The dual dilemma for students and adults – will working from home really work? – Mountain View Voice - Freelance Rack

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The dual dilemma for students and adults – will working from home really work? – Mountain View Voice

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An Alternative View

By Diana Diamond

E-mail Diana Diamond

About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help …  (More)

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Uploaded: Jul 7, 2020

The big conundrum facing us this summer and well into the autumn months is: a) should our kids go to school and risk exposure to the corona virus or can they be taught from home and b) should adults go to work or should employers ask their people to work from home and teleconference?

We can thank COVID-19 for these ever-explosive challenges in our lives. And here in the U.S. we seem to be facing greater outbreaks of the virus so our problems are more perplexing than those facing European and Asian residents.

Many are touting work at home as the new future.

I don’t think so.

Work issues

Sure it’s easier to work from home in some ways. The home environment is quieter, Zoom can handle staff meetings, and a good laptop, a smart phone, a zoom shirt and wi-fi can get most people through a day. One other advantage – no commutes and less traffic on the highways.

But what about our need to work with others, to offer and challenge ideas of staff members, to get new inspiration from colleagues, to brainstorm over a water cooler? Zoom is just not capable of the human interchange most of us need.

I’ve worked both from home and offices. For me, offices are great. Perhaps because while raising my children I always felt I was responsible for keeping up my home. That feeling never leaves a woman.

So as I’m writing this column, I just put in a load of wash I meant to do yesterday, I got the meat out of the freezer for dinner, ran to the store for some fresh vegetables, and paid those bills that are due in two days. Yes, this typically happens when I work from home.

My phone rings — mostly Robo calls. Those now-clean wet clothes need to get into the dryer; I forgot to water the houseplants over the weekend so better do it today.

My full-time working friends who now function from home say they are being asked to do more and more work, because their boss doesn’t see how much time they really are working. One starts at 8 a.m. and quits past 7 pm. She eats a quick lunch with her computer in front of her. She’s is working weekends just to keep up with her assignments.

When I was at work in my office, I had nothing to do but work. No dishes to put in the dishwasher. And no office to clean!

That was almost the best part. The cleaning crews came at night and I didn’t have to use my vacuum cleaner! Someone else washed windows and emptied wastebaskets. Things were better defined – work was at work, and home was for home things.

And then there’s the need for human contact. It’s hard to find at home, particularly if one’s spouse commutes to work. And if he’s at home, there are different problems, the least of which is getting a second phone in the house.

Learning issues

From all evidence I’ve read, kids don’t learn at home as well as they do in a classroom, and they absorb less using Zoom than being in a class environment with other students. Period. So the logical conclusion is children should be back in the classroom as soon as possible.

My grandsons are in college and they can’t wait to get back into the classroom. “Using Zoom for five or six courses every day becomes a boring and repetitious learning experience,” one of them said. I sure agree – even the meetings I attend on Zoom get tedious at times.

School boards and colleges all over the country are struggling with this problem, acknowledging classroom learning is critical but fearing that exposure to the ever-escalating corona virus is a huge problem for the parents and schools. No one wants their child to get this disease, with all it unknown crippling aftereffects.

The Palo Alto School District board doesn’t seem to have solved this dilemma either. It announced that elementary school students would be at school for half a week while middle and high school students will learn from home. The younger kids will rotate with half going Monday, Tuesday and part of Wednesday and the other half Wednesday afternoon, Thursday and Friday. The older ones will Zoom all day.

But I hope there are other ways to think outside the box. Consider all those school buildings that aren’t being put to full use, like our two big high schools, Gunn and Paly, which will remain empty all fall. Can’t some of this school space be used to provide social distancing for smaller classes or for those in middle school? And elementary schools that provide only half-day classes may want to work together and bus kids to emptier classrooms in other elementary schools.

So before we all leap into this new future of at-home schooling and at-home adults relying on telecommunications for their work, let’s really look at what we want to accomplish – and what we need as people.

For me, it’s human contact and personal productivity. The same for our students today.

Can we achieve that? How?

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?

Posted by Silver Linings, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
58 minutes ago

Hi Diana,
I’d like to suggest that people stop looking at the coming semester or year like it’s forever, and start thinking creatively about what school and/or work would look like this year if everyone suddenly CHOSE to stay at home.

You wrote “From all evidence I’ve read, kids don’t learn at home as well as they do in a classroom.” This is true, if people are trying to reproduce the classroom at home.

But we both schooled and homeschooled in Palo Alto, and I can tell you that the vast majority of kids who homeschool by choice learn a LOT more than they did in school. Most homeschool kids describe being able to learn what they did in school within the first hour or two of the day. Most discover that learning the way they did in school is slow and ineffective. Most learn to be independent in a way that kids in school don’t. (It takes about 220 credits to graduate from Gunn, my students graduated high school with almost 500 credits, including college classes, APs, mostly honors work, major multi-year projects school would never allow for more advanced than most college students as one recommender said, etc., and with way more spare time and time to pursue passions, see friends, and even work than in school. And got to learn important life lessons like self care, e.g., just getting up and getting dressed every day with no bell to chase, cooking, doing chores, etc. Plus family relationships were WAY better, also something that homeschoolers frequently describe. I think my child would have been better off being able to attend some classes at Gunn while still having the independence and flexibility, but the school district told us they couldn’t let us do that because everyone else would want to.)

Don’t make the mistake of assuming homeschooled kids do all their learning at home, if anything they have more time and flexibility to be out in the world and having real-world learning experiences. Marie Curie homeschooled her daughters (including the one who won a Nobel Prize) and did all “classes” before noon and sent them into Paris to visit museums, etc, in the afternoons. The loss of such opportunities from the pandemic, if anything, hurt homeschoolers even more.

That said, we could learn a lot from homeschoolers to make this year even better than it would have been if there had been no pandemic. It starts with each family assessing what they need and want, under the constraints of the pandemic.

Do the children need more time to sit and just read? Are they too dependent on external direction and could stand to learn to be independent? Has school been so intense that families feel like strangers under one roof and want to become closer? Is a kid stressed by school and performing poorly yet clearly very smart? Does a child have a learning disability that hasn’t been well supported in school? Is the child very creative and lacks time, flexibility and support to pursue projects? If the child is left alone, is it more likely that they will be “bored” and do nothing but video games, or go do something they and you consider more real world and redeeming? Does the child need more advanced work yet struggle doing school homework?

We get so caught up in the idea that kids will be “behind” if they don’t climb the same ladders in the same way at any given time. But I can tell you from personal experience and watching lots of other people do the same, that getting off the track and paying attention to addressing a need at any given time not only doesn’t leave kids behind, it allows them to excel. Here are three videos to get you thinking about how the educational model plays a role in all of this, so that you understand that the educational model doesn’t have to be the thing we keep constant:

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

It makes no sense, if distance learning is happening, for every teacher to try to recreate their classroom online. It’s far better if teachers can become mentors/coaches for both children and parents, in order to identify what would make each child’s journey the next year optimal. The teachers would have to have some understanding of independent education and what works.

Homeschoolers have a rule of thumb, when people homeschool, they recommend a period of “deschooling” first — that is, a month for every year the child has been in traditional school, they aren’t required to do anything. This doesn’t mean kids sit and play video games or that learning stops, it just means that everyone spends that amount of time focused on learning and doing, and trying to let go of the idea that someone is looking over their shoulder making sure they’re running the treadmill. It’s actually quite difficult to optimize homeschool if you don’t do this. I can only describe it on the other side, like having been let out of a cage and needing to adjust to the freedom in order to be confident in that freedom.

I can also say that most kids in this district are motivated to learn and do well, and those who aren’t, could be with a different set of supports and circumstances. This “hiatus” is a chance to find out what would best support every student if they were going to take 6-9 months off on purpose. What do they need? Would their spelling and other English problems evaporate if they just had a supply of good books and permission to do nothing but read for a few months? Would another group of kids be just fine socially if they could spend most of the day creating that animated movie, remotely, that they’ve always wanted to work on, with a minimum of math sprinkled in? What about a student who wants to spend their days in the kitchen, learning to cook?

When students are allowed to follow a passion, when they’re given more flexibility in HOW they learn the required foundations of knowledge, it can be life changing. If we put the energy into individualizing an independent education for as many students that want it this year, it would be easier to help the subset of kids who just want a traditional treadmill education (but even there, homeschool can be all next level).

It’s not forever. The way teachers interact changes a lot, and the duties of each teacher can change to what they do best. They’re as needed as ever, but they, too, can find meaning and next-level education if we decide to proceed as if this were everyone’s choice.

But it can only happen if we give up on the idea that the “widget” model is immutable (watch the three videos above, two from Sir Ken Robinson and one from Sal Khan, to introduce some of the concepts). Have you seen the movie Most Likely to Succeed, which was shown at Gunn to an overflow crowd during the suicide epidemic? It fell on deaf ears in the district administration but was a major reason we opted for independent education. It doesn’t require any permission from the state to offer independent education to our students on a broader basis.

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