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DONNIE JOHNSTON: Distance learning will put U.S. students further behind

DONNIE JOHNSTON: Distance learning will put U.S. students further behind

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I’VE HEARD all the arguments.

Health is more important than education. Children will bring COVID-19 home to their families. Students will give the virus to their teachers.

One doctor in Fairfax County even went so far as to guarantee that if students were permitted back in the classroom this fall at least one teacher would die from COVID-19.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I have no family members in the public school system, so I’m not pushing one way or the other.

What I am saying is that the longer we wait to get back to a normal in-class routine, the further this country’s children will fall behind.

Right now, the United States educational system ranks 27th in the world. Twenty-seventh! We pride ourselves on being the most educated people on the planet, but the truth is that we’re not.

In fact, we have dropped from sixth to 27th in a matter of just a few years. Policies such as No Child Left Behind and Standards of Learning have devastated our educational system in less than two decades.

Now we expect a nation of children that are already behind 26 other nations to make the grade through distance learning. That’s going to be a real challenge.

Remember what happened in the spring? Any child that did anything got a passing grade. Most were A’s. I talked to a number of parents whose C students suddenly became A-plus scholars. Poor things. Give them an A for trying. Give them a trophy. Tell them how proud you are of them for just turning on the computer.

Parents (for the most part) aren’t teachers. They cannot answer geometry or calculus questions. Most can’t even diagram a simple sentence. They can’t make change at McDonald’s when the computers fail. They are going to suddenly become professors?

Unless they are home-schooled under strict conditions, most kids are not going to take their classes that seriously. Home is where I can lay back and watch TV or play video games. Home is not school.

As I have asked in earlier columns, how will parents manage to go to work and still stay at home with their children? The rent has to be paid. Food must be bought. Parents have to work.

Leave kids home by themselves? That’s a recipe for disaster. Do you know how much trouble a teenager can get into in a few hours at home alone? What about a 10-year-old?

Here’s another problem. Many athletes apply themselves in class only because they want to keep their grades up to play sports. It seems likely there will be no school sports this year. What incentive does a lazy student have to apply himself?

Two of my children teach online college classes. Even adults in their 30s and 40s come up with excuse after excuse as to why their projects and other assignments aren’t completed on time.

Why? Because at home there are too many distractions. Even adults let things pile up and then panic. Kids are even worse at not getting their work done on time.

Of course, if we do as some systems did in the spring and give everybody an A for simply trying, things are going to look great on paper. In reality, however, our children will likely be falling further and further behind.

If at-home education was the answer for the masses, there would have been no reason to build schools. Like other social systems, we are now abandoning the ideas that got this country where it is.

Then there is the social aspect of all this. Already kids are interacting more on social media than they are in person and keeping schools closed will only further diminish their people skills.

As I have said before, this virus is not going away and I am not expecting an effective vaccine anytime soon. This could go on for years. Will we keep schools closed indefinitely?

If we do, we may end up ranked last in the world in education. Our children may well become known as the lost generation. They deserve better.

Donnie Johnston:

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