A high school sophomore recently posted on Reddit and described his time spent in school. I’ve listed only a few of his comments, but please read his entire statement. It's important.
“I arrived at school and promptly went to Study Hall. … there were 14 absent teachers 1st period…. Second period I had another absent teacher…. Third period I had a normal class …. First thing the teacher did was pass out COVID tests … 4 more teachers would pass out COVID tests throughout the day, which were to be taken at home … 90% of the bathrooms were full of students swabbing their noses and taking their tests. I had one kid ask me -- with his mask down, by the way -- whether a "faint line was positive," proceeding to show me his positive COVID test…. Classes that I did attend were quiet and empty. … some of my classes had 10+ students absent. ... we literally learn nothing. I spent about 3 hours sitting around today doing nothing…. I tested positive for COVID on December the 14th. At the time there were a total of 6 cases. By the end of break this number was up to 36. By January the 3rd … the numbers were up to 100 …. Today there are 226. …90% of the conversations spoken by students concern COVID. It has completely taken over any function of daily school life.”
This student is not the only person questioning whether we should be forcing in-class education in the middle of the omicron surge. Many schools needed to close:
- “At least 3,229 schools were closed in the first week of January, the highest for the year….”
- Los Angeles announced as of 4 P.M. Monday, January 10th that “… 65,630 students and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 in the week before school.”
- The Rhode Island National Education Association is calling for remote learning.
- “… at Brooklyn Technical High School, the city’s largest, an estimated 600 kids poured out into18-degree temperatures [on Tuesday January 11th] to call attention to what they described as an unsafe and chaotic environment at their school with the ongoing viral surge driven by the highly contagious omicron variant.
The students are realizing that it is not safe to be in school right now. When will the parents and administrators wake up and realize that school is not a safe place to be at present?
The count keeps climbing. There are dozens of schools closed in my own local area. Everywhere you look, schools are closing because it is just not safe to continue in-class instruction, especially since omicron has hit the staff as hard as the students.
An average of 672 children are hospitalized every day because of the omicron variant.
Some people claim that omicron is not as serious as delta and not as harmful for children. That is misleading. Remember, children are never placed in the hospital unless it is serious, and we also need to remember the danger of long-covid. Yes, omicron can cause long-covid. As Dr. Anthony Fauci reminds us,
"We should always be aware that when people get symptomatic infection … anywhere from 10 to up to 30 plus percent of people will go on to have persistence of symptoms [long-covid]….,"
We’ve examined the problem. The claim that omicron is less dangerous for children is false. It is also dangerous for students at school. Now, let’s look at the solutions: in-class or online.
This, in turn, raises the question:
Is there really a psychological harm in keeping students home for a few weeks?
Some say that it is psychologically harmful to keep students home, but is it? No, there is no harm. Sorry, that’s just misinformation.
As a psychologist, I want to talk about the misinformation floating around about how psychologically harmful it is for students to learn from home.
Yes, they miss their friends. Yes, they are bored staying home. Boredom and psychological harm are two totally different things.
Reason #10 that Reading Scores Were Worse in 2019: Boredom. What Causes Boredom?
No, teaching is not always the best online. Some teachers have done a fantastic job online. They are to be applauded. Others have just passed out a stack of worksheets. Worksheets do not teach. They never have, and they never will.
Personally, I find teaching online harder than teaching in-person, but then, all of my curriculum materials are written for groups. I’m a group specialist, so I naturally write and design curriculum that works best in a group setting. I’m designing and testing some new online material. Looking at the present situation today though, we must now ask,
Is it truly better for students to learn from home or be sent to classrooms where they may get omicron?
I cannot see anything that justifies sending students to school right now. I’m sorry, what we are doing is dangerous. Listen to the students: do you not hear their fear?
“It doesn’t feel safe to be in school to be honest, … half the classes aren’t there. Some have COVID, some are afraid of COVID….” Another student also said, “There’s no social distancing at all, the stairways are packed. There’s no point coming here if I’m going to get sick”….
Fear, anxiety, anger, and stress are what cause psychological harm, not sitting at home being bored or even sitting at home dealing with a less-than-perfect educational approach. As for the loss in educational excellence, as my own research has proven, we can bring failing students up 3 and 4 grade levels in reading in one year. The problem is that we will not change our teaching methods, but we will save that argument for another day.
Vowel Clustering Is Better than Whole Language and Phonics
What causes psychological harm?
Let’s return to the question of psychological harm. Right now, researchers are looking at what causes psychological harm in schools. Bullying, verbal and physical harassment in school, name-calling, the threat of gun violence in school, and even reading failure have been documented to cause psychological harm. Reading failure as a cause of psychological harm is how I got involved in reading education and proving that there is a better way to teach struggling students to read.
Claiming that students are falling behind is not a good reason for risking student lives by sending them to school right now, especially since classroom instruction before the pandemic left more than 60% of students unable to read at their grade level in 4th, 8th, and 12th grade.
Should We Be Sending Students Back to School? Part 1
For years, I taught a class at the university entitled Psychology of Adjustment. Students frequently said that the course opened their eyes to why people act as they do. The textbook that I used was Weiten’s Psychology Applied to Modern Life: Adjustment in the 21st Century. My students also said that they learned so much just from reading the textbook. In my experience, college students rarely admit learning anything from reading the textbook. It’s a well written book, very easy to read, and the new edition is still being used in university classrooms. You can even purchase a used copy for less than $7.00.
I mention Weiten’s book because he describes very carefully how mental illness and psychological harm are derived from daily actions and encounters. As Weiten points out, it is how you adjust to the situations that you encounter in life that make the experience healthy or harmful.
The mere fact of online education for a few months or even for a year or more is not psychologically harmful. It is how you adjust or cope with online education that creates the problem.
Marching in the street adds to anxiety and stress—not helpful. Refusing to allow masks and vaccine mandates in schools adds to the fear and anxiety of faculty and students—very harmful. Remember, it is fear, anxiety, and stress that actually causes psychological harm, not sitting home working on a computer or wearing a face mask all day in school. I’ll say it again, wearing a face mask is not psychologically harmful.
Does Wearing a Face Mask Affect Your Ability to Breathe?
Forcing students to go to school when they are afraid of COVID can and does create psychological harm.
Beware of misinformation. Just because your favorite politician or even your next-door neighbor says that it is psychologically harmful to teach remotely, doesn’t make it true.
What is the real psychological harm? I will tell you what is psychologically harmful—sending students to school when they are worried about catching COVID-19. As the student said in my opening example, 90% of the rest rooms were clogged with students frantically testing to see if they had COVID. That’s like sending students into a battle zone. Yes, if I sit all day in class worried that I am going to catch COVID from the person sitting next to me or even across the room from me, such stress is psychologically harmful. I’m also not going to learn anything while I’m worried about getting sick.
Finding out that your teacher died of COVID after being exposed at school is psychologically harmful.
Worrying about making your grandparents sick if you get COVID is psychologically harmful because the student feels responsible for harming someone they love.
Yes, there is lots of psychological harm taking place at school, but it is not from wearing a mask or online instruction.
Attacks by gun shooters are psychologically harmful.
Bullying and (both verbal and physical) harassment at school is psychologically harmful.
Remember, it is the fear, anxiety, and stress that actually causes psychological harm.
Worrying over whether they will be allowed to wear a mask to protect themselves can cause psychological harm. Notice, the mask does not cause psychological harm. It is the fear of catching COVID because they are not allowed to wear a mask that actually causes the harm.
Besides, if we change our teaching methods, we can bring all of the students up who have suffered during the coronavirus pandemic. We can also bring up the students who were already behind before the pandemic. Sitting in the classroom is not the key to effective education. Teaching method is the key that enables every student to learn.
Reading Wars Are Over! Phonics Failed. Whole Language Failed. Balanced Literacy Failed. Who Won? It Certainly Wasn’t the Students.
Soon, I plan to show you a lesson that I am developing for online instruction. Yes, we really can teach from home successfully.
Student safety must come first. Set politics aside. Let the students learn from home till omicron calms down.
Get vaccinated. Get your booster and wear a N95 mask wherever you go. Safety begins at home. Keep the children safe.