My son is failing all of his classes.
Pre-quarantine, my sixth grade, honor-student son maintained a 90 average. He is a bright, charismatic and hardworking child. His teachers have always raved that he is a pleasure to have in class.
Middle school started off shakily – he’s not great at making new friends, just like mom – but he found his way in no time. He played the bishop in his school’s rendition of Shrek in January, started taking a coding class and was all geared up for a new season of playing quarterback on his flag football team, the Eagles. Everything was going great — until coronavirus came along.
Don’t get me wrong. By no means is my son a perfect student. Like many 11-year old children, he tends to be lazy, disorganized, and strongly dislikes doing his homework. He gets frustrated easily when the work is difficult. He’d rather be watching mindless videos on YouTube than doing literally anything else on earth – especially schoolwork.
But from a 90 average to barely scraping the 50’s? Does that make sense to you?
Like a lot of kids, my son is a visual learner. He thrives on instruction. He is able to concentrate in a quiet classroom, listening to his teacher describe and show and explain and clarify, face-to-face. I’ve never sat in his classroom, but undoubtedly his teacher never threw up her hands in disgust and proclaimed “let’s just skip this one” through gritted teeth. There is a reason she is better at her job than I am, one that involves a couple of degrees and a whole lot of patience.
I can hop over to either of my kids’ Google Classrooms right now and immediately fall down a rabbit hole of slideshows, videos, meeting links, shared documents, websites, usernames, passwords, missing assignments… I could go on all day. If I can’t keep track of all that stuff, how on earth is my 8-year old going to? She can’t even remember to brush her teeth every day.
I’m no expert, but I think children generally absorb knowledge best in a structured environment. I know a lot of well-meaning parents who attempted a perfectly scheduled homeschool routine once upon a time – and it went out the window on day three along with their plethora of color-coded index cards.
If I could eliminate the distractions to make our home more conducive to learning, believe me, I would. But that would entail the removal of four pets, one sibling, two bathrooms, the snack cabinet, the refrigerator, my job, all windows, doors and shiny objects, and the very devices on which they do their work. See the problem here?
Moreover, is this time not stressful enough for children?
There’s the fear of getting sick, for starters. For many kids, the only part they can grasp is that there is a big scary virus outside that’s killing people and we can’t leave the house – and if we do we have to wear freaky-looking masks and avoid other people like the plague (literally). My inner 10-year old has nightmares just thinking about it.
For many children, this is their first experience with death. Heartbroken, they are coping with the loss of grandparents and other relatives, seeing their parents grieving and hurt, and not knowing what to do or how to help.
Children of essential workers have it perhaps hardest of all. They watch their parents bravely face the world each day, not knowing if they will be the next ones to get sick with the Big Scary Virus. They forgo daily hugs from Mom and kisses from Dad, who work long hours to keep everyone else safe, practicing social distancing in their very own homes with their very own families.
Their parents are frustrated. They’re balancing homeschool with working from home, doing conference calls, and teacher duty simultaneously. Maybe they’re chasing toddlers around or up all night with newborns. Maybe they just worked a 12-hour shift and desperately need sleep. Maybe they lost their job and are struggling to pay bills. Regardless of what they’re doing, the added pressure of homeschool is likely the last thing on earth they have time to deal with. Even the best parents can’t hide that kind of stress from their children.
These poor kids! They miss their friends, their cousins, their grandparents, their neighbors, their classmates. They are lonely and starting to forget what normalcy feels like. Why are we forcing them to sit around writing mundane essays on the Byzantine Empire or solving quadratic equations when they could be bike-riding outside, breathing in the fresh air, playing board games with siblings, or even – dare I say it –video gaming online with friends. Those friendships are fragile – some of which, like my son’s, were only just developing in a new school. So what if they are only maintained virtually for now? When these kids are adults, those friendships will mean a lot more to them than the Byzantine Empire ever did.
For some people, homeschool is not a problem. In fact, many people do it voluntarily and it works wonderfully for their families. But for kids like my son, homeschool is failing them a lot more than they are failing it. And that is unacceptable.
Jeannine Cintron is a Staten Island mom of two and the editor for Staten Island Parent. When she’s not writing or managing the S.I. Parent Facebook page, you can find her binging an inexcusable amount of television for anyone with two children.