Avoiding Education Armageddon

Two ideas to propose to an educator.

Posted Aug 09, 2020

Billy Lathorn, Wikimedia, GNU 1.2
Source: Billy Lathorn, Wikimedia, GNU 1.2

This fall, many schools will be providing just online education, which is proving unsuccessful and is predicted to be worse still.

The result is that millions of parents are frustrated, angry, and forced to try to find—at a cost many can’t afford—child care, especially if like so many people, they’ve been let go from their job or had their hours reduced. And even if they have jobs, most people have paltry savings that they cannot afford to spend on child care.

And then there’s the cost to children. We dismiss the loss of learning and socialization as merely temporary. But because no one can predict with any certitude when COVID will substantially dissipate, our children, our future, could have their prospects amputated, especially in an era in which U.S. employers, already burdened with high taxes and regulation, face even more if, in the coming election, the Democrats win big as is predicted.

Dear Psychology Today readers, consider asking a school principal or district administrator about one or both of the following ideas. One idea is relatively modest, the other is a reinvention of education that might merit continuing long after the pandemic subsides.

Outdoor learning

The New York Times reports that in the tuberculosis epidemic of the early 20th century, 65 schools converted to outdoor learning, even in Rhode Island's frigid winters. Can we not, as I’ve written in the San Francisco Chronicle, at least until the cold weather hits, do outdoor learning amid the COVID pandemic? It would be far COVID-safer than any indoor education—If it’s one thing scientists agree, it’s that COVID risk is much lower outdoors. Additional safety could accrue from having a morning and an afternoon session, making social distancing even easier.


The second idea, more revolutionary, is the EduPod. Already, in response to the pandemic, many families are forming EduPods: Three to ten children are taught by a neighborhood parent in a backyard, playground, or even in an apartment room with all the windows open. All would practice COVID hygiene, which is easier to monitor in EduPods than in traditional schools.

Of course, there are challenges. For example, in some communities, it may be difficult to find sufficient parent-teachers. That’s where some of the many billions we spend on public education would be redirected to recruit, train, and support parent-teachers a la the local-parent-run Head Start. And if a shortage of parent-teachers remains, it can be filled from among the many would-be-available credentialed teachers.

EduPods provide ultra-small classes and a level of individualization far greater than in traditional schools, and EduPods are more likely to provide localized cultural competency. And with so much quality curriculum available free on the Internet, even adults of average intelligence who don't have a teaching license could be expected to implement selected curriculum adequately, at least with the aforementioned support.  

Would EduPods be perfect? No, but arguably better than the status quo, even if COVID were not a factor. Consider that the status quo has long produced inadequate results despite the U.S. spending nearly twice the OECD (developed nations) average per capita on education. For example, a Pew survey found that employers rate half(!) of even new college graduates inadequate in critical thinking, oral/written communication, and digital literacy as well as in soft skills such as work ethic and leadership. And in international comparisons, year in and year out, American students are near the bottom among developed nations. The New York Times’  latest report on U.S. students' performance in international comparisons is titled, “It Just Isn’t Working."

So, given the greater individualization and cultural competence that's more possible in EduPods, especially given many public schools' providing the dubious "remote learning," isn’t EduPods worth pilot testing? Might you want to ask a local principal or district superintendent about that?

One of COVID’s few silver linings is that it invokes our creativity to come up with solutions. Regarding education’s long failing to live up to its promise, perhaps necessity indeed is the mother of invention.

I read this aloud on YouTube.