Maria Gutzeit | One Big Thing That’s Absent from Discussion

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Ironically, there’s one thing I haven’t heard a lot about in the recent school discussions: learning. There’ve been debates on teacher and child safety; discussions about meals and socialization, concerns about sanitizing, wi-fi and extracurriculars. There’s talk about working parents who need school to start so they can work. Where’s the talk about the quality of our children’s education, now thrown for a loop by COVID chaos?

I’m the parent of an elementary student. Last year’s distance learning was the best we could do under the circumstances. It was also a complete mess. Even in our excellent school district, where kids got laptops and hotspots if needed, things were random and unstructured. 

We had materials that had blatant mistakes on them, like, “Which has four sides, a rhombus or a square?” 

Ummmm?!? 

It took longer to figure out how to upload finished work than to actually do the work. We had about a half-hour a day of Zoom, on a schedule sometimes unknown until the morning of, and with the Zoom and classwork together, we had two hours a day of school. Some kids were AWOL. Some kids in other districts never heard anything from their teachers. Some parents melted down. 

It was crazy times. In case it isn’t clear yet, we are in for much more crazy, quite possibly for many years to come.

This week I learned of a kid who lost a swimming scholarship to Dartmouth. Stanford released a list of sports they are cancelling. This virus will be gutting municipal, state and federal budgets, not to mention the budgets of individuals and businesses who pay for it all. 

If we are not wise, we will be gutting our kids’ futures, too. If the sports scholarships go away, there’s always academics, right? Not if kids are at critical junctures, not if tests are cancelled. 

When I was in school, scholarships were given based on the PSAT, which we practiced for freshman year and took sophomore year.  Things on that test we had learned in junior high and freshman year. AP classes, available only if you qualified, let you save time and money in college by getting some basics out of the way early. 

An argument has been made that “kids won’t be behind….they will be the same as their peers.” 

That may not be true. Desperate parents are already starting to take things into their own hands. We can’t let public education cease to be the great equalizer of opportunity. I can hardly imagine a chemist not having taken algebra, or a student becoming interested in medicine if they were driven batty by a biology class filled with typos and computer glitches. 

What about the sense of wonder from those memorable teachers who changed our lives? The feeling of success after getting a good grade in a tough class packed with lots of thoughtful group discussion? 

All our kids deserve a shot at these things, but educational quality isn’t even being discussed, at least not broadly.

Essential industries are trying to adapt — largely successfully. Health care, utilities, manufacturing, waste disposal, auto repair, grocery, transportation workers and more have worked from day one. Private industry is being visited frequently by OSHA and asked to correct issues, and they know they need to keep employees safe while still operating. 

Quality education is equally essential to continue.

I support Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent order to keep schools online until the virus is better under control than the present uptick. We will have more upticks in the future. 

To prepare, we need stellar online learning options. We managed to hand out meals and laptops; we must also view academic achievement and love of learning as critical. We must make sure our kids meet necessary targets by conducting tests and adjusting teaching as needed. We need to develop and practice protocols for safe return to classroom, including ventilation, spacing and masks. It is time to move beyond “emergency” mode and seriously plan on how to get a rock-solid education even as the virus rages on.

Imagine if we had no nurses, because no one could graduate. Imagine if the power stopped running because the engineers couldn’t pass electrical engineering. Imagine if the police and firefighters stayed home because they didn’t have good way to keep themselves safe from the virus. This isn’t temporary. This isn’t a hoax. It will get worse in many ways if we don’t find workable solutions other than “wait and see” for our society and for our children.

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.

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