Learning under Quarantine Only Reveals the Importance of Public Schooling— told through the Perspective of Student
July 28, 2020
(11 min read)
(11 min read)
By Lulu Xu
Over the past few months, I’ve overheard some parents and friends making comments about how the present situation during this global pandemic will forever change our society. I agree; events like these are rare and indeed have and will continue to change the lives of the people on this planet. However, one argument I’ve seen being made is that, as a result of this pandemic, more children will be inclined to choose home-schooling instead of public schooling, even after lockdown restrictions are lifted. I’ve heard people say that after this pandemic, there’s even the possibility that public schooling will cease to exist. I get where they’re coming from: the advancement in computer technology has proven itself capable of schooling millions of children across the globe for this short period of time. However, as a student who attended public school her whole life and was “home-schooled” for three months due to COVID-19, I want to make a few arguments to this point.
Now, I’m not completely disagreeing with the argument that students will be more inclined to choose home-schooling over going to a school with other children. I have no doubt that some kids who find themselves more suited for a more individual, isolated learning environment have found that these new regulations have led to them improving and learning better when compared to going to school with other children. I am sure that, as a result of this pandemic, some children will drop public schooling entirely and instead choose to learn at home. However, the fact of the matter is, this pandemic has proven that public schooling is even more necessary than most people had believed before.
If you’re a parent, you probably aren’t observing your child’s social media at all times. From what I, as a teenager, have seen from both my private messages to public Instagram and Tiktok posts, *is that many of us despise remote learning*. Really, we hate it. Think about it! From the moment we first went to school, we were taught alongside other students. Teachers sat us next to each other, we had to play with each other in gym class, create projects together, etc. etc. As a result, an integral part of our learning experience is learning /through/ others. The public schooling system establishes an almost competitive environment where the “average student” is created. It is all based on grades and behavior, of course. If you go to your kid and show them a picture of all the students from one of their classes, they would be able to point out to you whether each child “fits” the average, goes above it, or goes below it. Your child might not be right, of course, but the fact that they can make calculated speculations is proof enough that a public learning environment inherently creates competition amongst the student body.
Now, am I saying that this competitive learning environment is a GOOD thing? Definitely not! This competition can often lead children to develop unhealthy habits. It creates hostility and it makes many children believe that they are “superior” to one another. What I’m saying is that this competitiveness is what differentiates a public education system to a home-schooled one. As people with developing minds, we are constantly seeking “tendencies” or “patterns” in our environment. Just as public schooling can make children hostile to one another, it creates friendships and friend groups as well. There’s an obvious reason why students who succeed academically get along with each other, and why students who love sports get along with each other, and why students who are in their school’s theater club get along with each other (you get the point). In this public school’s “wild jungle”, we have to find our “kind”, our “species” in order to survive. For example, if a friend group is made up of students who are into art, each member can nurture each other’s artistic abilities and inspire one another. We think “if they can do that, so can I!”
So, in short, the hostility in a public learning environment creates jealousy, but can also create admiration amongst students. Nonetheless, this is what makes public schooling superior to homeschooling. You just can’t get the necessary social interaction in the comfort of your own bedroom the way you get feedback from other students constantly. Peer pressure teaches kids from a young age what is socially acceptable and what isn’t in this society. When you’re homeschooled, you may take classes like ballet or piano with other children, or you may have camped, or you may take a sport, but it’s arguably not the same as being in a public setting all of the time.
I remember clearly that during the months of May and June, remote-learning became a hassle to us students. Posts on social media were filled with my classmates asking: "Does anyone else feel unmotivated to learn anymore?” “For some reason, I’ve lost all motivation to do any of my school work.” The stress, the obligation, the peer pressure for students to academically perform well has been taken away. No longer being face-to-face with a teacher, or sitting with twenty other children in a closed room, a student OBVIOUSLY doesn’t feel the need to strive for success in their comfortable, isolated bedroom. EVERY child knows the feeling of waking up in the morning during the weekdays and putting on a “mask” before heading out to school, and then that little relief of taking it off when they come back home. Not only do we physically get ready for school, we mentally prepare ourselves to enter a public, competitive environment. With remote learning? That’s all taken away. None of my teachers noticed that I wore pajamas to all of the zoom calls, or that I had my mic muted almost all the time. You can get away with not speaking or not showing your face at all in class, and write it off as having “audio and video difficulties”. In our minds, we’re subconsciously thinking: “I’m in my bedroom, not my chemistry classroom. I’m sitting in front of my computer, not in front of a teacher. I’m not supposed to be learning, I’m supposed to be relaxing.” It’s no wonder why we’re having trouble learning.
Not only do we strive to compete against our peers, but we seek the confirmation and validation that teachers provide as well. Sure, a programmed learning website can spit back whether the answers I inputted into the computer was correct or false, but it’s not the same as a teacher walking through the steps with me, checking each step along the way to make sure I’m following along and understanding the process. Teachers, at least the GOOD ones, are able to see what exactly is blocking us from understanding a certain concept. And it’s their duty to make sure we climb over that block to achieve understanding. Technology (at least, where it is right now,) is not yet capable of doing that, as much as it tries to mimic the helpfulness of a teacher. My chemistry teacher used a site called “CK-12” to teach science lessons to us, and although I never lagged behind in completing each assignment provided by the website, it only further highlighted the enormous, gaping hole stretching between a machine and a human. This is just how we are. Technology is advancing rapidly, but it’ll take a major breakthrough for it to be able to even compete with the complex, empathetic mind of another human being. We’re naturally inclined to interact with one another. When we are home-schooled in front of a computer, we are being stripped away from what makes us thrive.
Okay, that sounds like a little dramatic, doesn’t it? But if you were to go online, you would find that there are entire groups on the internet dedicated to people who are “recovering” from being homeschooled. To clarify, it’s important to know that there are groups dedicated to homeschooling itself, which are mostly comprised of parents who wish to share ideas and stories with other parents who choose to homeschool their children. However, the “homeschool recovery” forums and groups are comprised of children or former children who were in these situations. In these groups, almost every person talks about how miserable they are (or were) being taught at home. They felt lonely, different, uninspired, and isolated from the rest of society. Many feel as though they missed out on the “common teenage experience” that all other students have. If your child is a senior, they are probably (and righteously) upset that they are giving up some huge milestones of their teenage experience: prom and graduation. It is universally known, at least in the United States, that your last months of being a senior should be dedicated to creating memories that will last with you forever.
Parents will argue that they’re turning their child into someone special by creating a special learning environment for them, but the truth is: most children don’t /want/ “special”. They want friends, they want to socialize and play, they want to learn and grow along with other people like them.
Think about /your/ childhood, and how school experiences make up a good portion of your memories. Graduating from elementary school and gaining those privileges in middle school, and then gaining even more freedom in high school, was all very thrilling. When we first entered middle school, I remember my friends and I being ecstatic over having our own, private lockers to store our things in. We had finally unlocked the privilege to store our own personal things in our own dedicated spaces, unlike the open cubbies in elementary school. Once we entered high school, we were again /overjoyed/ to have unlocked even more privileges, such as being able to leave the school during our free periods and go to town. This privilege is only unlocked once you’re in high school of course, and for the obvious reason that you were now old enough to be left alone without teacher supervision. But when you’re homeschool, when are these privileges “unlocked”? Despite your homeschooling classes feeding you increasingly difficult material, what changes about your lifestyle? What indicates that you’re growing up, that you’re becoming an adult?
Change, although scary, is an opportunity for your child to grow. So if the lifestyle you've given your child has been monotonous and repetitive throughout their entire life, you’re holding your child back from growing.
My point is that I’ve always been curious about the lifestyle of a homeschooled student, and because of this pandemic, I got to experience a little bit of what it was like. And I /hated it./ I missed seeing my friends and classmates, and I even missed my /teachers/. At the very least, I was able to talk to them all over the phone or computer. Children who have been homeschooled their entire life haven’t even had the opportunity to form those connections, those connections I’ve created because of school.
Public schooling doesn’t just teach you academics, it prepares you for entering society. These social skills are arguably just as valuable, if not MORE valuable than the classes themselves. In History and English class, group discussions are held almost every week because being able to listen to others and communicate our ideas is a skill we have to have as adults when we’re in job meetings. In science class, students are almost always assigned lab partners to learn how to cooperate with other individuals and work together to solve tasks.
Did remote learning improve my academic grades? Yes, actually. Don’t misconstrue my words, there are MANY advantages that come with remote learning. In math class, for example, I could now rewind a youtube video to review the information I might have not understood, which I could not do in a classroom setting without disrupting the lesson by asking a question. But in the long-run, is remote learning a sustainable teaching method for children? I don’t think so. There’s a reason why your kids and their friends are cheering at the fact that schools are planning to reopen after the summer ends.
I am grateful that for three months, I was able to wake up late, do class assignments when I felt like it, and go to class in my sleeping clothes. I am grateful that I could finish my assignments in the morning, and get to spend the rest of the day doing whatever I liked. But we’re more than ready to return to school.
Written by Lulu Xu
My story, my world