Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Concept of "Learning Loss" is Complete BS


Just scanning the first page of my search engine's results for "learning loss" without clicking a single link I see that children have "suffered" learning loss during the pandemic, that the learning loss is "grim," that it is "unprecedented," and that schools are "racing" and "struggling" to correct it. It will, apparently, "take years to overcome" the damage that's been done to our poor children who we are counting on to fill the jobs of tomorrow.

Oh boy, we're on high seas alright. Just when we think we're seeing a light at the end of the pandemic storm, we see there are still choppy waters and dark clouds ahead, and this time it's all going to come crashing down on our children. The poor children. Think of the children!

But breathe easy. Fortunately, there are heroes here to save the day: for-profit corporations who just happen to sell exactly the lifesavers we need in the form of curricula, text books, and, most importantly, standardized tests. Of course, it will apparently mean tossing a few less important things overboard. Recess must, of course, be reduced. School hours can be extended. Summer break can be shortened or perhaps eliminated entirely. And perhaps we can put those extras like music, physical education, and art on hold for a few years. If these measures seem harsh, please consider the poor, wee, suffering children whose brains are being, as we speak, drained of learning; who have been traumatized by what is clearly a brain damaging event. But if we act fast, with the kind of tough love only institutions can administer, and with, most importantly, rolls of freshly minted bills (that are definitely not needed to make up for the financial losses these self-proclaimed "education" corporations experienced during this dark time when children were not being rigorously drilled-and-killed), these benevolent heroes can save our children from being hopelessly lost at sea for the rest of their lives . . .

This is what they are selling and it should sicken all of us. The concept of "learning loss" is complete BS. It's been with us forever, of course, this noxious idea that if we don't keep children's noses to the grindstone year-round they fall into some sort of swoon of blithering ignorance, but now it's being weaponized and aimed directly at our children. "Learning loss" is not a real thing. It's an invention of the standardized testing crowd. If it's so fragile that a few months, or even a year, will cause it to somehow disappear, it was never learned in the first place. It was, at best, a bit of trivia that a child managed to store away in their short term memory long enough to fill in the right dot on a test. I have no doubt that kids have sloughed off tons of this sort of trivia during the past year, but that isn't evidence of learning loss: it's evidence that what we've been doing to children at the behest of these testing companies isn't learning at all. Or rather it's learning in the only thing that matters to their bottomline, which is proficiency in taking tests, of cramming, of scoring points. It is a useful, self-perpetuating set of skills just so long as testing remains the center of their educational experience. It is not useful for anything they will ever face in the world beyond the classroom.

Clearly, the actual content doesn't matter, and that's usually the way children feel about it as well. Once they've used it for it's only conceivable purpose, filling in a bubble with a number two pencil, they are free to dump it to make space for the next set of test answers they must retain long enough to fill in the correct bubbles. This is not learning in the sense that professional educators think of it, which is why it's no loss at all.

Professional educators know that real learning cannot be lost except in the case of some sort of brain damage. Professional educators know that real learning continues unabated, even during a pandemic. Professional educators know that the children who return to their classrooms will have been transformed by their experiences, profoundly, and not all for the bad. Professional educators know that "falling behind" is a concept invented by testing companies whose only measure for "behind" is the very tests they create, a convenient, cynical self-perpetuating cycle that has nothing at all to do with learning or education or life itself. Professional educators know that one must apply knowledge before it is learned and our children have spent the past year applying their knowledge to living through a pandemic. That's where the learning has happened.

The real heroes are the children who stayed home, who sat in front of computer screens, who continue to wear masks and keep their distance even when every fiber of their being is telling them to hug and wrestle and hold hands. The real heroes are the educators who ditched the curricula and tests, and joined the children on their learning journey, supporting them as they learned lessons that can never be lost. 

It's now beyond sickening to watch our elected representatives (of both parties) fall all over themselves to beat the "learning loss" drum, eager to once more sic the profit-mongers on our children. 

Have some of our children, maybe even most of our children, suffered during the pandemic? Of course, but not because of this "learning loss" BS. Have things been grim? Indeed, but not because the kids had a break from the test score coal mines. Has there been suffering and struggling? My lord, yes, but not the kind that is manufactured in institutions that are designed to run the kids through the kind of assembly line that characterizes most of what these cruel profiteers pass off as curriculum.

It's tempting to wrap up this rant with some heartfelt verbiage about how the children need us to listen, to support, and to help them process the real world events that have changed everything, at least for a time. All of this is true, and we will do it, but right now, as I contemplate the abject meanness of the "learning loss" crowd, I don't want to simply become like them by thinking we can or should prescribe anything to these kids. Let's just admit that none of us know what's next. Let's just admit that the children, overall, may well be weathering this better than most adults, and that they have learned things that we have not. We find ourselves, after a terrible storm, in sight of land, all of us together. We don't know what we will find there. All we know is that we will disembark together and from there we can begin to build something new from what we have actually been learning about ourselves and our world. But first we have to throw the "learning loss" crowd overboard.

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