Part-Time School, or Distance Learning

Two days a week in an Urgent Care Center with laptops, or "Zoom School"

“Alex, I’ll take ‘NEITHER’ for one thousand!”

So, as is undoubtedly happening all over the country, our school system (Loudoun County Public Schools, in Virginia) has finally decided to create two completely separate programs for public school students for the 2020-2021 school year.

Behind door number one, you have the option of going to school 2 days a week, with the balance of your education occurring “asynchronously” (teachers record their lectures and students study them and learn from them on their own time). This is the choice of many who know that their kid desperately needs some personal or intense support in certain areas of their education, and also for those kids who insist that they’ll take as many days away from their families as they possibly can.

The second options is to go 100% "distance learning,” which means the kids will be tuning in with those teachers (“synchronously”) that are not coming into the schools physically and doing “Zoom” classes.

In both cases, the whole online classroom is going to continue to take on (as it began to in the fall) a whole new level of importance, as the Schoology’s and Edmodo’s and Canvas’s of the world grow by leaps and bounds. Teachers can track how much time the kids are actually spending logged in and a whole new measure of “inputs” can be established to determine how successful the system is.

(If you’re wondering what that would actually LOOK like, then go no further than here. That should clear everything up nicely. If you look at that and think, “Is this for teachers or students?” then you might be a normal person.)

In the meantime, it leaves an outside observer wondering: what would happen if we just left it to families to educate their own kids? We’ve already given up, in both of these scenarios, of having their every move watched for 35+ hours a week so the parents can go to work. Two days a week certainly doesn’t solve that “problem.”

What if the school system, directly or through the state, created incentive (universal tuition tax credits come to mind) for educating their own children. It could provide relief for a system that is already taxed (our school system has 95,000+ kids), and allow some actual innovation in schools. (Not “defunding”…only a crazy person would endorse that idea.)

Imagine the opportunities in our community if a sizable percentage of our children (especially teenagers) were neither in school, nor locked into a computer screen with headphones tuning into live to the remote teachers. What if they were given, the time, the flexibility, and the freedom to explore their interests, along with mentors and guidance along the way (from any number of possible sources) to help with their academics?

There are a lot of possibilities, but let’s focus on only one:

In a time where many of our businesses have been suffering, there will be the possibility of customers all day long for businesses that are normally ghost towns during the day. Not only kid-related businesses (martial arts studios, kid gyms, dance studios, you name it), but also restaurants and coffee shops and retailers, and sports and athletic facilities, and add any possible business which has an “after school program”… all could benefit from traffic during the day that would be unheard of with all the families in America holed up at school, home, or work. Libraries and community centers won’t simply be a place for retirees, the dutifully unemployed, and the occasional school group, but vibrant places buzzing all day long with the pitter patter of young kids looking for new and innovative ways to learn.

This family centered approach to community and education is not new. It’s been around for thousands of years all over the world. The singular reason why we require so much of our educational system is the time that parents are required to put into work to support the household. What started out as an “equalizer” and a purported guarantee of a 98+ percent literacy rate, has turned into an outsized demand that families make of their government in order to keep their kids off the streets and out of trouble.

Now before you say, “BUT THE VIRUS!!”… Just. Stop. This is not something that will happen over night. We will get through Covid-19 one way or the other, and we will NOT be wearing masks and putting up plastic barriers and “socially distancing” until the end of time. Think of the 2021-2022 school year, we’ll either have some serious herd immunity, and/or some sort of vaccine or universal treatment, and we’ll go back to “normal.”

“Normal” should not be spending $20,000 a year per kid for a nominally mediocre education which takes up 35 hours of a kid’s week on site away from the rest of civilization, and another 10 or 15 doing “homework” (busy work). Normal should be a community and a marketplace geared for families all day long.