[We are living in a tough time running our schools without any kids there all day, every day. This column is about several reasons students need to get back into school. The next column will talk about why such decisions are difficult but not impossible.]
When I attended Santa Barbara public schools in the 1950s, California ranked among the top in the country, but dropped to 41th place in 2016.
Our classrooms with about 20 students provided us with required subject matters and supported us accomplishing additional projects. My teachers, especially in elementary schools (Peabody, Garfield and Hope), taught key topics such as reading, among my favorites.
If learned by third or fourth grade, students will know how to learn well beyond expectations throughout adulthood.
In the mid-1960s, I taught secondary history and English in the Bay Area. One year was at Havenscourt Junior High in East Oakland where most were African-American and several Hispanic students.
State school budgets had begun to decrease, causing larger classrooms — 35 to 39 students for me — fewer art and music classes, and reducing needed staff such as nurses, counselors and librarians, mostly in poverty-area schools. This led to mediocrity and inequities.
For me, teaching face to face with those students was rewarding. Both class discussions and individual talks often worked beyond hope.
Discipline problems did not disappear, but working directly with students made learning more consistent, created better relationships and let a sense of humor join us.
Today’s pandemic decision to close classrooms and keep children at home while teaching via the tech world has concerned and frustrated me. Forcing children K-12 into “distance learning” leaves them less educated, physically inactive and socially dormant.
Reopening classrooms this fall would ease children’s lives because teaching on campus improves physical health, mental strength and social awareness, particularly for elementary school children.
In the “old days” of teaching — about four months ago — home schooling was by choice. Now everyone, including parents, is to be a teacher or disciplinarian, 24/7.
Not all are up to the task, and few can reach expectations. For some students, this system does well. For a majority, though, needed learning and developing social growth are not happening.
Our daughter, Carrie Gulbransen Hubbell, described current Encinitas public schooling for their two boys, ages 9 and 12: “Much depends on the teachers who can use a Zoom call all day, video instructions or have students work on their own.
“Lesser teachers don’t do much of that. Reading and math seem to remain the strongest while science and social studies are limited with little diversity in other subjects. Some start at 9, some upload at anytime.
“Home schooling leaves us not really knowing how the kids are doing. No library, so no access to books. Like many mothers, I must teach our kids, but also have to work. Fortunately, I’m working at home, but must answer phone calls or be part of conferences and Zoom meetings, leaving the kids on their own to work. Not always successful.”
A third or more of California’s children live in households headed by single parents, mostly working mothers, with more than half being minorities.
Schools may offer laptops and Internet connections, but parents and caregivers across the board often do not know how to use and/or teach through them. It has made this spring difficult with lowered educational goals.
In March, teachers were assigned nearly impossible targets — drop well-planned daily classroom schedules and immediately develop teaching through Internet connections.
Results? Many students are missing academics and school learning. As my sixth-grade grandson, a good student who also loves electronics, said, “I think I’ve learned about half of my usual studies. And it’s hard having no time with friends and sports.”
Rebecca Faanes, a Mountain View Elementary School fourth-grade teacher, talked about her experience this spring. “Older students like mine don’t have the same challenges of getting on computers like those in kindergarten through third graders, who mostly can’t do it on their own. Even though schools provided computers, a few of my students didn’t seem to make computer connections, so we weren’t in touch. I’ve gone out of my way to find those students, work separately with them and get them working on class computers. All has taken time.”
Technology serves well in certain areas but seldom as a major source of overall instruction. A large segment of households have no adult support, no special education for those with disabilities and a lack of teaching techniques. Being at home may be top drawer for some, but for many it means lost education.
Working on computers much of the day can be physically and mentally ineffective.
Before the pandemic, children ages 8 to 18 spent an average of seven-plus hours a day on electronics. If adults read a printed book, research shows they have clearer understanding and better recall than on digital.
Similar research about children using computers shows lower language use, poorer thinking and increased loneliness. Shortening computers as the main learning method and working in person with teachers offer thriving education and positive social behavior.
Playing on school grounds and experiencing social time also helps children develop independence from home. If students feel socially and emotionally strong, learning becomes easier and more successful.
One of my most distressing concerns is about abused children without connections. Staying at home day after day fails to get them prevention or treatment for family traumas.
Teachers, social workers and administrators are trained to recognize and help such children. They can connect them to organizations such as CALM (Child Abuse Listening and Mediation), where therapy deals with physical violence, emotional stress and unacceptable environments.
Learning through Zoom can frequently fail to provide children with personal contacts, especially when upset, scared and suffering.
Since child abuse and domestic violence have increased more than 20 percent throughout the state in the past four months, schools are desperately needed. Care and treatment could make a major change in children’s lives.
Educating children widens their world, and it never narrows again. We must teach and guide students to initiate learning and become compassionate, thoughtful human beings.
A Chinese proverb says: “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
— Noozhawk columnist Susan Miles Gulbransen — a Santa Barbara native, writer and book reviewer — teaches writing at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and through the Santa Barbara City College Continuing Education Division. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.