Education has not been a high priority in Arizona for many years, but this has become increasingly evident in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Educational institutions should have been the last to close and first to reopen, which was sadly not the case. We’ve seen protests and legal challenges regarding the closure of gyms, bars, nightclubs, yoga studios, and numerous other businesses – but nary a peep about the six or more months our state’s schools will have been closed.
Whether any functions should be open is subject to debate, a matter best decided by medical professionals and public health experts.
If it is determined specific functions should be reopened, schools need to be our state’s top priority, instead of a political bargaining chip.
When the initial cases of COVID-19 appeared in Arizona, schools were the first institutions to close. Schools are also scheduled to be the last institutions to reopen.
During most of the last three months, you could stay at a resort in Scottsdale, visit a shopping mall in Chandler, get a massage in Tempe, attend a nightclub in Phoenix or see a movie in Glendale – yet students were not permitted to attend school.
This lack of prioritization is appalling. If necessary, we should be willing to give up the vast majority of pleasure pursuits if it means students can continue their education.
Many parents are putting significant effort into educating their children and many educators are performing a heroic shift to maintaining the best possible experience in an electronic format.
But this is not sufficient.
Online education is inferior to an in-person experience at every level. Some basic facts can be learned in a similar manner but students miss out on the social interaction and growth that occurs in the classroom.
And that’s with professional educators who have chosen to teach online and been trained to do so. Teachers are now being forced into an online format regardless of their desire or ability to teach online, in most cases without any training on this entirely different format.
If online is equal to in person, shouldn’t nightclubs be virtual? Massages conducted via Zoom? Movies viewed at home?
The latter example is particularly appalling: the drop in quality of experience when viewing “Trolls World Tour” at home compared with in the theater is apparently more substantial and important than the drop in quality of an in-classroom education compared with self-education via a computer.
Over the summer, students fall behind where they ended the previous year and have a lower level of achievement. This has been clearly established for decades, yet our state has quickly and willingly at least doubled and possibly tripled or more the gap between a proper educational experience.
Students will be significantly behind educationally and socially, which will have a lasting impact on individual students and our society as a whole.
We need to get students back to real education at all levels and be willing to sacrifice other activities and pursuits to make this happen, if necessary.
This is how we work together, as a community, to make the best of our challenging situation. The education students are receiving today will provide them with the foundation to meet future societal challenges whether this occurs months, years, or decades from now.
We need all members of society prepared to handle whatever future challenges arise, which only a proper education can provide.
Andy Lenartz is an Ahwatukee resident and frequent contributor to AFN.