Friday, March 3, 2023
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Save NYC school snow days, Chancellor Banks, and let our kids have childhoods

Announcing that city public-school kids will now have to sign in for remote learning when snow shutters the actual schools, Chancellor David Banks chirped: “Sorry, kids! No more snow days, but it’s gonna be good for you.”

No, it won’t. 

Remote learning was, with few exceptions, a complete disaster for New York’s schoolkids. Just look at the pandemic-year data on everything from enrollment numbers (down 10%) to learning loss (40% of students across the city fell below math benchmarks over the 2021 academic year; in reading, 50%) — to say nothing about skyrocketing rates of mental illness among adolescents. 

In short, to learn and thrive, kids need to be physically present in school with their buddies and teachers. Not parked, as the chancellor seems to envision, in front of a screen for eight hours. 

Yes, remote learning can work in certain limited contexts — for, say, an honors calculus class at Stuyvesant. But what Banks’ edict means for the vast majority of NYC schools will be teachers pretending to teach (many not even virtually present for class, since union rules say they don’t have to be), and an utter loss for students. 

And yes, the proliferation of school holidays (which is likely driving the “no more snow days” move, as the Department of Education legally must “teach” 180 days a year) is a problem Banks can’t easily fix. But chaining little kids to their tablets while snow sparkles outside isn’t the answer. 

Disturbing, too, is the notion that technology is good in itself that seems to underlie the call. Just because schools can present content at a distance, over tablets and laptops, doesn’t mean they should. It’s no substitute for rigorous, in-person instruction in fundamentals and actual education innovation. Note as well that those tablets and laptops, lent by the DOE, often simply failed to work for NYC’s lower-income families even as the DOE provided no tech support. 

Meanwhile, play — free, unstructured, and as unsupervised as possible — is also hugely important for kids. It helps them develop self-reliance, sharpens their social skills, improves their physical health and provides a necessary outlet from the very real stresses and pressures they face. In our era of hyperstimulation, pointlessly putting them in front of yet another screen when they could be outside having a snowball fight is as absurd as it is cruel. 

So long live snow days! Chancellor Banks, if you really have the best interests of kids at heart — and we know you do — you need to reconsider your decision. 

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