It’s Official: Remote Learning Sucks

Call it whatever you want. Remote learning, distance learning, e-learning, or online learning. Like Mike Tyson famously said once, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Well, we have all been collectively hit very hard recently by the Covid-19 pandemic and all the planning and best intentions for remote learning quickly went out the window. And newsflash—mom and dad are busy. And not everyone has a palatial setting and the funds to set up an at-home Ikea workspace for junior.

Yes there is a pandemic. We all know. We get it. Only morons, tin foil hats, and some young people are ignoring what’s been happening. The rest of us are complying with all the new rules and regulations. We put on our masks, we are careful to not touch our faces, and we wash our hands like Laura Palmer. Many of us have now been tested, too.

As soon as the schools shut down in the spring to halt the spread of Covid-19, everyone still in school from Harvard to kindergarten was suddenly thrust online to “learn” remotely. While many of us begrudgingly made the switch quickly, God only knows what families without decent internet connections and a spare tablet or laptop lying around did. What about all the unemployed people? How did their kids remote learn? Luckily we work from home here so getting our middle school son up and running was not too difficult. Our older college-age son was entirely self-directed and needed zero help. He did say, quite unequivocally, that remote learning for the last three months of his freshman year at college was entirely lame. I’ll take him at his word.

Back to our middle schooler… Luckily for us, too, was the fact that our local middle school already had an online portal set up. I also wondered about the likelihood of this being the case for every school district in all the various US zip codes. My guess is that, depending on where you lived, not all remote learning circumstances were alike. As parents we all know we need to get our kids on the bus in the morning. Then, hopefully, we can forget about them each day until they get off the bus, come in demanding food, and then eventually accomplish their assigned homework and projects for the evening. Remote learning was not like this.

We started out explaining to our son that, no, school is not over for the year. And, yes, you will be required to do schoolwork for the remaining three months of school from home. That discussion was not easy, and it was a new dark road for all of us here.

Once we got up and running we had all sorts of plans for how we’d organize each and every school day into a cohesive schedule. Go to bed on time. Wake up on time. No video games until after 3:00. We even made a lunch every day. Then the work started to come in and just like the Mike Tyson quote, all our optimistic plans went right out the window. We needed a printer. Luckily we have a good one that can print quite a lot and does not require new ink tanks every two weeks. Again, I’m guessing many families did not have this. Very quickly I could tell that there was a dip in the overall workload that was being assigned. Maybe the work would pick up soon? I optimistically hoped it would.

Nope.

After some digging online I discovered that officially the students would only be assigned a few hours of work each day. The whole wake up at 7:30 schedule quickly switched to 9:00 after we learned not much was posted until after then. Sometimes work was not posted until after 12:00 noon. Soon everything blended together and the breakfast cereal bowl and the laptop were being used side by side and the assigned work was “done” in under 45 minutes. There were also debates, arguments, and near catastrophic meltdowns over “optional” work. With so little work being assigned we concluded that anything “optional” was most definitely “mandatory.” We got over that hump, but still the assigned work trickled in via a morass of disparate methods, random postings, and a very low bar of what was actually required.

To put it bluntly, it sucked.

Each and every day I would pick up where the school left off. Official school learning usually ended somewhere between 9:45 and 11:00. I would then assign my son reading, online SCRATCH or Python coding, LEGO building, exercise, and documentaries to watch. Disney+ and Netflix documentaries soon grew tiresome so I plopped my son down in front of the massive 17½ hour Ric Burns film, New York: A Documentary Film. My son was bored to tears but he did watch it all and I’m hopeful he is the better for it. He learned all about NYC from the time the Dutch arrived until the WTC fell on 9/11/2001. I also had him watch The West documentary by Stephen Ives and he learned how early settlers ran across America looking for a yellow stone that according to the Native Americans, “made the white man crazy.”

So eventually school ended as did my efforts to educate my middle school son and everyone just floated on through magically to the next grade. Pass/fail.

Fantastic.

Pass.

Wonderful.

Did anyone actually fail? I doubt it. Great job everyone.

So what’s next for September? Two days a week in school. Three days at home. We hope. We pray to the Covid God that the virus will abate, a vaccine will be found, and the in-person education few of us parents are equipped to provide for our children will resume and keep pace with our property taxes and tuition bills.

Regarding college, well, I always felt the whole “experience” of delayed adolescence under the pseudo micro-governance of universities all paid for by mom and dad or a crippling student loan was an overpriced scam. Thirty weeks of learning out of a 52-week year always struck me as odd too. Kind of like the 50-minute therapist hour. It just does not make sense. So now we know many people insanely sending their college kids back to closed schools to live in dorms (dorms are crowded, loud, filthy and sickly on good years) and remote learn from a laptop. This will go on until a single kid gets sick and everyone comes home again for another round of online at-home learning.

Good luck to every K-12 student with parents who both work. Even parents working from home can not continually monitor their kids to make sure they are doing what they need to.

So what’s the solution? Wear your damn mask. Wash your hands. And if you get sick, get tested and stay home. Hopefully this will be over by 2021.

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