The following article was written by Joel Westheimer, a journalist who writes about pubic education, and was originally posted by Diane Ravitch. He tells us the education that our kids need from us now.
FORGET THE WORKSHEETS AND TRYING TO REPLICATE SCHOOL
I am really struck by the variety of media inquiries I’ve been getting about the impacts of Covid-19 on education, what parents should be doing at home, and so on. The interest doesn’t surprise me (I am an education columnist on public radio), but the preoccupation with whether kids will “fall behind” or with how they will “catch up” has. I see hundreds of stories, websites, and YouTube videos that aim to help parents create miniature classrooms at home. Maybe some parents have folding chairs they can bring up from the basement and put in rows. Where’s that big blackboard we used to have? Is there a run on chalk at Costco?
Stop worrying about the vague and evidence-less idea of children “falling behind” or “catching up.” This is a world-wide pause in life-as-usual. We’ve spent the last 25 years over-scheduling kids, over-testing kids, putting undue pressure on them to achieve more and more and play less and less. The result? Several generations of children and young adults who are stressed-out, medicated, alienated, and depressed.
This is not a time for worksheets. This is an opportunity (for those of us lucky enough to be at home and not in hospitals or driving buses or keeping our grocery store shelves stocked) to spend meaningful time with our children to the extent it is possible in any given family. Parents shouldn’t be thinking about how to keep their kids caught up with the curriculum or about how they can recreate school at home or how many worksheets they should have their children complete. They should bake a cake together. Make soup. Grow something in the garden. Take up family music playing. And neither school personnel nor parents should be focusing on how quickly or slowly children will return to school because none of us know We should be focusing on ensuring that teachers are afforded the conditions they need to best support their students — now when school is out and later when school is back in.
Remember that ditty about the two Chinese brush-strokes that comprise the word ‘crisis’? One is the character for ‘danger’ and the other the character for ‘opportunity.’ We are more and more aware of the danger. But we’re missing out on the opportunity: to spend time as families (in whatever form that family takes in your household).
This brings me back to the questions I keep getting. What are my recommendations for what to do with your children at home when they are missing so much school? Stop the homework (unless you and your children are enjoying it).Stop the worksheets. Stop trying to turn your kitchen into Jaime Escalante’s A.P. math class. But do help your children structure their day. Help them process what is going on around them. Help them engage in activities that do not take place on a screen. Help them maintain physical activities whether that means running around the block, running up and down the stairs, or running around the kitchen.Help them be creative. Give them — to the extent possible in your household — the gift of time and attention.
And when brick-and-mortar school (hopefully) returns next Fall, let’s give teachers a great deal of latitude in what, how, and when to teach any particular subject matter. Their primary job should be to restore a sense of safety, nurture a sense of possibility, and rebuild the community lost through extended social isolation.
Joel Westheimer is University Research Chair in Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa and an education columnist for CBC’s Ottawa Morning and Ontario Today shows. His most recent book is “What Kind of Citizen: Educating Our Children for the Common Good.” You can follow him on Twitter: @joelwestheimer.