Learning Deficits in the School Budget

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BY ISAIAH FRIZZELL


“Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.” –David Spangler

Do you have children in public schools? As of May 4, 2023, Blaine County School District was serving 3,207 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. There has reportedly been a change in the atmosphere and learning environment in public schools since the pandemic. A source, name withheld, has made a decision to resign, as they have expressed concern for the level of aptitude and participation on the part of both the students and the teachers. “The kids have ipads and phones. I know it sounds cliché, but that’s what they’re doing, entertaining themselves. When they do show up to school, they don’t have the drive to do their assignments. Even the teachers are losing the ability to design curriculums. It’s really bizarre and no one knows what to do about it. I mean, there’s other ways to teach, but the district is a source of employment and many parents need us.”
Your mileage may vary. Like working out in the gym, when you want to do something, you do it with intent, and many children approach the institutional path of learning this way. They’ll put their time into an essay or biology class as they have the drive to know and absorb knowledge that may or may not contribute directly to their potential career path but holistically allows them to problem solve with deeper insight into the human condition.
Nature vs. Nurture
In the January 30, 2023, journal “Nature Human Behavior,” a study was published examining what they term a “learning deficit.” The team writes that the “pandemic has led to one of the largest disruptions to learning in history. To a large extent, this is due to school closures, which are estimated to have affected 95% of the world’s student population1. But even when face-to-face teaching resumed, instruction has often been compromised by hybrid teaching, and by children or teachers having to quarantine and miss classes.
“The effect of limited face-to-face instruction is compounded by the pandemic’s consequences for children’s out-of-school learning environment, as well as their mental and physical health. Lockdowns have restricted children’s movement and their ability to play, meet other children and engage in extracurricular activities. Children’s wellbeing and family relationships have also suffered due to economic uncertainties and conflicting demands of work, care and learning. These negative consequences can be expected to be most pronounced for children from low socioeconomic family backgrounds, exacerbating preexisting educational inequalities.” (nature.com)
The study found that learning deficits increased dramatically in the areas of math and reading, and had no variation across grade levels, indicating an overall decrease for all students, however with emphasis on the socioeconomic status of families—the less affluent, the more the impact. Would you rather be the smartest person in the room or a member of a team of brilliant people? Which scenario provides better outcomes for a community?
Many parents in Blaine County have expressed dismay at the change in their ability to speak to the faculty. During the pandemic, the district policy changed from in-person to email-based queries for the parents—emails that were, reportedly, often unanswered or given scant attention. Blaine County School District seeks to remedy the situation with their Continuous Improvement Plan, which can be downloaded at https://www.blaineschools.org/domain/1373
If we know the public school system is facing hardships, what are the solutions? Vaccinations or controversial pandemic treaties won’t fix the effects of another lockdown. 

Mom & Pop Instructors
Some have chosen to forgo public schooling and either homeschool or unschool their children. Do you have the time and resources to teach your child prealgebra in a way that they could integrate it into their interests? Do they need to? This would be a subjective position to take. It plays into the idea behind the ‘unschooling’ movement.
Wikipedia defines unschooling as “an informal learning method that prioritizes learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning.” (Wikipedia.com) Unschooling, often begun in a Montessori school, is child-led. The student is not given a curriculum but rather encouragement and resources to proceed with what interests them most. The effectiveness of this method has, as of yet, been somewhat difficult to gauge on a large scale but individual testimony has been largely positive. A good article on post-pandemic unschooling can be found at: (https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/family/story/unschooling-kids-learned-70038672)
Wikipedia defines homeschooling as “the education of school-aged children at home or a variety of places other than a school” (wikipedia.com). But what kind of education? The two systems somewhat harmonize where even if a child attends public school, homeschooling takes place when a parent interacts with their child in pursuit of learning—whether morals, folkways, mores, household chores or learning aspects of a parent’s trade—the children are learning all the time. Educator, lecturer and author John Holt popularized the idea of homeschooling in the 1970s with a newsletter that connected those interested, “Growing Without Schooling,” circa 1977. (responsiblehomeschooling.org) The newsletter still has a following as a website johnholtgs.com.
Les Cameron, of the original Wood River Welding, who homeschooled his children, tells an intriguing story of how a retired Idaho Power linesman, Bob Foyer, opened the door for homeschooling in Idaho. A couple who were homeschooling their children had come under pressure from the state. They were told their children were truant and they were to be charged. Foyer, a friend of the family without law training, dug into Idaho code and found a section that places the responsibility of teaching and training children on the parents. They were absolved of any wrongdoing due to the extracurricular ingenuity of Foyer. If the children are in a situation where they’re not learning, the parent is responsible for taking them out of the situation and placing them in one more suited to education.
It’s in the letter of Idaho code that the responsibility is on the parent to ensure their child’s education, however that may look.
But what are parents to do who can’t afford an alternative route to educating their children? Public schooling is a tax-funded resource that offers social intelligence, STEM education and employment for many who wish to see the betterment of their society.
Most community members want to see their whole community thrive and it is the community that must come together to answer these questions. Is the next wave of education a type of village private schooling? Holding alternative schools at Sun Valley Resort? Can you teach a child programming or electronics if they don’t have the math skills to back it up?
Judging from the recent spate of layoffs, predicted to continue, Artificial Intelligence (AI) just might do the work for them. But who will program the AI?