Virtual Learning is NOT the Same as Being in a Classroom

Students, teachers and parents this fall are facing the consequences of our nation’s leaders’ inability and unwillingness to control the coronavirus pandemic.

For students, long hours are spent on Zoom, Webex, or some other online conferencing app, without the human contact of their classmates and teachers.  If they’re working class they are often in cramped spaces, shared bedrooms, at kitchen tables, with less than reliable wi-fi and computer access. And what if their household has two, three, or more students, but only one computer? Or no computer? These students are denied an education.

Students in elementary school who do have computer access face an unbearably long time staring at screens every day, without the real human contact with teachers and other children they so desperately need. As one New Jersey parent recently put it, “they can’t just keep sitting in front of a computer all day like they’re at an eight-hour job…They’re getting antsy — they’re kids.” And even for older students (and adults) more able to sit patiently through a class or lecture, the effects of too much screen time on the eyes, the body, the brain and the emotions is very real.

And despite all attempts at normalcy, “synchronous” learning (in regularly scheduled, live virtual classes) doesn’t effectively compare to live learning. Students aren’t greeted at the door individually as they enter, they don’t exchange papers or homework with their teacher and classmates, they don’t interact with their peers, and they don’t get the same engaging humor, laughter, and emotion from their friends and teachers.

Virtual “learning” is happening, and young people will still learn and develop. But to act like this system is acceptable and desirable (as the tech companies would love), or to hold the same expectations for student learning (as the education “reform” privatizers would love) is to deny reality.

At this point students and teachers are just doing what we have to do. Why did it come to this?