Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Myth of Learning Loss

Life is simple for people like Bill Gates. Everything has a formula. You and I are no different from computer programs. But Bill's brain is also similar to a computer program. You know, garbage in, garbage out.

That's why we keep reading about this "learning loss." The assumption is, when school is stopped, or changed, students lose something. Whatever this is, it's so precious that it must be restored by any means necessary. So maybe we need to send kids to summer school and prepare them for the only important thing in this lifetime--the Big Standardized Test. After all, Bill Gates thinks it's important, and he has All That Money, so he must know.

The thing is, though, that learning is something a lot broader than cramming with that Barron's review book to pass the Living Environment Regents exam. I think Jack Nicholson said, "If you aren't learning, you're dead." I'd broaden that to say if you aren't learning, you're either dead, wearing a MAGA hat, or governor of Texas.

We're all learning from the pandemic. I don't know anyone alive who's been through anything like this, While it's true this won't help me pass the Geometry Regents exam, it's entirely possible I've learned something more valuable. Maybe I've learned that we need to protect ourselves and stay safe, and maybe that's more important than the Big Test.

Nicholas Tampio has a great piece in the Washington Post, suggesting students need a chance to catch up on socialization this summer, as opposed to test prep or homework. I couldn't agree more. I'm a teacher of teenagers, and they're potentially the most social beings on earth.  What exactly are our kids missing while in-person school is on hiatus, or while they're sitting masked, socially distanced, and prohibited from actual interaction with one another?

Clearly they're missing the same thing I am, which is human interaction. I didn't appreciate how important that was until this year. Though I've frequently coveted offices as I searched high and low for a place to work, I now know how unhappy I'd have been with a regular office job. The great energy I derived from my job came directly from kids with whom I interacted. I really miss that.

But that's nothing compared to what our kids are missing. School is important to get grades, to learn subjects, but it's also the social hub for a whole lot of our children. That's been effectively cut off for a year. I'm not hearing from students that they miss homework and tests.

I read letters from parents and students lamenting the fact that all they have now is work. I read a letter from a student who generally excels saying she just couldn't keep up anymore. I saw one from a parent expressing the same concern for her kid. Anyone lecturing about learning loss telling you that kids need more schoolwork simply does not know kids or what they need.

We're not going to roll back the pandemic, and forcing kids to do extra work in summer school simply won't mean it didn't happen. If we want to compensate for the losses our children have suffered, we're going to have to give them something they haven't already got. That thing is definitely not homework, and it's not some no-excuses test prep summer school either.

Tampio is right that our students are sorely in need of play, interaction, or maybe a summer camp of sorts. The thing that will make our kids productive is not a high score on some abysmally written state test. The thing that will make our kids productive is meeting their needs and making them happy.

If we lose sight of that, we're almost certainly in the wrong business.

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