Could Podschooling Make Things Better or Worse in Education?

Could Podschooling Make Things Better or Worse in Education?
Could Podschooling Make Things Better or Worse in Education?

“It is an ill wind that blows no good.”

The origin of this phrase is unknown, but it is accurate, even if the ill wind is the Wuhan virus.

However, something good in this wind may be something called “pandemic podschooling.” Maybe.

Similar ideas are labeled cooperative homeschooling, microschooling, or simply podschooling.

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Parents who subscribe to this concept pool their resources to create miniature schools or pods for their children. They may be very simple or quite elaborate. In some, the parents take turns teaching and caring for the children while others hire teachers. Some purchase a pre-made curriculum from the same sources as more traditional homeschoolers. Others may use online resources provided by public, charter, or private schools. The more adventurous will make up their program as they go along.

A Blow to American Educationists

Some call it “the return of the little red schoolhouse.”

Deliberate or accidental, it is a blow against the creaking tower of educational ideology in the public schools.

The rotting core of the tower is that every student should have an education provided by the state, supported by taxes and led by John Dewey-trained pedagogues. Education must be a collective process. All sectarian influences, except the religion of secularism, must be removed. All schools should have identical or similar curricula.

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This diseased system has been sewn, patched, and jerry-rigged together for decades. It would be ironic if this viral product of Chinese Communism brought down this whole collective edifice.

What Will September Bring?

For decades, the school year appeared to be a certainty of life. Since March 2020, however, academic halls have been silent, cleansed of both students and teachers. Schools promoted “distance learning” schemes instead – most of which failed miserably. Administrators, teachers, students and parents limped along, pretending that learning was happening.

With the opening of a new school year, the uncertainty is even more significant. Some schools have already reopened. A few have already re-closed. Lawsuits are bubbling up around the country as teachers’ unions argue that schools must remain shuttered. Some schools have announced that distance education will continue until January – at least. Others have half of their students attending on alternate days. Smaller – mostly nonpublic – schools are planning full five-day-a-week schedules.

All of these schools have one thing in common. A sudden uptick in the coronavirus or bureaucratic whim could throw their plans into the ashcan. They all represent the destruction of educational norm structures built up over generations that open a flank for change, both good and bad.

Parents Taking Responsibility

Such uncertainty about the future is corrosive. Children’s psyches are at risk. Parents do not know how to arrange their work schedules.  Teachers are trying to plan, knowing that circumstances could blow those plans to smithereens.

Throughout the crisis, traditional homeschooling has sailed through, relatively unmolested. Homeschoolers may have missed the usual library trips and group outings, but real learning has progressed. A chronic situation for other children has been a mere hiccup for homeschoolers.

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However, homeschooling isn’t for everybody. Some parents lack the necessary educational background. Others resist the idea for a variety of reasons. For these, five-day-a-week schooling/daycare for their children is one of life’s foundation stones.

Many parents see podschooling as a potential rescue.

Many Hurdles

Podschooling parents must answer many practical questions. Where will the students meet? What curriculum will be used? Who will supervise the students? Will they hire a teacher? How will expenses be divided up among the parents? Are there enough computers and sufficient bandwidth? Will all students be the same age, or will the ages be mixed?

Finding answers to questions like these requires a real commitment. Furthermore, all parents must agree, which is a formidable task. On the other hand, another four months without school might be more formidable.

Many Possible Answers

One of the best aspects of podschooling is a flexibility not found in ordinary schools.

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One group of parents could form a podschool with five neighborhood children alternating through five homes. Each day, a different parent keeps the children on task as they complete the distance learning lessons provided by their school. Students eat the lunches that their parents packed. No money changes hands. Everyone assumes that the “school” will disband when regular classes resume.

At the other extreme, some parents hire qualified teachers and rent a location. The space is fitted out with several classrooms. Each room has Internet access, computers for each student, textbooks, screens, etc.  They hire a private bus. Lunch comes from a local restaurant.

Of course, there are infinite variations between those two extremes.

Short Term Tolerance, Long Term Opposition

The educational establishment hates podschooling.

That hate is not immediately apparent. At this point, the National Education Association (NEA) struggles to keep public schools closed, at least until after the elections.  Podschooling plays into this goal because it lessens public demands that schools reopen on schedule.

To see the developing resistance, one needs to look beyond the education system.

For instance, the New York Times published a piece titled “Pods, Microschools and Tutors: Can Parents Solve the Education Crisis on Their Own?.” The Boston Globe’s mounts an attack on a broader scale, “Families With Means Leave Public Schools for Private Schools or ‘Learning Pods,’ Raising Concerns About Worsening Educational Inequality.” That one-time bastion of domestic bliss, Good Housekeeping entered the fray, asking, “Is It Possible to Create Homeschooling Pods and Microschools Without “Opportunity Hoarding”?

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The leftist message is not hard to decipher: Podschooling is inherently racist, classist, and anti-egalitarian; ill-equipped parents have no business subverting the work of professionals; podschools could perpetuate harmful social inequities; parents, searching for the best options for their own children, ignore society’s betterment as a whole.

Weapons of the Left

The leftists are too canny to show all their weapons now. Perhaps they are “keeping their powder dry,” awaiting a more opportune moment. However, the Homeschool Podcast Network, exposes some establishment objections in the episode, “Pandemic Podschooling: Is it Homeschooling?”

Host Carol Topp and guest Julie Schiffman present some of the roadblocks facing long-term podschools.

The first issue is state regulation. While all states allow homeschools, podschools have a far more tenuous legal existence. Often, state homeschooling laws require that each child’s primary educator is his or her parent. By definition, most podschool students are taught by others. States are likely to consider a podschool as a private school. That means following state requirements about compulsory attendance, curriculum, teacher certification, and other areas. Violating those regulations can get the podschool shut down before it gets launched.

The zoning of the podschool may also come into play. Parents might, for example, allow the podschool to use the basement of their home. However, local zoning laws may prevent that use. Homeowners’ Associations might resist a “gang” of kids playing outside a single house.

Tax laws may confront those podschools that hire teachers. A teacher who has to be in a specific location for a set number of hours is an employee. That means compliance with contract law, worker’s compensation, and liability insurance, withholding for the state and federal taxes, and other considerations, just like any other business. Failure to observe these laws has severe consequences.

While the Wuhan virus emergency may encourage the bureaucracies to overlook violations in the short term, the day will come when the schools reopen. At that point, the schools will want those children (and the money that they represent) back. They will not shrink from using any legal weapons that they possess.

Thus, podschooling is an interesting concept, to be embraced with care and caution.