By Samuel Rodriguez
During the past couple of years, news about the COVID-19 pandemic have been filled with what seems to be mostly pessimistic views about the current state of education. Whether you work at a school, have school-age children, or simply keep up with what’s going on in the world, you’ve likely heard that schools were very much affected by the pandemic.
While the degree by which individual children fell behind academically is dependent on a myriad of factors, no one can argue that children’s achievement in math, science, and English significantly declined.
Despite best efforts to help mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, our schools still took a big hit. However, along with this came money from the federal government that school districts have used to put millions of computers into the hands of students who would otherwise not have them. These districts have also had to upgrade their network connectivity systems to keep up with the large volume of devices now connected to them.
When President Lyndon B. Johnson implemented an array of social programs aimed at improving the quality of life for millions of Americans, he envisioned a country where “the quality of America’s education” increased. President Johnson called for Congress “to put the best educational equipment and ideas and innovations within reach of all students.”
At the time, that meant putting “into the hands of our youth more than 30 million new books, and into many of our schools their first libraries.” Today, our country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has, inadvertently, given us tools and resources that can be used to meet the needs of students in the 21st century.
The problem that we now have is that some school districts are not sure which direction to take now that things are normalized. For example, a Michigan school district that provided 8,000 computer devices to students who needed them during the pandemic is now thinking about taking them back.
This pushback against technology in the classroom is due to many reasons, but one of the main ones seems to be that many students don’t do well with computers.
Maryanne Wolf, a UCLA professor and avid proponent of literacy, states that reading from a screen negatively affects students’ reading ability. She points out how students “no longer have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts” and that comprehension levels have dropped because students who read from screens are simply skim reading.
The solution that Wolf suggests is that we help “cultivate a new kind of brain: a bi-literate, reading brain capable of the deepest forms of thought in either digital or traditional mediums.” We must realize that as we transition into an era where all students have regular access to computers, our approaches to teaching must change in order to meet the demands of the modern classroom.
We have come a long way since the early days of education in this country when penmanship was considered writing and recitation was thought of as reading. As the world around us has continued to advance and progress, the needs of our students have also changed. This means that we cannot remain stuck in an education system that is outdated and rooted in the necessities of generations before us.
What seem like problems at first can, in the long run, turn out to be the push that we need as a country to modernize our education system. The way that we choose to approach pandemic learning loss is what will define who we are as a people and, more importantly, what we value.
Samuel Rodriguez is an English language arts teacher and department chair at Mountain View High School.