Distance Learning by Christine Gunderson

When schools all over America closed and they told us to educate our children from home, my mind automatically put large air quotes around the phrase, “distance learning.”
I thought we’ll all just sort of pretend the kids are getting a virtual education, just to keep governors, secretaries of education, and those really intense parents with gifted children from panicking about lost instructional time. 
I assumed this would be sort of like summer vacation. But then teachers all over the world realized children might spend weeks crouched in dark basements, happily zoned out on Xbox, while their parents sat upstairs drinking coffee and having their first uninterrupted conversation in decades. They raised their World’s Greatest Teacher mugs in the air and roared NOT ON OUR WATCH. 
I’m horrified to realize that my children’s teachers are devoted and committed professionals who are determined to make sure my children actually learn during the coronavirus shutdown. And because I am their mother, I have to help. 
Don’t get me wrong. I’m totally on board with the distance thing. I’m happy for a reprieve from our Find The Other Shoe fire drill at the crack of dawn every morning before leaving for school. But the actual learning part? That’s another story. 
As a teacher impersonator, I can discuss fractions, in a very vague and general way, by calling my child’s attention to the measuring cup while baking brownies. But unfortunately for parents, this low-key, artisanal and organic approach to learning is not rigorous enough for hard-core educators.
Real teachers post inspiring and cheerful video messages on the school website every morning.
Real teachers say they miss my children in tones so sincere and honest that I am forced to conclude they’re telling the truth. 
Real teachers write detailed lesson plans outlining exactly what my children need to accomplish. 
Real teachers make this distance learning thing so simple even a parent can do it. But I’m still having trouble. 
Let’s face it, a lot of us are having trouble. Have you seen the viral video posted by the mother of four in Israel? She is our prophet, the patron saint of Parents Who Didn’t Become Teachers Because We Knew We Couldn’t Hack It. 
Amateur educators all over the world are sending frantic, slightly unhinged SOS messages to other parents as they crack under the pressure of educating their own children. The text message below, from a formerly strong and intelligent friend, bears an eerie resemblance to the journal entries written by British explorer Robert Scott before he froze to death on the Antarctic tundra.

We have almost completed our first day of homeschooling. I may lose my mind. We have a word of the day. It is INSOLENT. If we are found dead in our home, it will not be because of Covid-19.

At our house, school starts at 9:30 a.m. School sounds something like this: 
Child #1:                    “I’ll do Moby Max, then Raz Kids and then download on See Saw.”
Parent:                        “I have absolutely no idea what you just said.”
Child #2:                    “I’m doing my IXL.”
Parent:                        “I thought IXL was an inappropriate person on You Tube.”
Child #2:                    “Mom. IXL is a math app.”
Child #3:                    “Mom. If I don’t have exclusive use of every electronic device in our entire house for the next six weeks, I will fail all my classes. Hand over your passwords.”
Fortunately, one of my children still has retro-worksheets on actual paper, like we did back in the purple-scented mimeographed glory of the 1970’s. But I can’t help with this homework either, because the worksheets have questions like the following:
“An airplane takes 2 hours and 30 minutes to travel 500 km against the wind. With the same wind, the return trip takes 1 hour and 40 minutes. Find the rate of the wind.”
Why? Why does anyone want to know the rate of the wind? It would be easier to find a customer helpline manned by a live human and ask the airline this question directly than to find the answer using math. 
So yes, the coronavirus is very bad. But teaching my children how to do math at home during the coronavirus is my own private apocalypse. 
But we are Americans, after all. We will soldier on as long as necessary. We will keep calm and wash our hands. We will draw lines down the back of our legs with eyebrow pencil if Dr. Fauci tells us that rationing silk stockings might slow the spread. We will plant toilet paper victory gardens. We will do whatever it takes to flatten the curve—even if it means educating our own children.
Christine Gunderson is writer who lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star the Wonder dog. When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion, or unloading the dishwasher. You can reach her at  www.christinegunderson.com


  1. Replies
    1. Our teachers have been AWESOME but it is still a struggle for those of us who are not good with either math or technology :-)

  2. My kids are college age and are 'distance learning' for the rest of the semester. They both requested my assistance this week with 'major projects'. I am no longer equipped for college-level work. I'll pray for you, if you pray for me. Deal?

    1. Deal. Then can you have your college kids call me to figure out how to log into my third graders math textbook website???

  3. Oh....Christine. We're dying over here. I'm ready to email Mr. C to pull the plug on distance learning. I feel like I just walk around in circles through my house trouble shooting one technology-related problem after the next, until either one of the kids or I melt down and binge eat cookies.....

    1. You are not alone! I have spent the last week engaged in an epic battle with See Saw. I'm about ready to give up and just tie all the homework in a bundle and send it to school via snail mail.

  4. This made my day! It would appear that I am NOT alone in my feeling of ineptitude!’

  5. I was a distance learning student back in the 90's with dial up internet... kudos to all making this a priority.

    1. The technology is almost there...but not quite. In ten years, this will all be a piece of cake, but right now, we still have some issues :-)

  6. So Mrs. Gunderson you admire both Miss Austen and C.S. Lewis? You’ll be just fine!

  7. Toilet paper victory gardens! The best.


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