This morning, as I thought about how I would balance my daily workload with my daughter’s online schooling session (since we still only have one computer) I was greeted by a headline that made me groan: Keep Schools Open All Summer, And Other Bold Ideas To Help Kids Catch Up.
For me and many other parents, the idea that we have to “catch up” on academics is maddening, especially when there’s any sort of ambitious timeline attached. For kids and parents living through this pandemic, it seems the last thing we should be worried about is academic progress, especially if it means adding more stress into our lives.
Lately, I’ve seen threads in mom’s groups, from parents wishing they could hold their child back a grade, taking away the pressure to progress a level during this strange year. And yet our cultural narrative demanding progress is so strong, that many moms are torn, worried about choosing what might be best for their child.
I completely understand this, because I’m living it with my six-year-old. When we decided to homeschool for the 2020-2021 school year I immediately reached out to teacher friends to get the standards for second grade. I figured that, at bare minimum, I could aim to have my daughter on course with her peers.
Of course, like all things to do with homeschooling, that’s proven tricker than it looked at the beginning. I know that none of my daughter’s peers — the ones who are homeschooling, the ones who are remote learning and the ones who are in a classroom that looks much different than normal — are at the same level academically that they would have been at if we’d never heard of COVID. And yet, I still worry about whether we’re doing enough to keep my daughter “on course.”
It’s the same race-to-the-top mentality that has parents of teens paying for tutors, sports coaches and traveling leagues in hopes that their kid will be the best at something. While that’s fine to do if the families really want it, too often families make these choices because they feel obligated to “keep up.”
I’ve already spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to teach my daughters about our educational system. I was a star student who did everything right, getting the grades to get into a private high school and “good” college, only to be left with student loans so significant that I still question my choice, thirteen years later.
On the other hand, my girls have great models who opted for different paths. Their dad didn’t go to a four-year-college, and their aunt took a gap year (or five) before deciding on a degree program that she truly loves. I want my kids to know that these choices are just as valid as the prescribed root of school for 12 years, then on to college.
My daughter is only in first grade, so it’s easy to envision how much time she has to “make up” what she’s missed during this school year. But even for high schoolers… can’t we just adjust our expectations to what they’ll have time to learn? I know that I definitely didn’t pick up anything particularly important in senior year that I didn’t already know by eleventh grade.
So much of what we want our kids to learn is beyond academics. This year they’ve had a crash course in adjustment, resilience, bravery, community and justice. All of those qualities will be more important in their daily lives than the academics they might have missed.
I’m thrilled at the idea of my daughter eventually returning to school, but I certainly won’t be enrolling her in summer school, extended days or extra tutoring to help “make up” for the past year. She needs downtime to enjoy the work of childhood: independent play, imagination and fun with friends.
I hope that more parents will feel confident following their guts and doing what’s best for their kids socially, emotionally and in terms of mental health, rather than just what might produce the best results academically. Maybe, just maybe, the pandemic will be a chance to rethink an academic system that no one was thrilled with in the first place.
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