Columnists, Coronavirus, Education, Jon Caldara, Politics

Caldara: If schools won’t open, give education dollars to parents instead

If you’re going to deny my child an in-person education, then give me my tax money so I can hire someone who will teach him.

My son Chance has Down Syndrome. Although he is in his teens, he doesn’t read or write, nor can he count to 10 successfully. Only a fraction of his speech is recognizable. That said he is remarkably perceptive and has situational awareness that rivals many adults I know.

My son is a very smart kid and has extraordinary potential to learn the skills and behaviors he needs to survive in life. But he has only this one chance to learn them as his young brain develops.

The window for this most impactful period is closing fast. He will never get it back. He may never catch up.

It has been a beautiful experience to see how Chance learns. He learns by doing, not sitting. He learns from his peers at school. He learns from his typical classmates (“typical” is the new PC word for “normal”).

While he spends a good deal of time in a special classroom situation, typical kids come in to mentor him. He goes to several regular classes and interacts with the normal kids. He loves it and absorbs knowledge and behavior skills like a sponge from his peers.

It has been heartwarming to see how other kids out-teach the teachers to give Chance a chance for a better life.

In other words, he’s just like most kids. The social and physical experience of going to school is how he will learn to navigate in the social and physical world after school ends.

My son isn’t all that different from any other kid who is having his education robbed from him as school districts decline to open schools.

He needs a lot of hands-on therapy to teach him how to eat, speak, button his shirt, hold a pencil and so on. This therapy is very tactile and physical. He doesn’t get nearly enough of it at school, but what he gets is vital to his advancement.

As our school district refuses to teach him in-person, they condemn him.

Don’t even try to convince me that online learning is a substitute. I have witnessed it completely fail both my children earlier this year. While some children thrive with online-only education, it was a complete waste for most. A cheat.

Not to provide in-person education is child abuse. It will scar many kids for life, swindling them of their limited and short time to learn.

This is especially cruel given that the COVID health danger is extremely low for children according to the CDC, “COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school aged children. … So far in this pandemic, deaths of children are less than in each of the last five flu seasons.”

Of course, the excuse to rob our children of their futures is that some kids and teachers might be in regular contact with vulnerable people. It’s the don’t-bring-it-home-to-grandma argument. Fair enough. Those people should be able to choose online learning. Absolutely.

Grocery store clerks have the same don’t-bring-it-home-to-grandma anxiety. But apparently, they don’t have as powerful unions.

Sadly, our children need in-person learning just as they need food.

We are paying for services we are not getting. Our taxes are still being collected, but our kids’ education has been stolen because for children like mine, online education is no education at all.

If we still had to pay King Soopers the same as we always did, but they gave us no food, we’d call the cops. They’d go to jail. We’d demand our money back so we could get the food our kids need to survive elsewhere.

This is no different.

Give us the money you’d be spending on our kids and let us hire people who won’t waste this precious time, their one opportunity to learn. Rich families are doing it. We working families should be able to do it, too.

The CDC acknowledges the danger of stealing education. “The harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant.”

The teachers union has given up on my child. The school district has given up on my child. The governor has given up on my child.

How do they sleep at night?

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.

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