Just Because I’m a Full-Time Education Activist Doesn’t Mean I Know What to Do Now

When news reports of the coronavirus became too alarming to ignore a few of my brothers and sisters in Christ wrote blog posts saying the pandemic would lead many families to pursue homeschooling.

I won’t lie. I rolled my eyes a little. Well, it actually was a lot because it just seemed too much like wishful thinking and policy myopia.

And then my family decided this week to keep our kids home from school.

We’re freaked out a little by what we’re seeing on the news. We’re taking the predictions of scientists seriously, which means we’re pulling out all stops to minimize risk of exposure to this damned scary public health crisis. Constantly hearing it will “get worst before it gets better” is one hell of a motivator.

I realize that we’re fortunate that both my wife and I can work from home, supervise our kids and sequester ourselves into relative safety. Even so, we have a string of questions, decisions and tasks popping up that we haven’t planned for.

How long will we keep the kids out of school? A week? A month? Indefinitely?

What will they do to keep up with the work they’ll miss? What are the best resources to keep their learning progressing? What does the law say about keeping our kids home?

What do we do tomorrow, our first day of having them home?

I have to tell you, I’m a little embarrassed that I have to investigate these things, but I do. So, there I go to the internet and the phone.

I’ve left messages for our school district hoping to get some guidance, but I haven’t heard from them.

I requested information from a well-known online public school. Their guy who called me back sounded like he was in a call center somewhere other than the United States. Other phone reps could be heard in the background. I imagined them sitting in cubes being underpaid and scripted to drive me like a timeshare customer toward a decision to enroll.

Hard pass.

I found other online schools and programs that were more reputable, but none of them seem like something we should do temporarily while our kids hide out from a pandemic. These schools, like district schools, expect us to enroll as if we’re staying, which would make us lose our seats in our neighborhood public schools. We’re not ready for that yet.

This process of quickly attempting to put together an education plan for my kids is ironic in that I’m not exactly an education policy civilian, yet, I’m having to look up my state’s homeschooling law because I’m unsure how to do it without getting arrested?

What if we choose not to enroll our kids in any program whatsoever and go freeballing our way into unschooling territory? What tests would they have to take each year to keep the state off our back?

It’s a national emergency that put us in this uncertain, uncharted position of having to assume complete control of the educational process for our kids. We are confronting the degree to which we’re responsible for their education and realizing how easy it has been to be lulled into relying solely on states and districts to determine what, where and how our kids learn. But that masks the natural order. In truth it shouldn’t have required a crisis for me to understand the full gravity of parental responsibility.

So, for the record, I’m not rolling my eyes now about my friends who predicted families like mine would be introduced to the world of homeschooling.

We’re not sure whether this arrangement lasts for a couple of days, a week or a month, but we’re more clear than ever that it’s on us to do for our kids what the government can’t.

Chris Stewart
Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of brightbeam. He was named CEO in April 2019, after formerly serving as chief executive of Wayfinder Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. In the past, Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, ...

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