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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

Spoiler: “Learning Loss” Is A COVIDious Myth

By Allan Shedlin

Grampsy and Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group

PHOTO: AdobeStock

Talking about “learning loss” doesn’t make sense to me.

You can’t lose learning. Instead of bemoaning so-called “learning loss,” we should be focusing on “learning gain” and the steadily growing student behavioral eruptions.

During our disquieting and covidious times, a new school year is well underway. It’s taking place during a period of truly unprecedented global conflict, political turmoil, and natural disasters, leading to widespread human suffering – amplified in our awareness by unrelenting and pervasive media coverage. Children and teachers have returned to classrooms during a time of extraordinary worry, uncertainty, confusion, misinformation/disinformation, and bellicosity. And this is compounded by the disappointment that, after more than 18 months of uncertainty, the school year has not begun as hoped. There are still so many unanswered questions and whatever cravings we have had for a closer to “normal” post-pandemic time have been dashed.

PHOTO: AdobeStock

It’s inescapable that these toxic conditions have an impact on our children and their schooling, as well as on those entrusted to their care – at school and at home. How might we begin to get a better grip on what students are really learning?

How might we begin to shift the focus from “learning loss” to “learning gain”?

In changing this focus, we must consider the panoply of elements that enhance or hinder children’s learning. We need to consider the place of schools in the broader culture and the variety of players and conditions that have the biggest influence on children’s learning. We need to redefine what “learning the basics” means.

As I think about this from various perspectives, no matter which hat I wear – former teacher/principal/education policy advisor, activist, parenting coach, parent, or grandparent – I’m concerned. Actually, I’m more than concerned, I’m worried.

The traditionally stabilizing and predictable roles schools have played in our lives have been compromised by forces beyond our control, as well as those we are running out of time to get a grip on. This new school year has begun during a “go away closer” time, a Lewis Carrollian rabbit hole that seems to suck us into areas of ever greater confusion:

  • Perpetuating the toxic “us versus them” nature rampant in our national divide on an obscene array of so many basic and vital issues – a time during which leaders act more like school children during playground name-calling and worse. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear during one of their exchanges, “I know you are, but what am I?!”

  • When we tout the importance of teaching science in schools but ignore it in too many instances that impact controlling a recrudescent pandemic

  • When we stress the importance of teaching and learning social skills while demanding social distancing

  • When traditional teaching and parenting lines are blurred as parents take on teaching roles at home – without the requisite experience – and teachers are often called upon to assume increased nurturing roles at school to calm emotions brought closer to the surface by our troubling and troubled times

  • When teachers need to learn new technological skills on top of the traditional demands of curricula that, in themselves, have become increasingly demanding; and now must become skilled in the new variety of “school” models – virtual, in-person, and hybrid

  • When testing “negative” is a “positive”

  • When pressures for intensifying time on academics come at the expense of less academic areas like the arts, physical education, recess, and social and emotional learning, all of which may be more in keeping with the immediate needs of students – especially during our topsy-turvy school days/daze.

All these contribute to a destabilizing educational environment when we most need and want it to provide stability.

With scientific data demanding mask mandates are still called for, children and teachers see only half of each other’s faces. This has begun to feel symbolic to me – like bemoaning learning loss rather than focusing on learning gain. We are deprived of seeing each other smile, and laughs are muted when they are most needed.

Let’s spend more energy identifying the learning gains that have been demanded by this pandemic. What new skills have we learned in terms of how we need to relate to each other and behave in a world that is more interdependent than we may have realized?

Let’s spend more energy identifying the learning gains that have been demanded by this pandemic. What new skills have we learned in terms of how we need to relate to each other and behave in a world that is more interdependent than we may have realized? To coexist on a planet where behavior change must catch up with and get ahead of climate change. To reshape a world in which kindness and cooperation are so much more necessary than belligerence and conflict.

PHOTO: AdobeStock

If we want to discover what the real learning “basics” are, we might ask our children and youth what they have learned during the pandemic. We might share what we have learned. And we might even suggest they ask their classmates and teachers what lessons have been most impactful for them.

The positive mindsets, attitudes, predispositions, and propensities that are likely to be noted are often the ones children bring with them when they first come to school – before they are squashed by a world gone astray, in which we seek easy answers rather than asking tough questions. Let’s reclaim those childlike qualities before the rabbit hole becomes inescapable.


Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, a “bonus” son, five grandchildren, and three “bonus” grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, policy development, and advising. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019 he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D the most important “degree” of all.


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