A Different Approach to Opening Schools

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I am struck by the contradictions of some people on this blog. On the one hand, they are terribly troubled, even outraged, by what they see as liberal indoctrination happening in our schools (here and here, for examples). On the other hand, they are outraged at the prospect that the schools may be closed due to the pandemic (here and here, among many others). I suppose these contradictory positions can be rationalized with the idea that liberal indoctrination is better than no education.

But I digress. It seems to me that rational thought is not being brought to this confusion over the opening of the schools. I would like to pose a solution that I have not seen considered.

First, let’s start with what we know or have some evidence for:

  1. Virtual education is difficult for young children. They have short attention spans. They are not disciplined. They learn better from hands-on instruction. It is harder to design virtual education instruction for them. Many parents are not equipped, educationally or temperamentally, to assist young children with virtual children
  2. Virtual education is easier for older children. They are used to computers. They can be more disciplined. It is easier to design virtual courses for them. In fact, there are a multitude of such courses already available.
  3. Young children should not be left alone in the home. Virtual education will be a real hardship for single parents with young children, as well as for two-parent families in which both parents need to work.
  4. Older children can be left in the home alone for long periods of time. For example, kids as young as 13 often baby-sit for siblings or are hired by adults to baby-sit.
  5. Evidence from a recent large-scale study in South Korea indicates that younger children (0-9) are less likely to be infected by coronavirus and there seems to be a low likelihood that they will spread it.
  6. Evidence from that same study indicates that older children (10-19) are more likely to be infected and their likelihood of spreading it is the same as it is for adults.

These factors seem to point to a situation in which kindgergarten and elementary schools are opened for in-school education. On the other hand, high school classes would be conducted on-line. The dilemma lies with middle school  (13-15 year olds). I would say, “Take a chance.” Allow this group to attend in-school classes.

This approach would be simpler. The students needing in-school class the most (K-middle school) would get it. Teachers would be safer; they would not have to interact with the higher-risk population. Teachers would not be burdened with having to prepare both in-school lessons and on-line lessons. Parents could plan better. There would be some situations that could constitute a problem, e.g.  high school kids without adequate access to the internet. But, I think they could be worked out a lot easier than those problems posed by hybrid programs, all virtual programs, or all in-school approaches. It is not a perfect solution, but nothing is perfect in this situation.