And while many students’ mental health has suffered during the past year, as the educator Erika Christakis has written, schools significantly contributed to their anxiety and depression even before the pandemic. A recent survey revealed that 43 percent of parents agreed with the statement “My child is less stressed now than before school closed.” (Just 29 percent of respondents disagreed, while the rest were neutral.) Parents I spoke with expressed that teachers are more empathetic and attuned to students’ mental health, even spending time in class to unpack their feelings—something they hoped will continue once kids return to campus.
When Lauren Mason Carris, a mother of three in Salt Lake City, asked her children (ages 6, 11, and 17) why they preferred remote learning, a deciding factor for them was the food. “Public-school food options are an embarrassment to our public health,” she told me. “And the work required to [pack] quality meals at 6:30 a.m. [was] taxing for everyone.” Unfortunately, many low-income children rely on school-nutrition programs, and the ability to cook healthy lunches and chat with one’s child during the day is a privilege afforded to full-time caregivers and people whose jobs allow them to work from home. More opportunities for quality time for working-class families would in many cases improve the well-being of their children. This underscores the need for living wages, school schedules that are more in sync with work schedules, expanded child-income programs such as the newly approved child tax credit in the American Rescue Plan, the eradication of food deserts, and flexible paid parental leave at all levels of the workforce.
Read: Why did we ever send kids to school sick?
In some instances, distance learning has created more equitable conditions for marginalized students. Black mothers, for example, have posted stories on social media about intercepting racism directed at their children on video calls. Parents now have a front-row view of how teachers treat their children, and kids can learn from their parents how to advocate for themselves in a way they wouldn’t be able to if they had to navigate instances of discrimination alone.
Many students with disabilities also benefit from the accommodations afforded by virtual learning. Parents of neurodivergent children, for instance, can limit sensory overload and take direction from their kids’ evolving interest in subjects. Students with difficulties concentrating can rewatch recorded lessons on half-speed, pausing as needed. Disability advocates have long pushed for tech-enabled learning accommodations, only to be told that they would be too difficult to implement. That’s now been proved false.
Ed-tech may be here to stay if it’s able to demonstrate its long-term usefulness. Still, many will rightfully argue that an all-encompassing infiltration of Big Tech comes at the cost of privacy and the normalization of a surveillance state. Moreover, tech companies cannot code us out of a failing education system. I have written before about the threats facing young people in our techno-chauvinist society. However, the parents I spoke with said classrooms seem more organized, and students across backgrounds have developed a deeper tech literacy in just a short amount of time.