Sometime in February, it was clear that the US was headed toward crisis, and every day we don’t take major action would make the crisis geometrically worse. Suburban schools closed first. The last school districts to close are bigger cities, because they had to figure out how to get breakfast and lunch to the kids who depend on it. For homeless kids, and hungry kids, school is a home away from home.
Taking kids out of school is the silver lining of coronavirus.
Coronavirus presents a snapshot of the failures in our education system: At their best, schools provide a safety net for low-income families. Beyond that school districts are simply a way to reinforce economic injustice. Study after study shows that the quality of the school isn’t what predicts education success; parent income predicts success. School districts map wealth distribution and serve to reinforce socioeconomic status.
Five years ago I proposed to fix schools by getting rid of them: schools should refuse all kids except those who are most in need of social services. And schools should become a social service safety net. Education should happen at home.
Then we can use the education budget to lift kids out of poverty, which is what the education budget should have been doing for the last 100 years.
Removing all but the poorest kids from school would require one parent to be home with the kids. This would force companies to allow people to work from home because there wouldn’t be enough people in the workforce who could spend eight, uninterrupted hours a day at work.
Once everyone is homeschooling, regular school will feel like a sham
Now. Look. My fantasy version of school reform is here. Everyone said it would be insanely disruptive to society. And it is. Coronavirus is so disruptive that there is no going back to how things used to be. From now on, parents will have a clear understanding of why homeschooling is easier and more effective than sending kids to school. Because the parents will have been forced to try it for a few months (at least!).
And from now on, companies will not be able to say it doesn’t work for people to work from home. Companies that can’t figure out how to make it work will be out of business by the time people can work at offices again. And employees will have become so good at working from home that it will feel natural to them to do it whenever they want.
We are far past the time when our education system is grounded in research:
As early as 1960 we had evidence that children do not need to start learning math until 7th grade.
New York City public schools have known for three decades that if children are not living in poverty then they will teach themselves to read.
Most recently, researchers found the education most likely to lift kids out of poverty is self-directed, project-based learning.
We can’t use any of that research, though. Because we can’t afford a public school system where kids learn on their own. Because, as it turns out, kids learn best in very small groups with one or two adults, i.e. a family.
Disrupting education will cause disruption at work.
Even if parents try to replicate school at home, it won’t work. Kids from middle-class families will end up doing some form of self-directed project-based learning at home. Parents will realize that self-directed kids are naturally curious, engaged, and hardworking. And homeschooling is easier, more efficient, and more fun than dealing with school’s arcane routines and false promises.
During the coronavirus lockdown, adults will discover that they can work fulltime and take care of their kids fulltime because homeschooling is flexible and working from home is flexible. And adults will find that, it’s not just kids: each person flourishes when they get to make choices and take chances to figure out how they want to spend their days.
I know. I’ve been homeschooling and working from home for ten years. It’s not perfect. I am late with projects and late with kid drop-off times. But you know where I learned that imperfect deliverables are bad? School. It turns out that in the real world it’s okay to make a lot of mistakes in the work you do. There are no teachers in real life. It is just you, deciding what’s most important for you to get done for you, and teaching your children to do the same for themselves.