I am going to be stern here at times. I am (mostly) kidding. Maybe I should have waited to the end to tell you that.
The brilliant Scott Siskind* has a new post at Astral Codex Ten, Kids Can Recover From Missing Even Quite A Lot of School about how much effect there will be from children missing school because of CoVid. The short answer is Academically, not much. Children have gone through much worse in many times and places and caught up in a year or so. Social/cultural/moral/character development? This is hard to measure, but there may be something to that. Being Dr. Siskind and a bit obsessive, he cites a good deal of research, mercifully by linking to it. He is as cynical about schools and teachers as I am, except he’s smarter and more diligent about research.
I once thought I would be pleased if schools figured out that they aren’t there to teach academics and aren’t very good at it. (Nor have they ever been, even in the Good Old Days. I wrote about those days a decade ago, Part One and Part Two, in which I say a lot of things people will disagree with, but are nonetheless true. Schools were different but not better then. The reason you want to tell me why I’m wrong is likely something I have already heard.) The primary value of schools may always have been in their teaching of conscientiousness, group norms for behavior, and other things we would file under “character.” However, if we were to free current teachers up to teach character it would be one more excuse to teach anti-racism and other forms of How to Be a Good Liberal. Still, I can dream, because no school is going to take my advice anyway, no matter how right I am.
I mentioned that people will not much attend to what I say here, which I know because I have been in a thousand discussions about education in my life, and the same things always happen. Everyone is sure they are an expert and will tell you anecdotes about their grandfather who grew up on a farm with no electricity but went to a good old-fashioned school where they taught real content and became a chemical engineer. Damn kids don’t even know how to shoe a horse these days. Or they will give you examples of how bad things are now, or insist that things used to be better because…anecdotes. I have opinions which I will get out of the way now, which are that phonics is somewhat better than whole word, especially for poor students, and that drill in math is better than concept, especially for poor students. But it’s largely genetic and the good students are going to do fine anyway unless you beat them for stupid reasons. Whatever isn’t genetics is mostly family and neighborhood.
But it’s just oddly reflexive, that people just have to tell you these things whenever you say “education.” They have stored packets that have to be discharged.
The Teaching of Math