Politics, Moderate



Public education has been shattered into a thousand little pieces; What will emerge from the mess?

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- Educators, academic experts, parents and -- in their own way -even kids have been saying that public education is broken for nearly two decades.

Now, as schools announce they'll be closed for the remainder of the academic year, public education has been yanked into a thousand little pieces, and no one knows what will emerge from the mess.

Millions of children across the country are out of school and completely un-engaged with academics, either because they have no computer or no reliable internet access at home. Others may have those resources, but they still lack caregivers who are able (or, let's face reality here, willing) to assist small children in remote learning. Let's be clear: For the youngest learners, it's absolutely necessary to have an adult facilitate the e-learning process, including the "turning in" of assignments and all the rest of it.

The very oldest learners are a challenge in and of themselves.

My youngest son is a reluctant freshman at a community college. He was seduced into a vocational program on the promise of sharpening his welding and metal manufacturing skills. To his surprise, he actually enjoyed his first semester, and second semester was going well, too. He discovered that he had a genuine zeal for metallurgy, in which there is a potential for a four-year college degree.

This all came to a screeching halt at mid-semester.


Yesterday, he seemed exceptionally down. When I asked him what was wrong, he said he felt hopeless because, "Zoom classes really suck." He also wasn't able to work with his teacher on his welding projects, and who-knows-when those sessions could be made up. In effect, he didn't see any way forward for himself within the current and unknowable future of education.

The middle and high school students are their own puzzle. They're just capable enough to mostly manage their own e-learning -- and savvy enough with computers to evade actual e-classes.

The historian and author Angie Maxwell recently shared this story on Twitter: "Found the kid playing with her dog instead of Zooming with her teacher. She told me not to worry. She took a screenshot of herself 'paying attention,' then cut her video & replaced it with the picture. 'It's a gallery view of 20 kids, mom. They can't tell.' She is 10. ... She says she took a full-screen screen shot, cropped it, made it a virtual background, and covered the webcam with a sock. Yes, I'm both proud and scared."

And of course, there is everything in between, from students asking their teachers for more assignments (yes, these students really do exist) to those who are turning in super shoddy work late and putting in the most minimal effort possible in a show meant to appease parents and teachers alike.


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