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Deciding what to do for school this fall

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

Today we have a guest post by Sonia from See Beyond the Grade. She has been a teacher in the Ontario French public school system since 2005 and interested in alternative education for just about as long. If you like this post, which I am sure you will, check out more at her website here. You can also get updates on new posts at her facebook page here.

Dial down the guilt (and the judgement); deciding what to do for school this fall

Teachers, parents and children from the four corners of the world are on pins and needles as schools begin to reopen in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. It is absolutely normal and natural for everyone to feel some level of anxiety during this time.

We are all eager to get back to the way things used to be… but unfortunately, that will not be available to anyone, any time soon. We’re all just trying to do our best and figuring things out as we go along.

Some people might still be on the fence about sending their children to school or continuing with online learning (in the regions where this option is available). In regions where back to school is “mandatory”, many parents are seriously considering going rogue and signing their children out of school to homeschool or unschool.

In order to have a respectful and open dialogue surrounding this very important yet quite polarizing topic, I feel it is key to consider this very important reality; each family’s circumstances are different and should be regarded as such. Nobody has the right answer and there is no easy decision; there is just what is right for you and your family.

The only thing that we all have in common is that, as parents, we genuinely want what is best for our family. Also, it’s nobody’s business what you choose to do, as long as you have your kids’ best interest at heart.

As an educator, I could write about the virtues of school as an institution because it has several. However, this post was written to help quell the anxieties of a specific set of parents; parents who have a gnawing desire to keep their children home, that have found a way to make that work for their family but are struggling with guilt surrounding the societal ideal that children belong in school.

I will try to offer up a non-biased reflection that weighs out the pros and cons that are probably keeping you up at night. Bear in mind that I have been a teacher since 2005 and, as a mother, I myself have been faced with the same difficult decision to make.

“Children need to go to school in order to be socialized.”

I wholeheartedly agree that it is invaluable for children to be in the presence of various people in order to perfect social skills such as sharing, cooperation, empathy and acceptance. School is a good way of practicing these skills. However, I would argue that it’s definitely not the only way (or even the best way) to achieve this.

In school, children are assigned to a group of classmates of their own age and they pretty much follow this group for 8 years (JK-grade 6). That’s fine… but when you really think about it, it’s not ideal. First off, the kids don’t get to pick their classmates. Then, they are committed to spending hours on end with them 5 days a week for years. Also, their time interacting with each other is normally directed by adults and the time they can interact freely is quite limited.

Despite all of these restrictions, many people report having important and long-lasting friendships that were created in school. I can also attest to this personally; I am married to my 4th grade best friend and have many friendships that have been going strong since my time in school… some of which have endured for over 30 years.

In contrast, many children who are homeschooled *in normal times* get to socialize with various people of different age groups and can draw from this diversity to create their understanding of the world. They get to engage in conversation and activities that derive from their passions and do this with all types of people they meet along the way. Also, they can have a say with whom they spend time. This is a very meaningful and natural way of socializing.

Now, because of the pandemic, everyone’s kinda screwed.

Children who go to school will be in social contact with their classmates, which, in theory, is wonderful. However, we must take into consideration that they will be interacting closely only with assigned classmates. Also, PPE, social distancing and sanitary measures will make for a quite different social experience than the one we would want for our children.

On the other hand, children who are kept home will be exposed to a significantly smaller cluster of people than they normally would if homeschooled in normal times. However, the relationships they do cultivate with parents, siblings, grandparents and certain friends within their bubble will probably turn out to be deeper, warmer, richer and more natural.

In which case, it comes down to quantity vs quality.

It’s a tossup.

“School is necessary for a child’s mental health and development.”

School definitely is a place where some children are truly happy. School can offer a wonderful sense of community and belonging for many children. Also, speaking from personal experience, teachers are usually well-intentioned humans who love and care for their students as if they were their own offspring.

Unfortunately, this pandemic and the sanitary measures that ensue will significantly impact this human experience. Although the situation is far from ideal, children will adapt quickly to their “new normal”, whatever that is. Rest assured that, if they are in school, teachers will bend over backwards to ensure their safety and try to recreate a semblance of normalcy for them.

On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind that, contrary to what politicians and some child development experts would like you to believe, your children will not become feral if they don’t go to school. Actually, from a biological standpoint, children belong with their family and parents are best equipped to raise their own children. So why all the fuss about school?

Yes, some children rely heavily on school for food, education and affection. But I’m not talking about these children here.

We live in a society where the norm is that most households have curated their reality in such a manner that two incomes are necessary to maintain a certain lifestyle. Because of this, school has become a form of subsidized daycare for working parents and has been regarded as indispensable for a long time now.

In order to keep the economy rolling at the pace it has for a long while, politicians have a vested interest in continuing to promote school as an oasis of well being for every child. Not because it the best thing for the children but because without it, families would need to drastically readjust their lifestyles in order to care for and educate their children full-time. As a consequence, our consumerism based economy would take a massive hit.

Most people don’t ever really question the school’s raison d’être. We send our kids to school because that’s what people do. In turn, we accept many of its absurdities (such as homework and standardized testing) simply because this is how things have been done for a long time.

We’re obviously not ready for a complete reorganization of the way we live, even if the way we live is unsustainable. Not even a pandemic can make us change our ways; we can’t wait to get back to the hectic life that was making us sicker as collective than COVID-19 ever could.

I digress…

In my years as a primary school teacher, I have seen many young students struggle for reasons varying from bullying, boredom, poor grades, learning disabilities (or what we like to label learning disabilities), physical handicaps, giftedness, a general sense of not fitting in or simply wanting to be free to learn at their own pace. With this in mind, school, even in regular times, is not always the haven of well being that some would like to have you believe.

Whatever we choose to do for back to school, what will be vital to our kids’ mental health and development is that, as primary caregivers, we are checking in with them periodically, that we listen without discernment as well as have an honest and open dialogue with them about their feelings.

From there, we can readjust accordingly.

“School is the only viable option for a child’s education.”

Contrary to what we have been taught to believe, education and schooling are not one and the same.

Every fall, as a teacher, I am always amazed at how children have changed, grown and blossomed over summer break. Unstructured play, passion driven activities and quality time with loved ones are at the heart of this remarkable growth. Yet, we can’t wait to get them back inside the four walls of a classroom so they can get to “learning” again.

We’ve come to believe that learning is a rigid linear process. Teacher inputs information → child processes information → child regurgitates information back to the teacher. Done. Learning acquired (and graded). This is one of the greatest fallacies of our time, in my opinion.

Humans learn constantly and in many different ways. Yes, of course children learn in school but it is only one of the places they learn. Without school, they continue on learning. Some might even argue that learning outside of conventional schooling is actually more sustainable and meaningful, but this will be something to be addressed in another post.

Even if you send them to school or continue on with online courses, it is primordial that you understand this; putting all of the onus of your child’s education on school is reckless, even in normal times. In my humble opinion, whatever is learned in school won’t matter and won’t stick if it’s not applied to real life. In any scenario, school should be regarded as complementary to whatever is going on at home.

Speaking from experience, understanding this very basic fact will be helpful not only to your child but also to their teachers; as soon as your child is assigned to a teacher, you become a team and have to work in harmony for the good of your children.

If you choose to keep them home during the pandemic, you can tailor education to the specific needs of each child based on their temperament. If you continue with online learning, you have the teachers and lesson plans to help you through. If you are homeschooling, you can pick and choose from curricula you find online and can rely on widely shared resources. If you are unschooling, you can trust that your children will lead you through the process and let you know what they need as far education.

Bottom line, trust in your instinct as a parent. If you think the best thing for everyone involved is to send your kids to school, do it. Your kids will be just fine. If you think the best thing for everyone involved is to keep your kids home, do it. Your kids will be just fine.

If something isn’t working, you can always readjust. This is only temporary, anyways. Stand in your truth and own it… but know that your neighbor's truth may not be the same as yours. Let’s be humble and kind to one another in these difficult times. We’re all just stumbling around in the dark.

You can find more information about homeschooling in difficult times on our Crisis School page.

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