Sunday, March 15, 2020

It's Okay. You Don't Have To Homeschool.

Like most teachers, I've had those student requests. End of the period, usually, they stop by the desk, usually looking downhearted. "Could I have the assignments for the next week or so," they ask. And then the cause. Death of a relative. Family emergency. A non-elective operation. A family tragedy. Some sort of unavoidable crisis that would take them away from school.

My answer was usually something along the lines of, "Just worry about taking care of yourself. We can sort out the work when you get back." On the occasions when the absence might cause extra falling-behind stress, I would offer some general direction ("We're going to be finishing the novel, wrapping up the rough draft, working in groups for the project"), but always with the same caveat-- take care of yourself first.

I've been thinking about that as school across the country shut down and social media fills up with all sorts of guides for home schooling or keeping your child organized. Color-coded hour-by-hour schedules. Guides to on-line resources and lessons. A dozen different tools to help have some semblance of school at home. And parents passing all of these back and forth, fretting about how to keep their child's education still happening. Quick! What's a Zoom and how do I get on it!!??

My actual first thought was--well, I don't remember ever seeing this level of freaking out over summer vacation. On the one hand, the concern is understandable; on the other hand, you would think some of these families had never been through summer vacation before.

But my second thought was this--

Just chill.



This is a weird, scary, stressful time. If you want to create some structure and sense of forward movement by doing your version of ad hoc homeschooling, that's certainly okay. But if you'd rather not, that's okay, too.

Know that this is not like having a kid out sick, laid up at home on the sidelines while the big education train barrels on without her. The train has stopped. When it's time to get back on board, it will be more or less right where you left it.

In the meantime, depending on their age, sophistication, and personal situation, US students are living through the coronavirus scare, too. They may be sad about not getting to see their friends. They may be sick, know someone who's sick, be worried about getting sick. Their parents may be among the many who, despite DC's half-assed efforts, can't afford to take time off; they might even be among those who have lost a big chunk of income entirely. The students might be home alone, or shipped out to someplace-not-home while the parents are working. A big chunk of their day may be taken up with getting to food for breakfast and lunch.

It may be that some sort of regular daily "lesson," or school-like activity will be the thing to help them calm and center, and that's okay. But it may be that they've got too much going on to focus on or care about schooly stuff. This is, after all, one of the reasons we have actual schools as places where students can, if need be, leave behind that chaos of the world.

There are going to be some interesting side effects to this coronaviral Grand Pause, lots of chances to say, "So if we can suspend that rule for a pandemic, why are we bothering with it the rest of the time?" I think it also gives us a chance to question the all-American focus on frantic balls-to-the-wall forward motion, the notion that if we aren't Doing Something Right This Second, then we're screwing up and life is leaving us behind. Would it really hurt to pause and reflect a bit more often? Now we have a chance to try it out.

Yes, some schools are going to try to remotely educate their students. I hope they aren't going to try to hard, and I hope their students' families aren't going to feel too much pressure to keep up. I hope that parents spend some time with their children, that children slow down enough to do things they enjoy. I hope they read a book. I hope they grab onto the space and time and strength they need to deal with whatever they're feeling and wrestling with in the midst of all this.

And I hope that those of you who are parents can turn off the voice in your head that keeps telling you you'd better get that kid in front of some sort of educational something right away or something terrible will happen. If it's taking most of what you've got to help your kids keep it together, then know that you're doing the important stuff, and your big color-coded home curriculum design plan can just wait.


  1. The curmudgeon tone of this message is a bit insulting. You could have left out the "big color coded home curriculum design plan". It sounds patronizing. Perhaps, if you wanted to reassure people that they don't need to create school at home, you could say something like this;

    To any and all parents feeling stress and an urgency to fill in this empty space in your child's days, know that your presence, your conversations, your time spent together doing even the most mundane things is not only enough, it is enriching the lives of everyone in the family. Because, while the situation is strange and uncertain, it can be a time of unstructured family enjoyment. And who knows? Maybe you will all start learning some things you hadn't intended.

    And by the way, some people and their kids enjoy color coded curriculum design. I'm not one of them, but we aren't all the same.

    Today I spoke to a friend in Italy whom I have known for over 38 years, who also happens to be a teacher. She is living under martial law. My students will be able to interview her using Zoom, so perhaps your gentle mockery of that is also not well placed at this moment. Maybe it is time, for this period, to stick with positivity and sideline the subtle and not-so-subtle snark.

    Best wishes to you and all the people in your world.

    1. And to you and the people in yours. And the color-coded schedule line isn't snark-- there are several circulating out there and a lot of folks in my orbit saying, "Well, maybe I'd better use one of these." My point is simply that it's okay to do that if you want to, but it's also okay to not. Your second paragraph is nice, too.

  2. If my kids don't get mental workouts (more than just reading novels) they start bouncing off the walls. Education isn't a bad thing! It's been a good couple weeks to start the elementary schooler on Hard Math for Elementary Students by Glenn Ellison.

  3. Well said. The last thing we need is students and parents stressing out about the hours of e-Learning homework they need to complete—in some cases, without internet access at home—weakening their immune systems in the process. It's time for solidarity and understanding, not strict academic discipline.

  4. I'm big a fan of "book-learnin'".
    However, there are a lot of home teaching/learning that parents & children & teenagers can do which may or may not have 'academic' connections :build a model rocket, build or repair a computer, build bird feeders, quilt, draw, learn some rough carpentry, rebuild a small engine, sew, quilt, knit.

  5. I particularly like the part about all the stuff we're suddenly able to DO which we couldn't before, and the rules we can suddenly waive which were SO crucial before. Much like our periodic "government shutdowns" due to budget arguments, it's not that nothing's being lost - some of the changes are people doing their best to adapt to uncooperative circumstances and it will be good to get back to normal. But if it turns out that some things work just fine without us doing them the way we've always done them, well... let's not let how much this sucks overall disguise the fact that there are lessons to be learned tucked here and there throughout.

  6. Our district has mandated that teachers upload content to Google Classroom while stating that we cannot hold students accountable for completing the work. We are in a high-poverty district where most students have smartphones, but many have no devices or wi-fi at home.

    Many of the students are reporting a lot of stress as I post assignments. I keep trying to soothe them and tell them not to stress out. I think some of it is displacement from the anxiety over the crisis itself. I'm going to try to get a discussion page going so that students can express themselves and we can work on the assignments together. They don't understand that I'm trying to upload assignments, but the due date is not until next Friday.

    The worst thing so far is that the students who have not kept up with the course until now are well behind where they should be. I'm having to post tutorial materials as well, so perhaps some who would have failed may be able to get caught up.