The late Harvard Biologist, Stephen J. Gould, Ph.D., was known for his theory of punctuated evolution, the idea that significant changes occur following significant events rather than gradually and somewhat uniformly over time. Highly respected best-selling British author, Matt Ridley, D.Sc., in his 2015 and 2020 books, The Evolution of Everything and How Innovation Works, extends our understanding of evolution to include how society and technology change. This coronavirus pandemic represents a significant global experience. Undoubtedly, significant changes will happen as a consequence.
One area of society that might experience major change is public education. Because the current administration, the President and the CDC among others, dared to suggest that schools should open for students this fall, large numbers of partisan opponents, school boards, governors, teachers unions, and others of the “resistance” generally oppose the opening of our public schools. The partisan media also took sides in this debate by cherry-picking the arguments that support their agendas and by assassinating the characters of those who dare to disagree. This political wrangling ignores the data that shows children, their teachers, parents, communities, and the nation suffer greater risks when schools remain closed. It’s dysfunction writ large!
In a previous post, How Do We Decide About Schools, I stated my case. Schools should open this fall for students in classrooms on campus. I recommended this with some exceptions in those few areas around the country where local school boards determine it would not be safe at this time. The decision should be rational not political. In other words, the boards should consider the pros and cons, or the costs and benefits to students, teachers, parents, and the broader community recognizing that there are consequences and risks with any decision, but there are benefits as well. No aspect of our lives is free of risk or danger. Sometimes the likely good outweighs the possible harm.
I claim some expertise on this issue as a professional educator with advanced degrees and more than 50 years of experience as a science educator, academic administrator, and college president. I also claim some insight through my marriage to a talented elementary school teacher with more than 40 years of experience in both private and public education. I also claim some empathy as a parent whose children excelled in public school, college, and post graduate education and training. Nothing about my opinion relates to partisan politics. I see nothing about this decision that should have anything to do with how people vote or even don’t vote.
All of this is just background to my main point. Public education will change significantly as a result of this pandemic. Parents will find a way. In school districts that decide to remain closed, many parents and teachers will pursue alternatives for the education of their children. I predict the number of cooperative neighborhood schools will grow. I predict private and parochial schools will see record enrollments. Home schooling will increase dramatically as will effective online and hybrid programs. You should expect to see more charter schools that avoid the not-so-convenient niceties of collective bargaining. Many excellent teachers may find themselves hired as tutors, either by the more affluent citizens of our communities or by ordinary people who come together to share the expense. It seems likely that groups of teachers will establish their own learning centers, perhaps specializing in certain areas of knowledge and training. Perhaps these teacher groups will form partnerships with other teacher groups specializing in other areas of education. The number of possibilities is endless.
This pandemic and the partisan motivation witnessed in some parts of our country may ultimately lead to a revolution in public and private education that will move our communities and our entire country forward free of the yoke of the unions and other negative pressures currently inhibiting our schools. We could see a gigantic leap in the education of our young people. We generally know how to educate our students, but we don’t always agree on what is important to include in their education. I’ve always felt that a diversity of educational experiences is best for society and best for our children.
Parents need to have choices. Competition leads to excellence. The distributed governance of schools allows for experimentation, and that ultimately encourages discovery of new and better ways of learning in the most important lessons necessary for a flourishing human society.
If your school district decides to remain closed this fall, they should be aware of the consequences. People are at least as smart as their elected representatives, smarter in many cases.