I did not buy into the American Toilet Paper Hoarding Epidemic of 2020, as posterity will dub our present unfortunate episode decades hence. In an effort to help my wife avoid murder charges when the courts resume — though she could plea down to third degree manslaughter with minimal jail time — I decided to take the lead on handling the urchins’ schooling as America hunkers down. By mid-morning — around the time I heard the toddler say, ‘don’t call me a buttcheek, you dummy’ — I began weighing the odds on whether my wife had the guts to pull the trigger.Our Catholic school in Alexandria, Virginia, was one of the last to call it quits in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, a testament to our stalwart faith. The missus greeted the news with a dread equaled only by my optimism. I would finally be able to put my pedagogical theories — a hodgepodge of Catholic scholasticism and Montessori freedom — to the test. I envisioned a one-room schoolhouse: the third-grader reading aloud to the kindergartener, the three-year-old frolicking outdoors with the 20-month-old. The proctor would guide in a hands-off manner, correcting pronunciation when needed, steering the toddlers away from the pile of thorn bushes and ivy amassed in the area that some fool thought he could transform into a fire-pit by quarantine’s end.I began the day with the ritual cigarette and coffee when the seriousness of the endeavor manifested itself in the street. I smiled and waved at the driver of the blue Honda Civic and returned to the newspaper. She appeared before my bench, clutching Target bags filled to the brim with notebooks and No. 2 pencils.‘You’re doing the Lord’s work,’ the delivery driver said before registering my bafflement. ‘I homeschooled since day one. My oldest is getting her RN.’ I took the bags.‘Remember all things are possible,’ she said as she hopped back into her car.I appreciated the sentiment, particularly because the teachers union at McMorris Montessori had about as much leverage against the administration as St Paul did against the Roman Empire. Then the next email came.I already suspected that the school hated parents: why else would it issue recorders to the children on Quarantine Eve?
The missive opened with a quote from St John Paul the Great (‘The future starts today, not tomorrow’) and then details of something called an ‘e-learning program’. It says there is an iPad waiting for every student who needs one. And on every iPad there is a website bookmarked. And on this website are video files containing lessons. Lessons that will be the subject of homework. Homework that must be printed, filled out, scanned, converted to a PDF, and emailed to the teacher. For the third-grader? Yes. The kindergartner, too.
The proctor will not stand in the background editing stories about the coronavirus as children read challenging books or recite multiplication tables or play in the backyard. No, he must hover over the shoulders of his pupils as they complete their assignments. The third-grader is too busy trying to learn how to navigate the website and use the iPad — a tool previously forbidden in the house — to read aloud to her siblings, so they must listen to a robot voice recount the tale of Zot’s dietary habits.
Virginia has had a mild winter and the local school district has decided to employ its unused snow days to cover the opening weeks of quarantine. Teachers are free from work. Parents are free to kick their students outside where they belong. McMorris Juvenile Preparatory Program (née Montessori) is forced to conduct classes in the basement to avoid distraction from the echoes of youthful joy outside. While the public schools are closed until April 14, the Catholics have said classes will resume on April 13, at which point we will enter Easter break, which runs until April 20.
The late cancellation of the parochial school, it turns out, had little to do with the faith and everything to do with reinforcing the superiority of its education. The faculty wanted to show parents that the second jobs we take, the overtime we work, the school recitals we miss because of the overtime we’re working on our second jobs so we can afford tuition, are all worth it. There must be deadlines and meritocratic striving and test scores. The type of criteria that yuppie parents, myself included, are not only familiar with, but serve as the foundation of our place in American society. Perhaps now that we work-from-home parents are tasked with enforcing the arbitrary, ridiculous system of assigning homework to elementary school students, we will begin to question what kind of buttcheek dummy came up with it in the first place.
Until then, I’ll be hovering over my iPad-addled drones and micromanaging fights in the basement, contemplating the price of a one-way ticket to Wuhan.