The big conundrum facing us this summer and well into the autumn months is: a) should our kids go to school and risk exposure to the corona virus or can they be taught from home and b) should adults go to work or should employers ask their people to work from home and teleconference?
We can thank COVID-19 for these ever-explosive challenges in our lives. And here in the U.S. we seem to be facing greater outbreaks of the virus so our problems are more perplexing than those facing European and Asian residents.
Many are touting work at home as the new future.
I don’t think so.
Sure it’s easier to work from home in some ways. The home environment is quieter, Zoom can handle staff meetings, and a good laptop, a smart phone, a zoom shirt and wi-fi can get most people through a day. One other advantage – no commutes and less traffic on the highways.
But what about our need to work with others, to offer and challenge ideas of staff members, to get new inspiration from colleagues, to brainstorm over a water cooler? Zoom is just not capable of the human interchange most of us need.
I’ve worked both from home and offices. For me, offices are great. Perhaps because while raising my children I always felt I was responsible for keeping up my home. That feeling never leaves a woman.
So as I’m writing this column, I just put in a load of wash I meant to do yesterday, I got the meat out of the freezer for dinner, ran to the store for some fresh vegetables, and paid those bills that are due in two days. Yes, this typically happens when I work from home.
My phone rings — mostly Robo calls. Those now-clean wet clothes need to get into the dryer; I forgot to water the houseplants over the weekend so better do it today.
My full-time working friends who now function from home say they are being asked to do more and more work, because their boss doesn’t see how much time they really are working. One starts at 8 a.m. and quits past 7 pm. She eats a quick lunch with her computer in front of her. She’s is working weekends just to keep up with her assignments.
When I was at work in my office, I had nothing to do but work. No dishes to put in the dishwasher. And no office to clean!
That was almost the best part. The cleaning crews came at night and I didn’t have to use my vacuum cleaner! Someone else washed windows and emptied wastebaskets. Things were better defined – work was at work, and home was for home things.
And then there’s the need for human contact. It’s hard to find at home, particularly if one’s spouse commutes to work. And if he’s at home, there are different problems, the least of which is getting a second phone in the house.
From all evidence I’ve read, kids don’t learn at home as well as they do in a classroom, and they absorb less using Zoom than being in a class environment with other students. Period. So the logical conclusion is children should be back in the classroom as soon as possible.
My grandsons are in college and they can’t wait to get back into the classroom. “Using Zoom for five or six courses every day becomes a boring and repetitious learning experience,” one of them said. I sure agree – even the meetings I attend on Zoom get tedious at times.
School boards and colleges all over the country are struggling with this problem, acknowledging classroom learning is critical but fearing that exposure to the ever-escalating corona virus is a huge problem for the parents and schools. No one wants their child to get this disease, with all it unknown crippling aftereffects.
The Palo Alto School District board doesn’t seem to have solved this dilemma either. It announced that elementary school students would be at school for half a week while middle and high school students will learn from home. The younger kids will rotate with half going Monday, Tuesday and part of Wednesday and the other half Wednesday afternoon, Thursday and Friday. The older ones will Zoom all day.
But I hope there are other ways to think outside the box. Consider all those school buildings that aren’t being put to full use, like our two big high schools, Gunn and Paly, which will remain empty all fall. Can’t some of this school space be used to provide social distancing for smaller classes or for those in middle school? And elementary schools that provide only half-day classes may want to work together and bus kids to emptier classrooms in other elementary schools.
So before we all leap into this new future of at-home schooling and at-home adults relying on telecommunications for their work, let’s really look at what we want to accomplish – and what we need as people.
For me, it’s human contact and personal productivity. The same for our students today.
Can we achieve that? How?