Once upon a time, there were two options for schooling: kids learned at home by imitating what their parents did (and grew up to do the same work); or they trained for other careers by serving as apprentices or going away to universities. Career changes were all but unheard of.
Once upon a time, families lived spread out on farms. Children either learned skills of daily living from their parents, or, in more populated areas, trekked each morning to one-room, multi-grade schoolhouses. No one conceived of any other approach to education.
Once upon a time, the law of the land was “public school for every child at the government’s expense.” Kids were guaranteed a full education, but often at the cost of being treated as uniform parts of a uniform organism, rather than unique individuals with unique learning styles. Only the wealthy could afford to choose their own schools, and attempting to educate children at home risked a visit from truant officers or police.
Once upon a time, families stood up and asserted their rights to have their children educated with attention to the individual, consideration for natural abilities and learning styles, training in specific values and religious beliefs, and equal rights regardless of background or economic status. Politicians began to listen and respond, and the options for children’s education became four: public school, charter school, homeschool, and private school.
Once upon a time, concerns about fast-spreading contagious illness forced public, private, and charter schools alike to redefine themselves on short notice. Classes moved from crowded buildings to virtual networks. Lower-income families without computers at home—and now cut off from public computers at libraries and community centers—struggled to keep up with learning requirements. Families with computers struggled to learn new apps and to reorganize at-home access to shared machines. School systems struggled to provide equal access for all students. Teachers struggled to redefine their accustomed approaches and stay in personal contact with students. Even homeschooling families struggled to adjust to an absence of educational outings and meeting with fellow homeschoolers.
Once upon a time, the changes wrought by one term of universal virtual schooling generated a world of public debate on what the next stage would be. Politicians demanded promises that “regular” school would resume as soon as possible. Parents demanded reassurance that their children would continue properly educated and properly protected. Teachers demanded their fair share of voice in determining the next step. Everyone worried about finding the ideal balance between guaranteed education, public health, and what changes should remain permanent.
The last chapter is still being written. Are we willing to:
–and help the current generation of students live happily ever after?