Our governments’ responses to the Chinese flu epidemic were pretty much a negative image of what should have been done. Instead of protecting the vulnerable, our governments irrationally shut down businesses, churches, and, worst of all, schools. The result was an educational and social disaster, the magnitude of which we have barely begun to understand.
You know it’s bad when the New York Times notices: “362 School Counselors on the Pandemic’s Effect on Children: ‘Anxiety Is Filling Our Kids.’”
Of course, what they are talking about is not the effect of the pandemic, it is the effect of the political response to the pandemic.
American schoolchildren’s learning loss in the pandemic isn’t just in reading and math. It’s also in social and emotional skills — those needed to make and keep friends; participate in group projects; and cope with frustration and other emotions.
In a survey of 362 school counselors nationwide by The New York Times in April, the counselors — licensed educators who teach these skills — described many students as frozen, socially and emotionally, at the age they were when the pandemic started.
“Something that we continuously come back to is that our ninth graders were sixth graders the last time they had a normative, uninterrupted school year,” said Jennifer Fine, a high school counselor in Chicago. “Developmentally, our students have skipped over crucial years of social and emotional development.”
Nearly all the counselors, 94 percent, said their students were showing more signs of anxiety and depression than before the pandemic. Eighty-eight percent said students were having more trouble regulating their emotions. And almost three-quarters said they were having more difficulty solving conflicts with friends.
Those numbers are overwhelming evidence of the disaster of America’s covid response. Here are some data from the Times article:
The Times piece is replete with shocking observations from school counselors. Here are just a few:
Emotional health is necessary for learning to happen, counselors said, yet children had lost stamina and motivation in the classroom: “If what they are asked to do requires critical thinking or more than 10 minutes of effort, many students struggle, become frustrated and refuse to do the work,” said Laurenne Hamlin, a junior high counselor in Elkhart, Ind.
Another weakness was social skills. Sixty percent said children were having more trouble making friends, and half said there had been more physical fighting and online harassment of peers. “There is horrific violence and bullying,” said Alaina Casey Mangrum, a counselor in a Pittsburgh elementary school. “There are physical altercations every single day.”
Nearly all counselors said they were seeing more students with signs of anxiety or depression, and trouble regulating their emotions. In children, these issues often appear as acting out — yelling, fighting or arguing. “The smallest things will trigger an extreme emotional response that is disproportionate with the trigger,” said Stephanie Coombs, an elementary school counselor in Wagener, S.C.
Counselors tend to focus on the emotional and social consequences of the shutdowns, but their impact on academic achievement is at least equally important. In my state, even as spending on the public schools spiraled ever upward, academic performance on objective tests dropped off a cliff. This chart plots per-pupil spending against test scores. The teachers’ union managed to block all objective testing in 2020, knowing that scores would be awful. But look what happened in 2021, the dots on the right side of the graph–a catastrophic collapse in academic performance:
None of this is news to the general public. In our quarterly poll, my organization found that just about everyone in Minnesota–including 87% of parents!–understands that the Democrats’ school shutdowns were disastrous for our children:
What we need now is a reckoning. It is too bad, as I often have said, that some already-ailing 85-year-olds (and, to be fair, a few others) were tipped over by covid. That was unfortunate, but what we did to our children, as a matter of policy, not necessity, was a crime. We need an accounting: no politician who participated in shutting down our public schools (usually, but not always, Democrats) should be returned to office.
And above all, the teachers’ unions, which demanded shutdowns in many states, should pay a price. The public is finally beginning to realize that teachers’ unions, far from being advocates for our children, are their worst enemies. The teachers’ unions should be publicly shamed, teachers should drop out of them, and voters should select school board candidates who pledge to oppose the teachers’ unions, not to slavishly follow their orders, as has usually been the case in many states.