William Howe '21
For good reason, returning to school this fall will not be, and in some cases, has not been simple. As schools try to figure out how to approach the challenge of resuming classes in the backdrop of a pandemic, it is important to understand the consequences of any given plan. Public figures like Anthony Fauci elaborated to no end on what the consequences of returning to school in person would be (or have been), but what are the objective results of children not attending school?
Predictably, the outcomes of not sending children to school are undesirable. At young ages, school serves as a social network in which children learn important behaviors and skills for participation in society as they grow older. Without the structure of school, children can become permanently antisocial (which is in fact a negative, as opposed to introverted, which is simply a characteristic) or even aggressive. As children get older, school begins to serve a different purpose. It shifts from a socially-oriented experience to an intellectual one. The process of learning foments key neurological developments, and education in general is vital for success later in life. To be sure, schooling continues to impart lessons of behavior and socialization on students, but it combines this role with that of education. One fact that is especially important in low income communities is that failure to attend classes can cause an elevated risk of gang activity, substance abuse, and general criminal behavior. Psychologically, this elevated risk arises from boredom, which both statistically and anecdotally produces no desirable ends for high school aged individuals. All of these factors are ignoring the legal ramifications of not attending school, which are in their own right severe. School can also provide mental health resources which are otherwise unavailable to students.
Those who chose not to attend school are not only forgoing their own education and future opportunities (and potentially much needed capital for their families), but they may also condemn their own children to a similar fate. According to one research article, parents’ involvement in their children’s learning is critical, and should one’s parents have an insufficient background in school, they may be unable to contribute to their child's education. These generational consequences are only exacerbated by the increased potential for poverty due to lack of opportunity.
Sadly, the solution to our current situation is not as simple as “oh, not going to school is bad? Well that’s easy! Let’s just go to school!” One would be hard pressed to find a single person who would argue for the shutdown of schools absent extant coercive circumstances. Luckily, our educators seem to have found a solution that incorporates the best of both safety and schooling: online classes. “Seem” is the keyword in the previous sentence as often online education falls through. In the District of Columbia, for example, an estimated 30% of public school students lack internet access, meaning they effectively will not attend school in any format this fall.
So, what happens when children and teens don’t attend school? The likelihood of mental illness, substance abuse, and general crime skyrockets, and they may impose more difficult circumstances on future generations. Nobody can provide an objectively correct solution to our back-to-school problems, but knowing the possible consequences of various proposals is crucial.