The Reality of Remote

Grace Coller

I don’t love remote learning, and I’m not trying to glorify it by any means. However, I need to make something clear: remote learning is not the hot mess some people are trying to make it out to be. 

Continuously complaining about remote learning, counting down the days until we “go back,” making propaganda videos of students glorifying the in-person component of hybrid learning and playing it at the board meeting: these are the things that are ultimately going to hold us back as a district. It projects an entirely inaccurate image to the community and presents virtual learning as essentially wasted time, while time in the classroom is spent actually learning. Having been remote all year, I can say with confidence this is not true.

When people treat something as second-rate and defective, they are inherently blinding themselves to any of the possible benefits. Unfortunately, having spoken with fellow students, teachers, and friends, it seems as though people are viewing remote learning as a purgatory of sorts; something we must “get through” in order to return to normal learning. The mindset of treating remote learning as merely a fallback and nothing more not only sets the bar low, but threatens the success of the Pirate Path Back plan all together. There’s the saying a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. My point is this: remote learning is not a weak link, but if people act like it is, the whole system will suffer the consequence of this negative thinking. 

Many make the argument that they learn “better” in-person. However, this is not an argument that proves remote learning is unsuccessful. It’s getting frustrating to keep hearing people complain about remote learning without acknowledging how lucky we are to even have it as an option. Don’t get me wrong, there are drawbacks for this style of schooling, especially for those who are facing additional personal challenges due to the shift in school setting. But I am grateful to live in a state, and a town, that is able to provide the resources necessary to continue my education without having to come into a building that makes me worried about my health. And I know many who intend to make the best of it. While I can only speak from my own experience, remote learning is an opportunity to attend the classes that I love, while still feeling safe. 

In a “normal year” I would choose in person learning over remote learning in a heart-beat. But this is not a normal year by any stretch of the imagination. Being in a state of denial, acting like and wishing things were “normal,” doesn’t change the fact that we are faced with new challenges. And these unconventional challenges presented need to be met with unconventional solutions, such as remote learning. To put it in perspective, movie production in LA was considering temporarily shutting down because hospitals could not handle any additional emergency room visits. Ambulances were circling the streets because there was no space for new COVID patients in any hospitals. It may seem like bringing up California is irrelevant or dramatic, but my point is to show that this year is anything but “normal.” Even in Burlington county, cases have been on the rise; they have been consistently higher than when Cinnamison shutdown last March. 

Like I said, remote learning is definitely not my favorite thing. However, it would be hypocritical for me – as I selected the all-remote cohort, and plan on continuing this option – to not express to people the numerous benefits it provides. It allows people the stability of a routine that doesn’t switch every other day. It allows people a sense of control over their health and education. And most importantly, remote learning keeps people safe, in a time where even the most influential scientists don’t know how to help people or what to suggest. 

Another pro in-person argument I often hear is that it is “easier to focus.” Peers talk about being distracted by things at home, or working from their beds. However, when they see this as a bad thing, a means of holding students back, I see it as a positive, a means of holding students accountable. No matter what a student’s plans are after high school- college, the military, trade school, the workforce- all of these things require a level of discipline and self control. In a way that has never really happened before, high school is preparing us for the challenges of the “real world.” We, as students, are able to establish our own routines, our own methods of self discipline. Remote learning does not limit students to being products of a heavily regulated school system, but rather allows students to establish themselves as individuals who are dedicated to learning, even when not so closely monitored. Certainly, I am speaking from my own experience, and I understand and respect that others may have different educational reasons why they must be in the building. Yet, I want to emphasize the fact that condemning remote learning, in a one size fits all fashion, as harmful to our education is simply inaccurate. I can’t stress enough how much I would love to be back in school, when it’s safe and practical to do so, but in the meantime, remote learning gives us the chance to develop practical skills that are simply less relevant during a typical year. 

Especially in today’s uncertain times, there are so many variables that are out of our control. But my personal health is something that I would like to feel confident and in control of, and remote learning provides me this alternative pathway. With remote learning, I truly believe you get what you put in. If you want to treat it as nothing more than unsuccessful fallback, that’s what it will be. However, for those who are willing to look at remote learning as an opportunity rather than an obstacle – they will be the ones who are able to benefit from the experience. 

The board meeting on Tuesday, November 17, 2020 is something I will remember for a long time. Teacher after teacher, staff member after staff member, calling in, nearly all of them presenting reasons as to why in-person school was not the best option at the time. Hearing my teachers, some in tears, talk about how in-person school was a source of not only stress, but also a danger to their health, was a chilling experience. And when people say they can’t wait to get back in the classroom, I want them to remember this meeting. Their teachers, or their colleagues, expressed genuine concerns for their well-being and the safety of their loved ones, while providing the alternative: remote learning. Is remote learning a permanent solution? Absolutely not. But I would hope the COVID pandemic will not be permanent either. 

My sincere belief is that we will, hopefully in the near future, no longer have to choose between health and education. Both are such valuable cornerstones of our society, which in any normal year, would be able to coexist. Yet 2020 (and now 2021) showed me that when it came down to it, if I had to choose between health or school, health would have to come first. If I could go back in time to the beginning of the school year and change my choice to hybrid learning, I would not. I would remain all remote. Because even as we round out the second marking period, signifying the midway point in the year, I feel as though remote learning was the safest, smartest choice for me. And while I too am waiting for the day where life can go “back to normal,” I wish to make something clear: before that day comes, remote learning provides an opportunity, for those willing to take it, to make the most out of this extraordinary challenge.