The coronavirus pan-panic has hastened the demise of many things — and that could, perhaps, include public education as we know it.

I say “hastened the demise” because, so far, the pan-panic has mostly not managed to kill off enterprises that were healthy to begin with. Much like the virus itself, it has had the most impact on those that were already weak, old (or outdated), and dying, like certain restaurants, retail stores, and shopping malls.

Nationwide, public schools have likewise been struggling for some time, and for many of the same reasons: poor management, skyrocketing costs, technology-based competition. But education also faces a couple of unique threats, one external and one internal.

The first involves demographics. You may not know this, but the U.S. birth rate basically fell off the table in 2008, and future trends continue to project downward. For all the jokes about “corona babies,” the greater likelihood is that parents will limit their family size due to economic uncertainty.

Fewer school-age children means fewer students, fewer teachers, less funding. You do the math.

The internal threat, however, might be even greater. For decades now, across the country, teachers’ unions (and “associations” in non-union states) have gone to great lengths to marginalize their own profession.

Their agenda has been about anything but education. Instead, they have pushed “social justice,” climate change, sex-ed, and the post-modernist conceit that there is no such thing as absolute truth.

If that last statement is true — well, if it’s true, it must paradoxically be false, but that’s a philosophical discussion for another day. For now, let’s just acknowledge that if there is no truth — not in history, not in science, not in mathematics—then education, in the traditional sense, is pointless. There’s nothing to learn.

That’s why teachers’ unions aren’t focused on education. Instead, their goal is to indoctrinate students into their own Marxist world view. We now see the results of that decades-long effort playing out in our streets.

Unfortunately for the unions, many parents have grown tired of this — tired of teaching their kids traditional values at home, only to see those values ridiculed and contradicted at school. That’s why private schools are flourishing — and it’s what gave birth to the home-school movement.

Today public education is at a crossroads, with a vocal minority of teachers — again, mostly union-affiliated —refusing to return to their classrooms. Meanwhile, more and more parents have discovered that they are quite capable of teaching their children themselves and/or banding together in that effort with others of like mind.

Of course the pan-panic won’t kill off public schools entirely. They’re too big and, in many areas, too necessary, even if imperfect. But it’s unlikely that the education landscape at the end of this current crisis will closely resemble what we have known.

And that could wind up being a very good thing for students and their families.

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Rob Jenkins is a college professor. The views expressed here are his own. You can email Rob at

(1) comment


Rob Jenkins continues to insult the intelligence of most of us by calling the crisis a "pan-panic". Rob, your position on the crisis has greatly diminished my opinion of you. With simple approximations of 0.5% infection mortality and 50% herd immunity threshold (optimistic approximations based on the data), this represents 825,000 dead Americans, more than lost in the Civil War. This is 277 times the 9/11 casualties. We've already lost 162,000, or 54 times those lost in 9/11. Only 663,000 more to go, eh Rob?

"Meanwhile, more and more parents have discovered that they are quite capable of teaching their children themselves and/or banding together in that effort with others of like mind."

Perhaps some, but I'd bet $20 that that's a minority view. What it has made me realize is that I didn't appreciate teachers enough. My wife and I were already pretty sure already that homeschooling was not the right choice for our family. Being forced now to homeschool has solidified our opinions. We want our kids back in school ASAP.

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