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This Is an Especially Bad Time to Send Children to School

Rates of homeschooling continue to soar, as Covid threat increases.

KHN Creative Commons
Source: KHN Creative Commons

Seven years ago, near the start of the school year, I posted an article on this blog entitled The Danger of Back to School. It presented data showing that children’s mental health crises, as measured by emergency mental health hospital visits, plummeted every summer and rose dramatically during each school year. Four years later I posted another article summarizing evidence that the rate of suicide for school-aged children and teens doubles when school is in session, compared to when it is not. The way we do school in recent decades—with such high pressure and so little time for young people to discover and pursue their own interests—is clearly bad for children’s mental health.

But now we have a new problem with “back to school”—Covid-19 or, more specifically, the delta variant of it. It’s hitting kids, and some of the kids are getting very sick and even dying. Previously, very few children were suffering from Covid, and many health authorities were claiming that school is safe (especially if masks and social distancing are enforced, which they often aren’t). But now the rate of serious cases of Covid among school-aged children is accelerating. As more children go back to school the acceleration will almost certainly continue.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the number of Covid cases among children rose in the first week of August to more than 93,800 from a low of 8,400 in June (Ramos, 2021). The rates of hospitalizations of children for Covid, and of children dying from it, are rising at least as rapidly, and some pediatric hospital units are already filled with children suffering from the disease. As illustration, a recent New York Times article described as follows a visit to a children’s hospital in New Orleans (Weiland & Schaff, 2021): “[T]he intensive care unit has been jammed with Covid-19 patients. … Nurses raced around monitoring one gut-wrenching case after another. One child was getting a complicated breathing treatment known as ECMO, a last resort after ventilators fail…. About a half-dozen others were in various stages of distress.”

If ever there was a time to begin homeschooling, now is it. And, indeed, rates of homeschooling are soaring. The U.S. Census Bureau has been tracking the homeschooling rate in surveys conducted periodically since the pandemic began. The Bureau is careful to include only families that have removed their child from enrollment in a public or private school, not those whose children are still enrolled in a school but also taught at home. In the spring of 2020, shortly after the pandemic began, 5.4% of American families with school-aged children were homeschooling. By October of 2020, that number had increased to 11.1%, and by May 2021 (the most recent month for which data are available), it had risen to an amazing 19.5% (Duvall, 2021).

It remains to be seen how many of these families will stick with homeschooling when (or if) the Covid threat subsides. Many, however, are discovering that they like homeschooling and plan to stay with it. Moreover, some chose to start homeschooling not just because of the threat of Covid but because of what they learned about school and their children during the period of school lockdown.

Parents were impressed by how much their children benefited and learned, on their own initiative, during the period of school lockdown (Gray, 2020). Some began to think seriously about the school curriculum and the disrespect of their and others’ children, as they monitored school lessons with their children during distance learning. This seems to have been especially true for parents in Black families (Parks, 2021).

The rate of homeschooling for Black families has increased even more rapidly than that for white families. In the spring of 2020, the rate for Black families was 39% lower than the overall U.S. rate, but by October of 2020, it was 46% higher than the overall rate (Crary, 2021). As one African-American mom put it (quoted by Crary, 2021), “There’s no turning back for us now. The pandemic has been a blessing—an opportunity to take ownership of our children’s education.”

Another group for whom homeschooling has especially soared is families with children who have special needs (Crary, 2021). Many such families had long been frustrated by the failure of—or, really, the inability of—the school to meet the special need. When schools closed, some of those families found that their children were happier and were learning at a much faster rate at home than they had been at school, so they decided to homeschool. (See my post here and here on the benefits of homeschooling for children diagnosed with ADHD or dyslexia.)

Parents have also learned that the Internet now provides hundreds of resources for homeschoolers (Tolin, 2020). Those who previously feared home education because they felt they did not know enough came to realize that they and their children have endless opportunities to access information on any topic they want to learn about. Those who want a full, already prepared online curriculum have many to choose from—such as Khan Academy or Outschool—some of which are free or low cost. Families choosing to follow a curriculum matching that of standard schooling often find that their children can complete the curriculum in a fraction of the time that they could at school, leaving plenty of time to pursue their own interests.

Parents who used to worry about “socialization” of homeschooled children are discovering that the rise of homeschooling has created many groupings of homeschoolers, where children can get together with others for play, adventure, and learning (with appropriate Covid precautions).

With the rise of Covid, the old beliefs that inhibited would-be homeschoolers from taking that route have fallen, one by one, like the wooden ducks at a carnival shoot. You don’t have to be wealthy to homeschool; you certainly don’t have to be white; you don’t have to have a college degree; you don’t have to have a lot of information in your head; you don’t have to deprive your kids of rich social experiences.

What you CAN do, which schools cannot, is bring your knowledge of your own child, which you have more than anyone else, to bear in helping that child find the educational route that works best for her or him. The question is no longer, “Why would anyone homeschool?” Now it’s “Why wouldn’t they?” (Well, there is the babysitting problem when children are young and no parent can be home during the day, but even that problem is being diminished by the rise in homeschooling coops and learning centers.)

And now, what do you think about this? … This blog is, in part, a forum for discussion. Your questions, thoughts, stories, and opinions are treated respectfully by me and other readers, regardless of the degree to which we agree or disagree. Psychology Today no longer accepts comments on this site, but you can comment by going to my Facebook profile, where you will see a link to this post. If you don't see this post at the top of my timeline, just put the title of the post into the search option (click on the three-dot icon at the top of the timeline and then on the search icon that appears in the menu) and it will come up. By following me on Facebook you can comment on all of my posts and see others' comments. The discussion is often very interesting.

References

Crary, D. (2021). Sparked by pandemic fallout, homeschooling surges across US. AP News, July 26. https://apnews.com/article/health-religion-coronavirus-pandemic-race-an…

Duvall, S. (2021). Homeschooling continues to grow in 2021. HSLDA Online Academy.https://hslda.org/post/homeschooling-continues-to-grow-in-2021.

Parks, C. (2021). The rise of black homeschooling. New Yorker, June 21 issue.

Ramos, E. (2021). Child Covid-19 hospitalizations soar, filling pediatric wings, data show. New York Times, Aug. 20.

Tolin, L. (2020). 101 free resources for home-schooling during Covid-19. Today. https://www.today.com/parents/how-homeschool-during-coronavirus-crisis-…

Weiland, N., & Schaff, E. (2021). At a children’s hospital, a wave of young patients struggle to breathe. New York Time, Aug. 27.

Gray, P (2020).. How children coped in the first months of the pandemic lockdown: Free time, play, family togetherness, and helping out at home. American Journal of Play, 13, 33-52.

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