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The Earnheardts | No bus In the 'Bus Hole'

Being lazy now could result in future therapy sessions where March 2020 is identified as the moment when it all went off the rails. Dreams crushed by unqualified parents who couldn’t explain the difference between a cube and a rectangular prism (fact). 

There’s a tried-and-true morning routine we follow on school days.

Wake. Let the dogs out. Watch TV and cuddle. Eat breakfast. Get dressed. Brush teeth and hair. Take vitamins. Watch the bus hole.

We live on a ravine. Across the ravine are other homes, and those homes sit on the #10 bus route. One parent is tasked with looking through the back window, across the ravine, through the gaps between trees and homes, to the space we refer to as “the bus hole.”

We’ve tried to let the kids do this, but turns out they’re easily distracted by backyard squirrels and city deer.

“Bus is in the bus hole,” the parent will yell out when the yellow tank flashes as it passes between the gaps. This prompts the second parent to quickly grab coats and bags and shove the little ones out the front door. The bus rolls up just as the kids reach the end of the driveway and our day starts as Ms. Sheila delivers them safely to school.

The bus hole is a life-saver, especially when it’s cold or raining. 

There’s no excuse to miss the bus. If an Earnheardt kid misses the bus, they’re met with a “pay the Uber driver” punishment. “Uber” is actually Dad, and the punishment is listening to his music all the way to school. It may seem harsh, but it’s very effective.

It’s been nearly two weeks since there was a bus in the hole. 

We've never been particularly precious about sending our kids to school. It was always just part of the normal family obligation. 

In the early days, we were completely at ease with dropping our 6-week-old infants at various daycares. Neither of us cried about the first days of kindergarten. In fact, the first day of school is highlighted on the calendar each year like a birthday. The date is circled with big hearts, stars and balloons. 

We love our kids, but the plan has always been to leverage our village, when needed, for the nurturing and teaching of our children. We trust the professionals. The more adults who invest parts of themselves into raising our children, the happier we are. 

This is precisely why homeschooling doesn't fit our “village” model. We're not prepared to simultaneously run 9th-, 6th-, 4th- and 1st-grade educations. We never understood how real, non-pandemic homeschool-parents do this — and we never wanted to find out. 

The only lessons we can think to teach the children aren't appropriate. Mary Beth is fixated on using the virus to lecture about government propaganda techniques. Adam asked if it was too soon to teach Ozzie how to use the chainsaw. “That’s on the Earnheardt Common Core curriculum,” he claimed. He was joking. 

Unfortunately, Ozzie overheard this and, of course, has been asking non-stop about his first chainsaw lesson.

The first week of homeschool was novel and fun. Now that we’re at the end of week two, things are getting real. Yes, we’re educators, but higher education is much different than K-12. It takes a completely different set of talents and an endless supply of patience to teach children. We also know that a great education is cumulative. Concepts and ideas stack together like Lego bricks. We'd never had to think about those bricks in terms of our children's’ education before because we outsourced all the hard stuff to the village pros. 

Now we're forced to DIY our kids’ educations and it’s terrifying. We might just as well be the village idiots.

“We might really screw this up,” Mary Beth said early in week two. Being lazy now could result in future therapy sessions where March 2020 is identified as the moment when it all went off the rails. Dreams crushed by unqualified parents who couldn’t explain the difference between a cube and a rectangular prism (fact). 

When therapy bills come due, we’ll have to pay them because it’s our fault we’re not prepared. 

Helicopter parenting has been the trend in the U.S. for more than three decades, but we've only ever been able to manage control tower parenting. Instead of paying close attention to every detail of our kids’ lives, we only activate when they enter our air space, keeping them in a holding pattern until we can properly land them. 

We fully admit to the occasional collision and crash. This approach doesn’t work in a pandemic.

Homeschooling is about parents stepping in and providing a formal education for their children, not teaching them to use dangerous power tools (we’re hoping the propaganda lessons pay off later). Teaching takes a lot of presence and mindful choices. Now that we’re in it, we've committed to doing what must be done, at least for the next few weeks. 

Early efforts have been rocky, showing us that we're more like teachers' aides than professional teachers. 

Thankfully we’re not alone. Our village has good wifi access. We don’t know how they did it, but our teachers had weeks of lessons ready in just a few days. They didn’t just prepare the materials and send us out on our own, the whole faculty and staff at Liberty Local Schools are accessible all day via text and email and video chat. 

Ozzie's first-grade teacher even went viral (the “good” viral) with her own social show, "Clark's Cozy Corner." Check it out here.

She’s a great addition to any village.

All of this has led us to a clearer understanding of how important teachers are in our kids’ lives. We’ve always appreciated the freedom the village gave us. As parents, we’re not sure we ever paid attention to how hard it is to provide a safe, nurturing, learning environment for our kids. 

How do elementary school teachers do this all day long with 20 or more kids in one room? How do middle and high school teachers identify leaders and caretakers among teens and pre-teens who still need to be reminded to shower and brush their teeth? How do they do it without stress-eating chips and chocolate bars and wearing pajamas all day?

We know the bus will be back and school will return. In the meantime, we’re trusting the professionals to guide us. We’re lucky to live in this community. Our region is full of terrific people who value each other. We value our teachers, bus drivers, nurses, counselors and cooks, principals and administrators who provide a solid foundation for our children. 

The pandemic has reminded us just how valuable it is for individuals to come together and form a community. Our school is the bedrock on which our childrens’ lives are built. We’re ready to circle the day on the calendar — the day when it’s safe for us to be back in school, celebrating as a community again — when we can once again look for the bus in the bus hole.

— Adam and Mary Beth Earnheardt are professors at Youngstown State University. Mary Beth is director of the Anderson Program in Journalism. Adam is chair of the Department of Communication. You can follow Mary Beth on Twitter at @mbexoxo and Adam at @adamearn

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