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OPINION

Commentary: What if remote learning in school catches on?

Steve King
Suburbanite correspondent

The floors in the hallways are polished so well that they glimmer. You can almost see yourself in the reflection when the lights are on.

The lawn out front, next to the busy road, is cut just so. It is a lush green from recent rains and looks like a golf course.

There is not a piece of trash anywhere - anywhere! I've looked.

Steve King

Indeed, the big middle school where I work has long since been ready to welcome students back for the start of the 2020-21 school year, but the students haven't accepted the invitation. They can't, because  the school district, again because of fears generated by the coronavirus pandemic, has closed all of its buildings – at least through the first part of November -– and gone to virtual learning.These schools are ghost towns. There's barely anyone in them, save for a receptionist or two to answer the phone, a few administrators and a small handful of teachers who prefer to teach "remotely" from their classrooms because staying at home is not an option. What with their own children at home doing their own virtual learning – almost all of the districts in my region have started the year that way – the noise and resulting commotion is just too much of a distraction, and secluding themselves at their old desk allows them to have some peace and quiet.

As has often times been said, less is more, especially when it comes to parents.

These teachers/parents certainly don't need any more problems, because trying to instruct remotely has been ... well, pretty much of a virtual disaster. There have been all kinds of technical issues, with students and parents both being knocked offline in the middle of a class for no apparent reason, students going to the wrong class and students not showing up at all because they can't log on. The only thing being learned is patience.

In football, they call these types of attempts, when players move at the wrong time to make the plays dysfunctional, "false starts." Go ahead, if you will, and throw penalty flags at the schools for looking so bad with their false starts, as if they have no idea what in the world they're doing. They have broad shoulders and thick skin, so they can take it.

But if the truth be told, this is hardly a surprise. This is exactly what they expected because there are no experts who can be consulted and no examples that can be studied since these are uncharted waters. The last pandemic – for the flu – was more than 100 years ago, and the people who navigated through all that are long gone, taking their stories and knowledge with them. Plus, the world is totally different now, so how much would their experiences and input really apply today, anyway?

History, though, is a great teacher overall. Thomas Edison's attempts ended up being a long series of the first real blackouts before he finally invented the light bulb. The Wright brothers had a number of aborted takeoffs before they figured out flight. And Alexander Graham Bell kept getting nothing more than a dial tone for quite a while before he was able to complete his phone call through to Watson.

Like those men, we'll eventually, after a comedy of errors, get this virtual learning thing perfected and when we do, will it spell the end of schools as we know them, or at least take the first step toward doing that? We might not need all that brick and mortar.

And if that occurs, then what happens to all these new schools we've built, specifically the ones in our local area?

We're a long way from possibly having to answer either of these two questions, or similar ones that would pop up, but schools have already figured that, with the ability at least in some regard to have classes remotely, there may never be another snow day again.

That would really get the attention of both students and teachers.