Do you ever wonder if “normal” is a wasted opportunity? We’ve had two years now (almost to the day) of not knowing, then being scared of everything, then arguing over the science, then shutting everything down again, then learning to live with masks… and then, we look up, and notice that our kids can’t read or do math.

Whether or not you agree with the extent of the restrictions on schools over two years, there’s no point trying to re-litigate that now; the higher priority should be figuring out how to recover what our kids have missed.

And, in many ways, if you look closely, you can see different schools taking different approaches to that question. Some schools are highly focused on recovering all that learning, pronto. In practice, what that means is that those schools have piled on the work, and proceeded as if their students are in the same place as always. That might mean that, by the end of the year, much of what was lost will be recovered, as measured by test results; it might also mean that students who don’t have the wherewithal to keep up on their own will be left in the dust, or their families forced to hire tutors to try to keep up. There is also the very real possibility that anxiety will be piled on to the mental health challenges of the pandemic.

Other schools are more focused on re-acclimating students to school. What that means, in practice, is that these schools are spending more of their energies on re-establishing norms of behavior, and practical skills like studying and learning how to learn. That, in turn, might mean that these students will emerge at the end of the year in a much better “head space,” making it easier to move forward in the future; it might also mean that those test scores are going to be even worse than expected.

But I’m not sure either of those mindsets really means anything as long as we remain bound by our self-(and contractually and financially) imposed ideas about the use of time. Let me explain:

My son, a freshman, has two days a week in which his schedule is an hour-and-a-half block of study hall, followed by an hour-and-a-half block of ‘advisement.’ It’s an unfortunate coincidence that those two are back-to-back, but, even if they weren’t, that schedule is built for six hours a week of non-instructional time. Now, for diligent students who are behind or need additional help, that could be very useful time; for students who are caught up or are, um, … less than diligent…

I was at a middle school a couple weeks back that had this schedule one day a week: 40 minutes unscripted ‘advisement’ time; 90 minute block class; 30 minute ‘free reading’ time; 90 minute block; 40 minute lunch/recess; ending with a final 90 minute block. Never mind all the unscripted time in that day—I really wonder how much of that 90 minutes is effective. I’ll admit I haven’t stayed completely abreast of the literature, but I’m…skeptical…that the lit demonstrates that 90 minutes in one place is the best learning environment for a 7th grade boy.

I’ve had two kids who each took one year to do online schooling. They both, almost every day, got all their work done in about two hours. And both did very well, and both returned to “regular” schooling well-prepared. 

So, I will ask again a question I have posed in this space before: if we could design a school system from scratch, right now, would it look like this?

I know we’re all just trying to figure this out again, and, I suppose, it was pie-in-the-sky to think that the last two years would give us the space to rethink things. But… if the multiple crises of the last two years can’t spur a change, you gotta wonder if anything ever will.

Michael Alcorn is a former teacher and current writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Valkyrie’s Kiss,” a finalist in the ScreenCraft Book Competition, is available now at His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.