On the one hand, we want children to go back to school so we can get back to work and return to normalcy. On the other hand, there is no doubt that schools will become places of mass infection since social distancing is completely unnatural for children. They will not be able to comply with such rules, and it is emotionally harmful for them to keep physically apart.
The outcome of the clash between opening schools and boosting the economy, and closing schools and keeping the children and their families safe will be the permanent and long overdue breakdown of the education system.
School as we know it is a defunct system that’s been dead for decades. More than knowledge, it “teaches” children obnoxious behaviors, exposes them to drugs, extreme sexual promiscuity, bullying, violence, addiction to anything from computer games to hard drugs, and alienates them from their families.
COVID-19 did us all a big favor by closing down the “education” system, and will do us another favor when it stops us from reopening it. In the end, we will learn what social frameworks we do need to open and what kind of activities we want them to conduct, but it is up to us to decide how quickly we want that good end to come.
Florida, which tried to open its school system, exemplifies the cost of insistence on opening schools. The Florida Department of Health reported an increase of 9,000 confirmed cases in children in just 15 days since schools reopened in the state. It is absurd to think that it could happen otherwise.
The very development of kids depends on their close contact with each other. Touching, playing together, exchanging objects, sharing and befriending are necessary for their growth. Kids need close contact with friends and peers in order to establish themselves as social beings. For them, it is as vital as food.
Even worse, the message that we send them by telling them to stay apart and obey the (anti)social distancing regulation is likely to scar them for good. We are alienating them from one another. Our healthy parental instincts make us encourage our kids to socialize, make friends, be nice to people, and be careful of bad people, since we want them to grow up to be accomplished individuals.
But with the coronavirus restrictions, we have to tell them the opposite: “Stay away from everyone! Stay in your own corner; don’t give anything to anyone, and don’t take anything from anyone. Anyone can give you the virus; stay away from them!” What kind of people do we expect to grow out of such imperatives?
Under such conditions, it is better to keep kids at home and teach them online, where communication between them is monitored and minimal. The connections they will develop with peers online will be much more positive and less stressful than the social pressure they endure in class, and they will complete their need for social contacts with family and with a few close friends where they feel comfortable and safe, and where they minimize the risk of infection.
What schools give in the way of knowledge, they will teach through online or recorded classes. For children today, online learning is as natural as physical learning is for us. In fact, it is physical learning and the compulsory classroom attendance that are unnatural for them.
Children’s presence at home will not come without a cost. A grownup will have to be with them at home during their “school” hours. In households with two parents, one will have to stay with the children, see that they get food and break time, and that they are actually learning during their classes.
And if it seems tough to get by on one salary, it will be much tougher on single-parent households. But here, too, some arrangement will have to be found, either with government assistance, NGOs, or through another arrangement. After all, when schools are hubs of mass infection, it’s not a question of whether children should stay home, but of how it can be done.
The more quickly we acknowledge the necessity to adapt ourselves to reality, the more easily we’ll go through the transition.
When I wrote months ago that people’s hopes for returning to the pre-COVID days were unrealistic, people couldn’t accept it. Now I hope they can already see that this is so, since the sooner we adapt our policies and institutions to the fact that the virus isn’t leaving, the better we’ll be able to adapt our education, economy, and all other aspects of our lives to the new world that has emerged seemingly overnight.