In the early days of the pandemic remote learning was a prudent, and in many ways admirable move – a responsible, innovative adaptation to a potentially catastrophic situation. However, as time went by and it became clear as to the true danger of the virus, and especially when therapeutic medicines and vaccines became widespread and available to all, I considered the reluctance – if not flat refusal – of teachers (or their unions) to provide face to face tutoring to children nothing short of a disgrace; the education and prospects of kids destroyed; sacrificed in the name of ‘protection’ for adults unwilling to expose themselves to what they must have known was negligable risk, as they languished on nearly full pay in the ‘safety’ of their own homes, kept handsomely fed and tended to by other adults who had no choice but continue to work in the real world and who, were the statistics to be examined, at no greater risk anyway.
That comment could be related to the UK or the US. If it’s the UK then we just need to say change “nearly full pay” to “full pay”.
The real motivation was an extended holiday on full pay.
It showed the teaching profession in this country for what they are and we need to bear that in mind next time they pretend otherwise.
A very apt summary that points to the power of unions that held students hostage for the purpose of riding a gravy train as long as possible. The fallout and the repercussions now observed in our rear view mirror prove a point: the lack of true dedication in the teaching profession en masse is painfully apparent. Though not a de facto union basher by any means, just comparing the difference between what the general public had to put up with from a school system that caved in righteously, and a private school system whose work ethic remained steadfast, gives us an obvious contrast that should matter. A two-tier system not unlike our medical industry complex. The extreme collapse in the academic lives of so many of our children should be of major concern going forward. It is their futures that have been usurped and borrowed from, all to serve homespun delights for people lucky enough to furlough for so long on full pay and benefits.
It was also a fantastic way to create a generation of navel gazing rubes who will believe anything they are told some day. Including being told to do the unimaginable to others.
It was never prudent based on what was known about the virus even early on. In any case many schools did not even bother with that and just shut.
The weak Johnson owns the whole st show, as no one bothered to even consider the knock on effects of his China style LD. His weakness empowered the laziness we see today.
Agreed. And I’m surprised to see such a well balanced comment topping the upvotes on this topic, which usually attracts the most vehement views from Unherd commenters about the over-reaction of the authorities.
We have known since Michelle Rhee quit as DC schools Chancellor in 2010 that teachers look upon the schools as a jobs program, not an education program.
So really, who needs classes anyway? Just keep the checks coming. And if kids fail to learn it must be because of systemic racism.
You know I never thought of it that way before: systemic racism used as an excuse for poor teaching,
Yes, this is just the Left doing what the Left does. Namely, destroying the life chances of millions while looking after themselves and their kids. The example of Newsom et al continuing to send their kids to private schools is particularly egregious, but essentially no different to Diane Abbot sending her son to a private school. These people are evil hypocrites. Always have been, always will be. My mother pointed out the fact of left wing politicians sending their kids to private schools when I was six or seven. it was one of those ‘Got it!’ moments that I will never forget.
Didn’t the ridiculous Benn dynasty patronise Holland Park Comprehensive, the ‘Eton’ of Quislington?
The Left have always worked on the premise “to each according to THEIR needs”, obviously I need my children to be educated so they can rule, so first I must ensure the majority of not educated, only appear to be – diplomas, certificates, now that the masses are uneducated, my children will rise to the top – now we can grow the elite while keeping the rest in ignorance, a new “royal family” lauded thru out the land and able to gain great wealth. At least North Korea has been honest about its leadership with the Kim family pencilled in to be in power for ever.
Don’t you mean ‘cheques’ or have I missed something?
‘Checks’ is the US spelling.
I know what Homer Simpson will say – Doh. doh, doh. If i had been told when 13 years old to stay at home for 2 years and entertain myself i would have had a feild day – but then in 1970 at age 13 I already knew how to read, write and was good at arithmetic – and could even write an essay – thanks to my very un PC teachers – so missing school would have been no where near as bad as today -plus I would have gotten a lot of fishing done and tennis played. As my now 30yo son would say – you dont do kids ANY favours by being soft on them – cos it aint a soft world…..
When I was 16 and took two years off to go play in the working world, I discovered a grade 10 education allowed me to compete with grown adults in the job market. What this reflected across society at the time, were educational standards that are often hard to come by in graduating undergraduates (4th year). Homer Simpson would be right. These standards have fallen off a cliff. My reading skills at the age of 13 (beginning high school) would now be greater than some rather large majority of university students. I admit I was exceptional for my age, but back then everyone read. The poorest kid in the school could read almost at grade level. This mostly happened because it was demanded, and back then, demands were met. All that being said, the self-starting progressive high school that I attended in the early 1970s, and in which I completed the rest of my high school education at a ridiculously easy and short time of attendance – also hid an enormous number of layabouts, shirkers, avoiders and truants. Whose parents often discovered when they hit senior years that there were no credits earned on the books. Then the crap hit the fan, and that was the end of the progressivism that had actually served me well.
Is it not the case, actually, that self-starting, progressive education is great for people who are intelligent and highly motivated? If you are one who pushes yourself you can meet the rather high demands for independent activity, and you can learn at your own, fast pace. It is the majority of the population – who arguably need teaching much more – who gets left behind.
US politics has become tribal: defined by hatred of the other. If the other claims it is good, it is bad. If the tribal leaders claim it is good, it is good. No real need for rational thought and consequently no real need for education; in fact, genuine education, for ordinary members of the tribe, is a threat to the absolute power of the tribal leaders.
We have gone back a millennium or two, almost akin to the Afghanistan tribal wars that we derided a couple of decades ago. The only difference will be the technology available as “weapons”.
Very true. Boots on the ground will soon look medieval. The wars will be for tenure over air waves.
Not really a Left v Right thing. I am not even sure “left” and “right” are particularly effective terms anymore to explain the current political landscape. Be that as it may, whoever designed the early lockdown parameters obviously never even realised the existence of townships such as Khayelitsha, here in South Africa, where one tin shack with no running water or electricity is home to nine family members, often with absentee adults forced to trudge to essential blue-collar jobs to ensure that Zoom gigsters could still order online their groceries every three or four days. Everyone in our neighbourhood used to emerge from their stupor every evening at 8pm, stand next to their swimming pool, and clap in solidarity with all the frontline health-workers risking life and limb every day for 10 minutes. You were shunned if you didn’t. If I was a healthcare worker and township resident, my scrubs covered in bodily waste products at the end of each exhausting work day, I’m just peachy sure I’d be comforted by the clapping of all those folk, and the gentle tinkling of ice in their G&Ts. Again, be that as it may, it became gum-hurtingly apparent right from the get-go that the kids in the townships were screwed. Utterly, totally betrayed by their elders. And, in some cases, depending on what stage of schooling they were at, they were effectively banished to the wastelands of polite society for the rest of their lives. Some deep, dark part of me will never get over that. You increasingly need to be schizophrenic to tolerate the soul-destroying disparities when living in South Africa, and I am sure, many other parts of the world.
UK teacher here. Lockdown was not a holiday for most of us. The remote lessons described in the article should be enough to remind everyone of that. Many teachers hated them but had to put up with it. But on the question of the unions I agree with the comments here. When the unions forced the government into a second school closure I received a letter- ‘We did it, Adam! …’ like we’d won a football match. Schools should never close again, and if a teaching union ever claims to be acting ‘for the sake of the children’ I won’t believe them.
“And if, God forbid, we face a similar emergency in the future, we should commit to keeping schools open at all costs.”
A commendable sentiment but, from a US perspective, the “we” in that sentence is immensely optimistic.
There is no “we” in the US anymore. If, God forbid, we face another pandemic, the response will once again split along partisan lines in much the same way as it did in this pandemic.
I blame social media in large part. Each half gets completely different information on the same subject.
As a mental health professional working with children and adolescents I have seen, again and again, how the year and a half of ‘remote instruction’ has been lost time and set the stage for many of the behavioral and emotional problems that are now appearing in rapidly increasing numbers. As someone who also teaches graduate students, it is clear to me that remote instruction is inevitably substandard instruction. The only shocking thing has been the enthusiasm with which I have seen so many teachers, from the elementary school to the graduate school level embrace this method of instruction. In every case there has been a clear negative correlation between a teacher’s enthusiasm for remote instruction and their level of genuine investment in and concern about teaching. It seems that far too many of my colleagues prefer the ease of never having to leave their homes, or even put on their pants, despite the fact that it means that few of their students will be learning very much. In fact, it seems that many of them enthusiastically embrace the built-in excuse that remote instruction provides for the poor education they are delivering, while at the same time embracing their ‘dread fear’ of COVID to justify the continuation of this kind of instruction. Regardless of their rhetoric to the contrary, too many teachers have adopted the mentality and values of tenured civil servants and the option of remote instruction has fit perfectly with those values.
This general attitude shift fits part and parcel with so very many changes in the teaching profession over the past two decades. We are now becoming aware of how online instruction blew the whistle on much of what is presented to children in current classroom settings. Parents were watching. And many of them were truly appalled by what they saw and heard.
A particularly maladroit but intensely palpitant and throbbingly true activist (whose academic attributes often leave much wanting) will often arrive at some purpose in life that does not allow them to actually care about their students, on principle. Or have much interest in teaching them according to individually celebrated autonomous and unique perspectives, according to their wits, learned skills and abilities. In other words, their education does not belong specifically and uniquely to them. Such as it can be identified, it now belongs to a glorious hivemind collective, whose sole purpose is a massive societal upheaval long before the glorious coup de gras and a supposedly overthrown traditional order.
Imagine being a kindergarten, or grades one, two or three teacher, gazing out on a classroom of some 30 wee kids – and not at all seeing the wonder and the joy of those 30 wee citizens, but instead, the stalwart “warriors to the cause” that said teacher will be mandated to turn them into. I think about that for a moment (remembering my own education and what it did for me) and I have to quietly lock away almost all of the pithy responses I would wish to express about all of this. I never taught formally or officially in my life, but yet I have been teaching for much of my life, anyhow. This idiot b*****d child, this tortuous love child of identity politics and Marxian mush that now primps and prances its way through our educational establishment from start to finish, I wish to God we could starve the beast, the darling relic, the unnatural and predatory collection of maladjusted and soul-destroying appetites that have no business anywhere near our children.
I make one (personal) point: As a mere child, I was taught to look out from my flawed self, and discover a world, a universe, full of beautiful distractions. Far more interesting, fascinating, absorbing and distracting than whatever the hell my identity might have been.
The learning came first. The identity sprang like that first lover’s leap from the loins of knowledge and understanding. What the hell else are teachers supposed to do?
To have an identity when you know nothing? What is that identity anyway? Is it not shallow? Skin deep? As simple as a reproductive organ and not much more?
Very well put.
And the Labour Party said, in their video to commemorate the death of George Floyd, that they will build a curriculum ‘to empower children of all backgrounds to be the change our country needs’. They want to raise a generation of activists. If they come to power, expect more explicit propaganda in schools.
Have you ever done remote learning? It sucks. There is just something intangible you lose when you are no longer interacting with people face to face. Simple things like asking a question and getting help working through a problem are now five times more difficult. Interacting through a screen does not produce the same relationships as simply being able to talk to your classmates and instructors before and after the lesson. God forbid someone starts having tech problems or a power or internet outage. Do not get me wrong. Remote classes can be a great thing in the right circumstances, but they should not be the default. Particularly with young kids. Oh and one last thing, if you think many Middle American parents would be enthusiastic about the idea of just plopping their kids in front of a computer screen for months on end just because Trump said so, you have not met many of them. If he did, I would expect Trump’s position on the matter to have switched within the next few days.
Jokes go down badly too as I found out today during my online class.
Remote learning was the 21st Century’s technological debutante ball, in which the overall results saw Cinderella falling down the ballroom stairs and breaking her neck. While Prince Charming, otherwise known as the national Teachers’ Union, cast askance glances and hoped for the best.
Of course (some of us) are now painfully aware that education is an intensely social thing. We are hardwired in certain ways that either sharpen our focus or keep it fuzzy. And whether we truly believe that current outcomes and results from the past two years did not need to happen – the results will wind up as that pig in the python for years to come. Was it a betrayal of public trust, after all? In keeping with so many other trends, perhaps. We’ll know all about that, soon enough.
Reading the room via tiny screens is an impossible task. Much of teaching is observing what the students are receiving. That feedback can’t be done by video. The interaction between teacher and student explains why smaller classes outdo larger ones. Teachers know that. Quite hard to understand why so many tolerated their unions if they cared about their students.
Techniques possible with adults or near adults fail with younger students. The self direction and motivations differ greatly. We know all that so why were so many fooled?
There was a real element too of tech-crazy people who were convinced that online learning is the wave of the future. These people were around before the pandemic and thought – this is our time, we can prove to the world that online learning can produce results as good as the classroom.
In fact what we found was that online learning doesn’t work well even for university students, much less the under 12 set.
How did we learn that it doesn’t work for university students?
“Online learning” is a broad concept. It is not beyond the minds of innovators to create exciting packages for the under twelves.
I found it worked well for me. I did classes in history of art, Mandarin and Chinese brush painting. The teachers were very well prepared and the material easily accessible through Google classroom.
Great summary of civilizational disaster. But the purpose of it is pretty clear and best illustrated by Oregon’s decision to waive basic math and reading requirements for high school graduation.
Schools are supposed to create recipients of guaranteed Income. New class of people who will be unemployable, illiterate to the point that they will not be able to participate in the democratic process, and will be entirely dependent on governments.
That is new objective of progressive education. We have enough activists now, it is time to produce the class of serfs.
Indeed – but they will participate in the democratic process : the people who made them dependent and helpless will inevitably be returned to power. It’s like Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Render the population helpless so they will always ‘need’ you.
You are absolutely correct in your analysis. This is exactly the goal.
You squarely struck the nail on the head.
During the lockdowns, I was teaching at a grammar school. The school was not fully prepared for the March 2020 lockdown. However, the school was fully prepared for the January 2021 lockdown. Using the Google platform, I was able to teach at the same pace as if I were in a classroom. I was only able to do this, however, because I could assume that most of the pupils were highly motivated and I did not have to waste time checking that pupils were paying attention.
Subsequently I worked in a comprehensive. In the year group taking GCSEs the mental health problems were concentrated amongst those students who had clearly done nothing during the lockdowns. Having assumed that they would be the third year group to receive teacher assessed (and inflated) grades, the prospect of having to sit exams was too much for many of them.
Even within the public sector in the UK, the outcomes from the lockdowns will be very divergent. Some adolescents will also have developed new interests. Many boys took up cooking. Amongst some of my Muslim pupils, there was a widely quoted saying that ‘Quarantine is Korantime’.
Can we not have American focused writing please? There is enough of it elsewhere.
I am interested in what is going on in the USA. Often, unfortunately, they are the canaries in the mine, so I would like fore-warning
Indeed. All subjects matters in the UK are also politicised.
There was very little in this article that did not also apply to the UK.
Australia has made remote – really, really remote – learning work since the invention of radio.
Under the UK’s Education Acts, it’s the duty of parents to ensure their children get an education that’s full-time (not defined) and suitable to their aptitudes and needs, ‘at a school or otherwise’. Private schools have the option of excluding pupils.who don’t comply with their rules and ethos, and who don’t engage with their education. State schools really don’t. Perhaps, if they did, parents and children would learn to appreciate the huge privilege of receiving an education paid for by the whole working population of the country.
Classic example of the failure of both neo-con and econatsee/leftist schools of thought. Each thinks that destroying education and rendering people stupid will make it easier for them to get and keep power. Each believes this will leave them free to build the Utopia they know is within their reach. When the dream fails guess who they blame? Yes – the same poor sods who’s heads they messed with in the first place. On a more positive note societies do seem able to revert to grown up government after each outbreak of this lunacy.
Well who’d have thunk it? Chalk and talk, transposing exactly the same Victorian model to computer screens doesn’t work? It’s exactly this bl**dy minded unimaginative teacher attitude which made sure that online learning didn’t work. Online LEARNING. Got it? Not online teaching. There’s a vast amount of material online – not produced by mainstream educators, of course – which is engaging, interactive, and adaptive, and very successful. The education establishments could have tapped into much of this, and themselves learned from it, but simply closed their minds to anything but ‘this is the way we’ve always done it, so this is the way we always will do it’. And very impressive ‘it’ is, isn’t it? After all, pre-lockdown only 7 to 8 million adults in the UK were functionally illiterate.
Most children are very happy to while away hours on their iPads or phones but have absolutely no interest in the vast amount of educational material available. Children enjoy games but generally reject educational games.
ALL games are ‘educational’ games; it’s just that children are learning stuff that adults, especially professional educators, don’t want them to learn.
As for the idea that online resources/courses are inferior to chalk and talk, there are more people learning languages through a single online language provider than in the whole US public school system. And that has been true for several years.
Online LEARNING probably works quite well – for children who are well motivated and reasonably smart (though even here a bit of advice and direction is surely beneficial). It is the large number of children who are not all that interested and maybe finds it all a bit hard – but who still need to learn things – who need teaching.
“The decisive factor behind lengthy school closures was probably the toxic political climate of the Trump era.”
This is true, and so irritating. The polemical toxicity of our social discourse is incredibly corrosive. Unfortunately, I’m forced to blame this toxicity more on the Left than the Right. It seems that the trajectory of liberalism is more and more toward sentimentalism and appeals to authority, rather than emotional maturity and reason. They don’t feel compelled to compromise or even debate issues, but instead resort to predetermined ideological conclusions.
Case in point, the Left’s hatred of DJT is simply out of control, to the point that the Left refuses to listen or even consider the possibility that he or his supports might have something of value to contribute to any given issue. Liberals do not what to hear any criticism for fear they will be giving credit to DJT and MAGA, so they just blindly and stubbornly proceed with failure. Right now, we are paying a very hefty price for the inability of the Democratic Party to critically and honestly assess their policies. No matter how much evidence that their policies are failing (inflation and the economy, Ukraine, crime, etc.), they refuse to re-assess or change their policies for fear they are giving in to Fox News and MAGA. The days of Bill Clinton’s reasonable and measured approach to opposition is long gone.
Children need human and peer interaction, no question. But under unpreventable circumstances it would be smart to channel the child’s fixation with being on their phone/computer and devise programmes that hold their attention and willingness to participate and educate at the same time.
The ongoing politicization of everything so as to maintain the pretense there’s a real division between the GOP and the Democrats, other than ways and means of advancing the joint agenda of keeping deadly neoliberal economics in place, is killing people. It’s as simple as that.
There’s a mass of evidence immediate targeted treatment prevented severe disease from C-19 infection, and yet every useful treatment was not only dismissed as useless but deliberately suppressed in favor of untested vaccines. People still aren’t being advised to get that immediate treatment. We’ll never know how many people died to make Pfizer, Moderna et al. rich.
The existence of free public education is anathema to neoliberal economics, which is why it has been steadily undermined by both parties since Reagan. The damage done by the lockdowns is now being further exacerbated by huge budget cuts to schools so more money can be handed to law enforcement. Do I really need to point out what that implies for the future?
Don’t blame “leftist teachers” or unions. Every generation for the last 40 years has been carefully trained and conditioned to embrace what their team’s cheerleaders tell them without question, and the fact that Trump’s administration initiated the abandonment of existing standard public health protocols like mask mandates and whatnot, not Biden’s, was fortunately lost because of the electoral transition and the January 6 craziness.
As long as people allow themselves to be manipulated by their “leaders” via trigger words installed by decades of propaganda, designed to ensure we keep blaming each other instead of the real culprits, they can do whatever they like, no matter who gets hurt. Or dies.
We’re being played, friends. We’ve been played for a very long time, but only in the last 80 years have the ones playing us had the kind of psychological weapons in the form of propaganda and advertising via media controlled by a handful of mega-corporations have so many been so vulnerable.
Before people start handing me a foil hat, I’ve watched the mess get worse over 70 of those 80 years, and as an experienced journalist and student of propaganda, I know how it was done. So, you can choose to believe me or not. I only ask that you think about what the Great Blame Game those in power use to keep us at each other instead of them is doing.
There is no mass of *reliable* evidence in favour of immediate targeted treatment. Sure, some of it might turn out to help a bit, if we are lucky, but on current data we are talking about placebos. There is a *lot* of evidence that vaccines 1) work, 2) are a lot safer than getting COVID unvaccinated.
Which source are you getting your evidence from?
Yes, a lot safer for older people with comorbidities, but not for children.
I am not sure that ever got settled. My impression is that for children the risks are fairly small, either way, and that it is not quite clear which way the balance goes. But even at best the gain for children is not huge, that much is true.
Amazing how supermarkets, hospitals, on line delivery services, postal services all kept going, but the teachers both in America and the UK stated that it was too dangerous to be exposed to face to face education – this was for the “educators” an extended holiday free from the worries are cares of doing the job they were being paid to do – however, what they did teach the children was how as an adult you can “game the system” and be well paid for doing nothing – now all they need to do is sit thru a couple years teacher training and a life time of freedom awaits them.
And yet, while they were busy locking up kids, there was utter failure to protect the most vulnerable population in care homes. 40% of Covid deaths were in care homes.
Personally, as a participant in art classes, there are a few that have stayed online which quite a blessing to older people like me. But that is adult education.