tl;dr: the education lobby co-opts the Wall Street Journal to reinforce their positions. A lesson in narrative in hijacking.
In from Story to Setting, we explored Venkatesh’s idea that Covid-19 had moved from “the story” to “the setting for the new story.”
With that phase now complete, we’re beginning to see moves by vested interests to solidify positions based on what did (or didn’t) happen during lockdown.
The “failure” of covid education
I’m referring specifically to an article in the June 5th Wall St. Journal entitled The Results Are In for Remote Learning: It Didn’t Work.
The very beginning of the article tells you that this isn’t meant to be a report. It’s an opinion piece clothed in journalism.
“This spring, America took an involuntary crash course in remote learning. With the school year now winding down, the grade from students, teachers, parents and administrators is already in: It was a failure.“
Already, I have problems.
How many of us who took a “crash course” in anything would come out of it and say “yes, it was a total raging success?”
Plus, how often do any of us really succeed at something that was “involuntary?”
Imagine going to someone and saying “ok, beginning tomorrow, you must totally change the way you are doing something and I’m expecting perfection.”
Experiments vs. Crisis Response
It gets even more offensive in the 2nd paragraph.
“School districts closed campuses in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic and, with practically no time at all for planning or training, launched a grand experiment to educate more than 50 million students from kindergarten through 12th grade using technology.”
What kind of “grand experiment” launches with “practically no time at all for planning or training?”
Remote learning in response to the arrival of coronavirus wasn’t an experiment at all. It was a crisis.
According to Webster’s dictionary, an experiment is:
“an operation or procedure carried out under controlled conditions in order to discover an unknown effect or law, to test or establish a hypothesis, or to illustrate a known law.”
Literally none of that happened with the educational response to Covid.
“We All Know…”
The 3rd and 4th paragraphs highlight some of the issues that the country faced such as lack of access to computers, internet, and familiarity with Zoom. To be sure, these existed and there’s no doubt in my mind that many of these hindered students’ ability to learn.
But, the 5th paragraph put me over the edge…
“We all know there’s no substitute for learning in a school setting, and many students are struggling and falling far behind where they should be,” said Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, in a video briefing to the community on Wednesday.”
“We ALL know…”
We all know there’s no substitute for learning in a school setting?
I don’t know that for a fact. I can imagine plenty of scenarios where learning in a non-school setting is actually better.
Khan Academy for one.
But I do know that Austin Beutner has skin in the game of “school settings.” He needs schools, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to proclaim every year about “all-time high graduation rates” which later get revised down.
The Future of Education
I’m not here to say that remote learning is a panacea that isn’t getting its credit.
I’m also not here to pretend that the learning experience for millions of students (including my own kids) was probably sub-optimal during the lockdown.
What I am here to do is point out that the conclusion of “remote learning was a failure” is totally unfounded because this wasn’t a controlled experiment or a test.
To reach the conclusion of “remote learning doesn’t work” based on the covid-19 experience is like saying “marriage doesn’t work” based on the success of weddings that take place in Elvis chapels in Las Vegas.
But in our post-truth world, facts matter less than narratives and platforms.
The education lobby knows that it is playing a game of self-survival and growth. Besides, from a marketing perspective, education always wins.
“What do you mean? You don’t want to educate our kids? You’re heartless.”
So, Covid-19 represents a painful moment for parents because they see their kids losing focus and not learning.
That’s not a failure of the technology, it’s a failure of the process, which isn’t surprising since there was no process.
But it doesn’t mean that remote learning is always a failure.
However, the pain of seeing kids not suffering will lead many to conclude that.
No one will remember that “remote learning happened within the context of coronavirus crisis lockdown crazy time.”
They will just say “oh remote learning didn’t work so well for my kids.”
The LA Unified School District, Ms. Hobbs, and Mr. Dawkins know that and they saw an opportunity.
They took it, hijacked the narrative, and now, sadly, the US educational system will probably go backwards (like our voting system).
But, good for them.
They understood the game they were playing.