The Fallout From Remote Education: It’s A Fiasco for Kids, Families, and Democracy

From the Newsletter

Greetings from the COVID cave! It’s not a huge newsflash by now, but omicron is omnipresent, at least here in New Jersey. Even though I was vaccinated and boosted, I got it last week, which meant that we cancelled our extended family gathering. The draft menu with a dozen Italian fishy dishes was crumpled up and tossed in the garbage. I watched the kids open their gifts with a zoom lens on my camera from a safe distance, and then went back up to the bedroom for another several days. 

Omicron is everywhere in New Jersey, but the good news is that it wasn’t very harsh for me – somewhere in between a cold and the flu — and now I have super immunity. I think it’s nearly impossible to avoid it; the real question is how we’re going to handle it. Are we going to shutdown society and schools again?

There is enormous pressure from the top to not close schools. That’s why the CDC has shifted its recommendations for dealing with positive people. Now, positive people only have to isolate for five days. Fauci says that positive people are really only contagious two days after exposure and the first three days of symptoms. After that, they say that the risk of contagion is minor. (So, we quarantined for ten days for nothing? Ugh!) 

My guess is that big city schools are going to shutdown. School leaders in Washington and Chicago, under enormous pressure by the AFT, are saying that schools will probably go remote in January. Mayor Adams in New York City says they won’t. Behind the scenes, there must be HUGE battles going on between the various groups in the Democratic Party. If schools close down, Democrats will lose every election for the next ten years. 

I suspect that the Democrat leaders are making some deals that suburban schools stay open, because they can’t afford to lose the suburbs, but they’ll take the loss in the cities. 

In politics, there’s always a big difference between what will happen and what shouldhappen. What should happen is that schools remain open, because kids have still not recovered from remote education. One education expert called remote education a “cruel joke,” and I think he’s right. 

By now, there’s just so much evidence about learning lag and behavior issues, but what’s freaking me about today are the stories from teachers saying that their students are developmentally delayed. Third graders are acting like kindgarteners. First graders don’t know how to play with their classmates on the playground. 

In the New York Times, Erica Green did a deep dive into the massive damage done to kids at one school in Pennsylvania. In addition to all the learning and behavior problems, she also honed in on the developmental delays. 

For Nikolas Tsamoutalidis, an assistant principal, the most vivid image of the post-pandemic student body was at lunch this year, when he saw ninth graders — whose last full year in school was seventh grade — preparing to play “Duck, Duck, Goose.” “It’s like fifth or sixth graders,” he said, “but in big bodies.”

But I don’t need studies or newspaper articles to see the damage. I’ve got damage right here in my house. After three semesters of watching his professors drone on and on with You Tube lectures, my college kid hates college so much that I’m just thrilled that he is sticking with it and will graduate in May. He will never step foot in a classroom again. He loathes his college and has no relationship with any faculty at his school. With all this time locked in his dorm room, he doesn’t even look physically healthy. 

And my 19-year with high functioning autism is an even worse spot. His social skills regressed after 18 months in his bedroom with remote education. And then he graduated to an 18-21 program, where they don’t think he deserves compensatory education, and they can’t do anything else with the kids either. Transition programs are supposed to help kids learn job skills, so they can move from special education to a real world jobs. However, businesses are refusing to take students with job coaches right now, so there are no practice-jobs. He spends all day in a basement classroom — getting 1,000 steps per day — playing video games on his phone. 

Even though disabled kids like my son were disproportionately hurt by the pandemic and remote education, he has gotten nothing extra. No tutoring, no special clubs to work on rusty social skills. The community hasn’t provided clubs or activities. Neither has the school district. It’s like he doesn’t exist. 

During this school break, he doesn’t even have time-wasting stuff with the school district. He has no friends, no job (no one will hire him), no school, no college, no New Year Eve parties, no trips abroad, no future plans. He’s up in his bedroom playing video games all day. He bored and sad. 

I try to fill the gap the best that I can. I had him help make dinner yesterday, and then took him to the movies. After lunch today, I’ll take him on the bus into New York City and we’ll go to a museum. But I can’t do everything. Steve and I have to work, too. (I found a program for him in Connecticut. Fingers crossed that it works out, she said vaguely.)

If schools shutdown again, my mostly-abandoned autism son will be totally abandoned again. I cannot face that reality. 

But there is absolutely no way that we can go back to 2020-2021 shutdowns of work and school. No way. It’s over. Kids are so massively damaged right now, and I am angry with everyone who tried to cover up that information last year. It’s shameful what happened to young people during the pandemic.

Masks may be permanent. At-home COVID tests might be permanent. But we must never shut up young people in the basement again. Why? Because a poorly education public is BAD for the country. Interrupted education is BAD for our democracy. 

We already have a terrible track record with teaching basic skills like reading and math — only 34 percent of fourth graders can read on grade level. With all this chaos, things are going to be worse. Some are even making the argument right now that students, who will someday being working in McDonalds, don’t need to learn algebra and biology. If you are not worried about a future without educated citizens, you should be. Illiterate and uneducated citizens cannot make good choices in the voting booth. 

Our democracy is sitting on the bedrock of public education, and right now that bedrock is made of sand.