Monday, August 17, 2020

“Forward – Into The Past!”

     Among the coloring motifs of many tales about the American past is the “one room schoolhouse,” which brought children of varying ages together under a single teacher charged with the instruction of all of them. Such institutions really existed, and not just in the small communities of the western territories, despite contemporary doubts that they could have functioned effectively. Moreover, they produced reasonably well educated young Americans. I have no doubt that a lot of those youngsters would humiliate a Twenty-First Century high school graduate in a contest of knowledge of history or civics.

     You might think that no one of today would elect to resurrect the one-room schoolhouse in preference to separation by grade, team teaching, and the modern school building with its various facilities. Yet something not entirely dissimilar is happening – and it appears to be an accelerating trend. Hearken to long-time education commentator Joanne Jacobs:

     What are you doing about school? It’s a mad scramble to figure out district’s reopening or not-reopening plans and find alternatives that enable children to interact with classmates and working parents to work. People are getting creative.

     The wealthy are hiring teachers or tutors to staff “pandemic pods,” while middle-class families are sharing homeschooling duties or hiring non-teachers (lots of young people are out of work) to supervise children’s remote learning and play.

     It’s too early in the progression to have any sense for how well these new arrangements will work. Yet they’re plainly preferable, especially in the face of teachers’ unions refusals to return to the classroom, to letting Junior sit around playing video games all day. Even if the “novel” environment and having a single teacher for all subjects might seem counter-intuitive to persons accustomed to modern school structures, it has a chance of getting the kids to learn something. After all, there are usually only a few students per pod – typically fewer than ten. They’re all likely to know one another and one another’s families. And being from comparable social and economic backgrounds, their progress is more likely to be even than in a classroom as heterogeneous as is typical in a conventional modern school.

     Of course, the “learning pod” approach does have its critics...and I’ll bet you could tell me what field they work in:

     It is tempting to see this resourcefulness as a triumph of DIY culture. But that requires seeing it in a vacuum. When looking at the overall affect [sic] of pods, it is hard not to see how they will exacerbate the pre-existing inequities and achievement gaps that already vex public schools.

     This is pessimistic, but hear me out: Pods are almost like a 200-year leap backward in history, delivering us into a time before public schools. The difference between a group of kids learning together with someone to guide their studies versus a lone third grader watching two hours of pre-recorded video lessons, while she sits alone at home is astronomic.

     And from Joanne Jacobs’ article:

     Worried about widening achievement gaps, Will Huntsberry called Pedro Noguera, dean of the education school at USC, he writes on Voices of San Diego. He asked “if the rise of the learning pod will make existing disparities worse.”
     “It will. Because it’s gonna be affluent parents that can afford to do it,” (Noguera) said. “Many people won’t have access to that, and won’t be able to do it.”

     “I can’t blame them,” Noguera said about parents creating learning pods. “My wife is exploring them as an option for one of our daughters.”

     What we know about distance learning’s success in the spring isn’t good, writes Huntsberry. “Los Angeles Unified released a report this week that showed Black, Latino and poor students were much less likely to be engaged with online learning than their peers, the Los Angeles Times reported.”

     “Inequities!” “Disparities!” Well, the “public” schools are familiar with those, aren’t they? Have one more set of unctuously expressed concerns:

     Tina Cheuk, an education researcher at California Polytechnic State University, said she is troubled by the trend toward learning pods and the related push to finance them with public funding that normally would go to the schools.

     “That decision has implications for public education,” she said. Not only would it defund public education but it threatens to de-professionalize teachers, who are often “replaced” in pods by college students or retirees, she said.

     “You choosing to be in a pod may seem very innocent – ‘well, of course, it makes sense. I’m looking out for my family,’” Ms. Cheuk said. “It’s these unintended consequences for public education, which we either ignore or we choose to ignore because our private interests trump the others that we don’t know.”

     “De-professionalized” teachers! Dues-paying members of the “educators’ unions” being replaced by outsiders – possibly even uncredentialed college students! Horror of horrors! What sort of monster would put the education of his children above that overwhelming concern?

     Do you sense that the “educators” feel that their rice bowls are being threatened, Gentle Reader? I do.

     Survey after survey tells us that the most important factor in student educational performance is parental involvement. It trumps teacher “quality,” the range of “facilities” available, the age of the textbooks used, and so forth. Parental involvement is the asset most strongly in favor of any homeschool or homeschool-like arrangement. The learning pod scheme combines the probability of high parental involvement with the employment of knowledgeable, capable instructors whom the parents can hold to account – and that threatens the “professional educators” more than any other aspect of the phenomenon:

  • Parents will interview candidate instructors, choose them on the basis of the criteria that matter to the parents, and will monitor their performance.
  • The best instructors will command the highest fees, regardless of whether they’d been school teachers or – God help us – members of an “educators’ union” before this.
  • Capable teachers previously employed by a “public” school will be tempted out of the bureaucratic “public” school system and toward the learning pods.
  • Homeschooling already threatens the “educators’” bastions. The learning pods will intensify the threat, increasing the pressure on state education departments to move toward a school choice system in which the money follows the student, rather than going invariably to his district’s “public” school.
  • Learning pods will be unencumbered by the administrative overhead that “public” schools endure, making them more economical by far than the “public” schools.
  • Disparities among social, ethnic, and economic strata will appear to increase. But this will merely reveal a reality the “public” schools have been doing their damnedest to conceal.
  • And of course, the “educators” will fight viciously to suppress the learning pods, as they’ve been doing with homeschooling since the failure of the “public” schools became too obvious to conceal.

     Gentle Reader, this could be the start of something really big and really good. It would be one of the few really good things to come out of the pan[dem]ic. Stay tuned.


Col. B. Bunny said...

"Achievement gaps" = (1) Basement-level "achievement" achieved by the unwillingness to work toward a state of being even minimally motivated. (2) The natural result in any educational institution that tolerates antipathy to "thinking white."

Rick C said...

"Do you sense that the “educators” feel that their rice bowls are being threatened, Gentle Reader? "

Come right out and ask the teachers and their unions: "So you are saying you want everyone's children held back because not everyone has their advantages?"

I'm sure there's a more stark way to ask the question.

George True said...

My father, who grew up on a farm, went to one of those one room school houses five miles outside of Eskridge, Kansas (population 500). He showed it to me when I was a young lad in the 1960's. It was still standing, although long abandoned. The education he got there was evidently of good quality, because from that modest and austere environment, he went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Kansas in 1923.

Paul Bonneau said...

"Pods are almost like a 200-year leap backward in history, delivering us into a time before public schools."

That is precisely the point, and their great advantage. Another name for them was "Dame schools".

It's not that difficult to teach children; they are learning machines. The main thing is to provide resources, a very modest amount of supervision, then get out of the way.