The pandemic forced the world into a unique situation. We’ve had epidemics and pandemics before, but none on such a large scale in our digital-aged world. Schools, businesses and entire countries stopped in their tracks and shut down. And yes, we all read too many articles about it.

Few good things come out of a devastating pandemic, but there are hundreds of articles that list the benefits and lessons we’ve learned and experiences gained. But if there’s one thing that Covid-19 has taught us, it’s that we will not change our opinions by moving speeches and eloquent articles. Our opinions will change only when we are placed in a situation where we have to test them.

Take homeschooling for example. Before the pandemic, around 3.3% of American students learned at home or took online classes. This number shot up to 11.1% at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. The preconceptions of homeschoolers are quite obvious. Strange. Nerdy. Awkward. Movies capture society’s outlook on homeschoolers perfectly. Enola Holmes, the titular character in the 2020 movie, is portrayed as a spunky, outspoken, defiant girl who was taught by her mother. Dora, in the 2019 “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” struggles to find her place in high school after growing up in the jungle. Both movies are an exaggeration, but they reveal what society thinks of those who learn unconventionally — homeschooled in Holmes’ case and “jungle-schooled” in Dora’s.

To some extent, the assumptions of homeschooled students can be true. Homeschoolers are different because they come from a different background. They have a skill set public students don’t have, such as being responsible for their own education, and don’t have a skill set public students have, such as finding time to do homework in a stringent schedule of classes and school club meetings. There is a clear divide between homeschooled students and public-school students.

Covid changed all that when it forced many students to learn at home. Suddenly, students who usually went to a brick and mortar schools, with physical classmates to chat with and physical teachers to learn from, were stuck at home on their laptops, engaging in choppy conversations over spotty wifi with names on black boxes. And occasionally a face against a picture of planet Earth.

“Welcome to our world,” seasoned homeschooled kids say. And what a world it is indeed. Eating during lectures (with cameras off, of course) and wearing a nice shirt over Star Wars pajama pants is the life of a homeschooler, as bummy and lazy as society thought it would be. But that world also includes dozens of planners because no bell will ring telling what period just ended. It includes dozens of bookmarks on YouTube and Khan Academy videos because learning about the causes of World War I over Zoom is not sufficient. It includes being organized, being creative and taking ownership of your own studies. Homeschoolers are quite literally alone when it comes to their education. Thanks to the coronavirus, brick-and-mortar students got a taste of what popular culture emphasizes and doesn’t emphasize. They had the chance to live in a world of pajamas, snacking, planners, Google and accountability.

Now that schools are reopening and things are more or less going back to normal, why does that experience matter? There could be some long-term effects, such as the overall higher percentage of school-age children being homeschooled after the pandemic. But maybe the biggest lesson the rise in homeschooling has taught us is that we need to test our opinions.

We used to think homeschooling wasn’t really “school.” Brick-and-mortar students are finding that remote learning challenges them in different areas. These realizations about homeschooling reveal our assumptions in all areas of life, proving that knowledge is not truly knowledge without experience. Experience forces us to question our opinions, as Covid has for health care equality, education, governments and our lives in general.

Society is full of unquestioned judgments not only of homeschoolers but also of people of different races and cultures. Maybe we shouldn’t label the Doras in our world as “weird” or “quirky” until we live with monkeys in the jungle ourselves.

Hannah Chang is a 17-year-old high school student currently living in Fairbanks.


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