Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

If You Miss Some Schooling, You Won't Miss Much

A week ago, which seems a while at the moment, on my last day in the office I was talking with a co-worker about the school shutdowns. I opined that although local schools are theoretically only closed for three weeks I expected it to be more like two months.

"That'd be terrible," she said. "They'd have to work through July to catch up."

"Why bother?" I said. "They could just let it go and start fresh the following year."

As I explained in somewhat greater length: the truly new skills and pieces of knowledge one picks up in school are somewhat spaced out.

In preschool through Kindergarten you learn your letters and numbers. Between K and 1st you learn to read and you learn basic addition and subtraction. In 2nd-3rd grade you learn basic multiplication and division. Somewhere in the middle there you learn fractions, long multiplication, and long division. Then around 7th or 8th grade you start to learn algebraic concepts like solving for variables and balancing equations. And, of course, once you've learned to read, you read about actual subject matter in History, Science, Civics, etc. as well as reading some literature.

But cut half a year or even a year out of your school career and pick up against afterwards, and the chances that you've missed something irrecoverable are incredibly low. Did you miss learning about fractions? Well, luckily it only takes a couple weeks to nail the concept and you may not be learning any new concepts in the next six months anyway, so there's lots of time to pick it up. This could be tricky if you were the only person who was out when a key concept was covered, and came back after everyone else had moved on, but right now what we have is entire schools out of session. Teachers should know pretty clearly what got skipped and it wouldn't necessarily be hard to catch it up.

In subjects like science and history, the solution might well be to not even bother trying to catch up. Just move on and count on getting to the subject in more depth later. That's because in these subject areas the progress through grades is often one of repeatedly re-covering the same topics in greater and greater depth. Did you miss the second half of US History in 5th grade? Not to fear, you'll cover US History again in a couple years. Miss learning about the solar system in 3rd grade? You'll get to it within the next year or two anyway.

There's an advantage to covering topics multiple times with increasing levels of depth. It's not like you'd want to wait till a college astronomy course to learn that we live on a spherical planet that goes around a star which is composed of hydrogen undergoing fusion. But although these multiple passes do have a use, it also means that missing one pass is not catastrophic.

As a parent and an educator, I try to remind myself of this at times when I'm getting discouraged. Nailing every single thing every time is not a make or break necessity. What we do is important, but if we miss it or do it badly, there's a second chance and a third.

And as we think about unusual times like this, it's also a usefully reassuring perspective. We don't need to plunge the kids from the worry of a pandemic isolation into the worry of working on school all summer to "catch up". Sure, try to get schoolwork done during the coming weeks. I'm sure we've all see already how crazy kids get when they have totally unstructured time. But at the same time, if we miss stuff during this time, or do different stuff than planned, it's not going to have a big impact on our kids' education in the long run. It's much more important to keep people sane and happy during this time than to try to get every little thing done in terms of school plans. That's one extra worry we don't need to shoulder.

1 comment:

bearing said...

We are slowing WAY down.

My week until now has revolved around our two co-schooling days, one where I'm at H's house and one where she's at mine, and we've suspended that for the foreseeable future. So I had to sit down and change up the whole rhythm of the weeks and then the days. Now we are Unbounded By Time and Distance, so we're having a remote meeting every day from 2:30-3:30, and together the two families scheduled a LONG synchronous chunk of time into our day around lunch for our kids to play Minecraft online together (or other stuff) because I can tell it's an important source of connection for all of them. I hope the college lad can join them, and that because it's over lunch the teen boy can make contact with some of his friends from camp who are normally schoolers but hopefully will have a greater likelihood of free time during that part of the day.

Anyway, that left less time for in-person lessons, and we're all stressed one way or another, so I cut the rate of assignments down considerably. I halved the rate of history lessons, for example. The only thing I am going to try to keep at the pace we were going is math (for one thing, it's independent work for everyone except the six-year-old), but I'm willing to slow that down if necessary.

Honestly? I think there's a strong possibility we'll still be cooped up well into the summer, and if that happens I will keep on schooling just to give us all something to do. So I'm not afraid of getting behind.