as in California, may not return in person at all or at least go to a half-capacity scenario while offering online options for those families in a position to allow their children to stay home. But concerning online contingency plans, the trend appears to be: Remote learning? No thanks.
Bottom line is that school-wise it’s a time of extreme uncertainty and anxiety for families across the US. And then there are the difficult questions of assuming the moment a ‘normal’ school year actually kicks off – will masks be required through the day? will younger students really be able to practice social distancing? will a school shut down completely again the moment a student or staff member gets coronavirus? will on-campus schooling be safe?
Due to these and other lingering questions, homeschooling is set to explode across the US, despite elites at places like Harvard doing their best to push stereotypes of “insular conservative homeschoolers” and the supposed “dark side” of homeschooling as somehow “detrimental” to societal progress. Regardless, all kinds of ‘alternative’ and hybrid stay at home schooling programs are now popping up organically amid continued pandemic and ‘shutdown’ fears. The Wall Street Journal presents hard numbers illustrating the trend in a lengthy report aptly titled: Amid Coronavirus, Parents ‘Pod Up’ to Form At-Home Schools.
Recent polls show up to a third of Americans are “not at all” comfortable sending their children back to in-person schooling given the COVID-19 risks and ‘unknowns’. And likely this figure is higher.
The Wall Street Journal describes of the recent polling:
A recent poll of 1,341 families by Pittsburgh-based consumer-research firm CivicScience found that more than one-third of parents with children ages 3 to 17 said they are “not at all” comfortable with a return to school in the fall. In a recent Axios-Ipsos poll of 219 parents of children 18 and under, 71% said they felt sending them to school in the fall presented a moderate or large risk to their household’s health and well-being. Not all families can afford to design their own education program. Some households will see their income decline if one parent works fewer hours to manage academics.
And further, the report details, “In the past three weeks, the National Home School Association has referred about 3,000 parents to local home-schooling groups—compared with a handful, if any, in a typical three-week period says Executive Director J. Allen Weston.”
One observable trend taking place across the United States includes families and students gathering in ‘pods’ to conduct their own small-scale schooling. Neighbors or families who already have connections and trusted friendships with children similar in age plan to gather in small groups of 5 to 10 students at people’s homes or even local churches.
Within the homeschool sub-culture these are akin to what’s often referred to as “co-ops”. This involves a homeschool group teaching children at home for most of the week based on a common curriculum, but coming together as a ‘campus’ at an outside location (such as a church or rented building, or in a residence) for one or two days of the week. This also takes the form of community field trips or nature outings. It essentially allows for highly independent schooling, yet while maintaining a broader “structure” and interactive social life.
Interestingly, as the WSJ underscores, parents are actually seeing in the set-back of coronavirus shutdowns and delays of traditional campuses…“an opportunity”. Consider this damning quote of the current established “system” and the state of public school districts from a commentator cited in the WSJ report:
“Schools steal this joy from children.”
Now parents, at least those with the time and resources to make it happen, can model their child’s educational experience very differently from the mundane 8 or 9-hour campus life (which for many students feels more like a prison) regulated by periodic bells and a restrictive atmosphere of procedures set up to move thousands of students from point A to point B throughout the day, or what some authors like John Taylor Ghatto have called “factory model schooling” which is not based on truth-seeking, as all learning should be, but instead on “schooling an industrial proletariat”.
In a revealing section on the state of mass public education today, WSJ writes:
Home-schooling experts say the approach isn’t just logging in to school virtually. Instead, parents and students seek educational opportunities in everyday life, from reading food labels to learning about nature as they walk through a park, Mr. Weston says. “Schools steal this joy from children,” he adds, and escalating pressure to meet benchmarks on standardized tests hasn’t helped. Not all states require home-schoolers to take those tests, he says. Across the U.S., about 4 million K-12 students are home-schooled, Mr. Weston estimates. He believes that figure will rise to at least 10 million by the end of the 2020-21 school year.
The report gives an example of how pods of new homeschooling communities are popping up organically in response to the crisis:
Myra Margolin, a full-time mother of a newborn and preschooler in Washington, created a Facebook group for families interested in forming home-schooling pods. She expected about 30 families would join and exchange ideas. The group, which launched July 6, has more than 850 members. “People are freaking out,” Ms. Margolin says, with interests that range from convening free-form play groups to hiring teachers for more structured learning environments.
And other alternative programs like ‘homeschool nature programs’ and outdoor focused learning programs, and small scale Montessori environments, as well as Charlotte Mason style and classical learning are also soaring in terms of interest.
All of this begs the question: given that even before the rise of the pandemic, public school districts in many cities were already in a state of crisis – academically, financially, culturally, and otherwise…
Could the 2020-2021 school year (or lack thereof) be the death knell for mass public education?