What I Hope We Will Learn from the Pandemic

  1. Distance learning is a crock, and teachers are really, really important.
  2. Close confinement of animals meant for food (not only in wet markets like the one in Wuhan but in factory farms, from which most meat comes now) breeds viruses and bacteria that cause disease, and in the latter case, giving over 50 percent of the total amount of antibiotics we produce to those farmed animals creates antibiotic resistance in humans who eat that meat and forces the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria).
  3. We must have in place rapid-response systems for pandemics, including stockpiles of PPE and ventilators; mobile field hospitals that can be set up at a moment’s notice; a national, online portal for pandemic related information and for disease reporting and contact tracing; and emergency plans for commandeering of industrial capacity, expanding paraprofessional medical personnel; quarantining affected areas; and dealing with economic impacts on quarantined sub-populations.
  4. The science matters. About pandemics. About climate change. About the ongoing Sixth Great Extinction, this one caused by humans.
  5. We can’t afford to have leaders who are profoundly stupid and profoundly ignorant of almost everything–ones who think that stealth planes are actually invisible to the eye, that climate change is “just weather,” that coal becomes clean and healthy if it is “washed,” that windmills cause cancer, that a few poor refugees are an existential threat to America, that the tariffs we place on a country’s goods imported into the U.S. are paid by that country, that there were airports during the Revolutionary War, that Belgium is a city, that Denmark might be interested in selling Greenland to us, that we ought to nuke hurricanes, that antibiotics can be used to treat viral disease, and that injecting disinfectant might be a great idea for a new medical treatment.
  6. The enormous and ever-increasing economic inequities in the U.S. have to be corrected, including lack of a national, single-payer, universal healthcare system, which has made the pandemic devastating for lower-middle-class and poor people in this country. We desperately need to transition to a Social Democratic system that serves the interests of all the people, not of a wealthy few.

About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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14 Responses to What I Hope We Will Learn from the Pandemic

  1. It’s a tall order, for sure.


  2. .N'B'T. says:

    I’m curious about your 1st point, Bob. I work in higher ed and while I understand, both professionally and as a life-long student, the joys and benefits of in-person instruction, I think to denigrate DL as a whole is a gross misstep. Don’t get me wrong, I think if we had to definitively say whether in-person or online learning was the best, I’d agree with in-person, but only slightly. It would be a slight difference in degree, not scope.

    Cheers for the thought-provoking discussion!


    • Bob Shepherd says:

      I’ve reviewed an enormous number of online courseware programs on the K-12 market, and they are mostly junk. All hat and no cattle. The diagnostic tests in them do not do what they purport to do. There’s a lot of graphical stuff that is intended to be interesting to kids but isn’t–that, in fact, puts them off. They almost all are basically 1950s-style programmed learning in modern, graphically intense format. That stuff failed then and it fails now. In the classroom, what I’ve seen is a lot of initial hype, excitement for the first couple days because it’s something new, and then the kids HATING IT. There are reasons for that. The courseware creators have, for the most part, gone belly up, and investors in it have lost billions. Kids respond to actual human interactions, not to depersonalized education software. Also note that online courses have very low completion rates, and people learn less from them. The virtual school industry has been plagued by failures and corruption, and one after another, virtual K-12 academies in various states have closed ignominiously.

      Computers are great in education for a few things: access to texts that would be otherwise difficult to access, automatic grading of objective-format quizzes, virtual demonstrations when real-life demonstrations would be prohibitive or repulsive (virtual dissection), etc. But don’t think that they are really going to grade essays, diagnose level of attainment, personalize instruction, hold kids’ interests for long, etc. That’s hype, like the claims that AIs that think are just around the corner. A pencil is a great tool, for a few limited uses. But don’t try to do eye surgery with it.

      It should give people pause that investors have lost billions on this online learning stuff. And that kids HATE IT.

      Some folks are slow learners.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Bob Shepherd says:

      My experience has been that kids are motivated by personal interactions, not by courseware, but the makers of this junk think that they can create motivation with schlocky multimedia (Mario the Pizza Guy Sings the Multiplying and Dividing Fractions Song, We Have Avatars!). The kids respond to this stuff in the same way that they respond to fifty-year-old teachers who try to dress like them to be cool. They groan. Then, after a few days, they actively, intensely despise it. Ironically, some of the best courseware that I’ve seen is text-heavy–some of the stuff from Glynlyon, for example, typically used by homeschoolers, that doesn’t to pretend to be anything more than a way to access some teaching text. I’m tempted to offer this definition:

      remote learning. gerund phrase. A purported educational mode in which there is only a remote chance that learning is taking place


      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Bob Shepherd: What I Hope We Will Learn from the Pandemic | Diane Ravitch's blog

  4. Kari says:

    Amen! To all of it. Thank you!


  5. Forgive me for borrowing and revising a famous quote from President Lincoln:

    Most people will learn from history some of the time, and some people will learn from history all of the time, but people that think like Donald Trump and/or watch Fox News are too ignorant to learn anything from history or the pandemic.


  6. Nan Mykel says:

    Yay, although the art at the top of the page hurts my eyes. : >)


  7. Chuck Jordan says:

    You are right, distance learning sucks, but some of it sucks more than others. Without distance learning (20 years ago?) schools would have just shut down. My guess is what we need to do is make distance learning better because it isn’t going away. That is why teachers need to be working on designing better on-line learning tools.



    Of course !! Sigh!


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