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As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps from east to west and unleashes its fury on the United States, there’s no question it is shaking our very existence. Approximately 300 million Americans — out of an estimated 320 million — live in states with stay-at-home orders. Residents of other states are impacted by at least partial shutdowns.
While the virus has touched every area of our lives, perhaps the most jarring has been in education. In the span of just three short weeks, schools across the nation have closed and scrambled to offer online classes, if at all. And parents suddenly find themselves as accidental homeschoolers, often while juggling work from home.
Not surprisingly, parents are bewildered. They feel betrayed by the education system they’ve trusted since childhood and bereft of even the most rudimentary guidance on how to accomplish what seems an insurmountable task: teaching their own children.
And although some schools attempt to offer online options, years of research show that online schooling alone is ineffective and that students suffer significant learning losses when they have a long break from school. Now, these students are getting both, in a hastily arranged mess.
But there is a silver lining: Homeschool advocates such as the Texas Home School Coalition are responding to this crisis with valuable assets that address the lack of adequate preparation and effort from the educational establishment with tangible, supportive resources for beleaguered parents. To this end, they’ve launched a website providing immediate emergency relief for parents — encouraging them to see that they are already perfectly equipped to homeschool and will actually experience great joy teaching their children at home.
My husband Kevin and I know this from first-hand experience. As actors, producers and traveling types, we came to realize that homeschooling is more than simply an academic option.
While it’s true that homeschooled kids score higher on all educational and social metrics compared to students in traditional schools, we saw how our family’s home life benefited from the schedule shift and social recalibration that came with homeschooling. Gone were early mornings, hectic routines, classmate bullying, fear of school shootings and managing school paperwork. In its place were improved sibling relationships, exuberant natural curiosity and an entrepreneurial “can-do” spirit that naturally is suppressed in a traditional school setting.
The good news is that the advantages of homeschooling are for everybody, regardless of parental education level and socioeconomic status. Also, what most parents don’t realize is that they’ve already been doing it. Every answer to a homework question, discussion about an assigned book or cupcake baked with your child is an exercise in homeschooling.
Though homeschoolers were once stigmatized as misfits who couldn’t hope to adjust to the one-size-fits-all government education system, home education is now legal in all 50 states and more popular than ever. Today, mainstream parents choose to remove their children from institutional schools for reasons ranging from educational needs to faith to sports.
Soon we will be living in a post-COVID-19 world, and much of what we perceived as normative will be forever changed — including education.
The Washington Post recently ran a piece arguing that the new mass homeschooling, thanks to COVID-19, will set back a generation of children. Perhaps reflecting deep-seated insecurity that traditional education doesn’t have all the answers, academic elites at Harvard are calling for the immediate regulation of homeschooling. Of course, none of this doom and gloom addresses the struggles of parents suddenly thrust into the role of teacher. Rather, it serves the current system to see homeschooling fail.
The bottom line is that we all do many things every day for which we have received no formal instruction. That’s the American way. Even our Founding Fathers were home-educated entrepreneurs, though, considering the history currently taught in schools, our children would never learn that.
Now, because of the upheaval caused by the coronavirus, Americans have a unique opportunity during this limited time as accidental homeschoolers to reclaim our entrepreneurial heritage and restore our families while instilling in our children the values we hold dear. Think of it as a “free trial” period for overwhelmed and overworked parents.
It is understandable that American parents are leery of stepping outside of institutions into the DIY realm. But soon we will be living in a post-COVID-19 world, and much of what we perceived as normative will be forever changed — including education. My hope is that when we emerge on the other side of this tragic crisis, families will be united like never before, and parents will find themselves unable to surrender their children to the education system ever again.