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Flattening the Bell Curve

The pandemic is making your kids dumber, and showing you how dumb the people teaching them always were.

Twenty-two points. That’s how far the average IQ of American children has potentially fallen in the Covid-19 pandemic. Twenty-two points.

As noted in a Guardian report on a recent study led by Sean Deoni, an associate professor of pediatrics at Brown University,

In the decade preceding the pandemic, the mean IQ score on standardised tests for children aged between three months and three years of age hovered around 100, but for children born during the pandemic that number tumbled to 78, according to the analysis, which is yet to be peer-reviewed.

For reference, 70 is the generally accepted cutoff point for mental disability. Let that sink in: The (government-imposed) disruption of normal socialization for kids themselves combined with the disruption of parents’ lives (and, subsequently, their parenting capacity) has left kids born just before or during the pandemic just eight points above disability on average.

Nor is this early-childhood finding an isolated concern by any means. According to the New York Times,

A preliminary national study of 98,000 students from Policy Analysis for California Education, an independent group with ties to several large universities, found that as of late fall, second graders were 26 percent behind where they would have been, absent the pandemic, in their ability to read aloud accurately and quickly. Third graders were 33 percent behind. . . .

Another national study of more than one million students from Curriculum Associates, an assessment company, found that this winter, there were reductions of up to 16 percent in the number of elementary school students performing at grade level in math, and up to 10 percent in the number of students performing at grade level in reading.

With these older kids, the problem is not just the disruption of normal social development but the government-mandated shuttering of schools, a year and a half learning through screens and masks as teachers unions milk the crisis for every last day they can get out of the classroom.

These are early studies, and there is likely still time both to learn more and to counteract whatever damage has been done. But the picture painted even by these initial numbers is as convincing as it is bleak.

We always knew that shutting down schools for a year—and then opening them only partially, and with a host of new, confusing rules thrown into the mix—was going to be damaging to kids’ social and academic development. But as the first quantifications start to emerge, and as we head into the third pandemic school year, it is hard even for critics to believe just how bad the problem is. On just about every available metric, a whole generation of kids is markedly worse off than they would have been had overzealous governments and overpowered teachers unions not flushed a year of education down the drain in an irrational panic. And its not like American public schools had a lot of wiggle room to begin with—numbers were already terrible. But I guess no child can be left behind if every child is left behind.

The damage done to the children of the pandemic is all the more infuriating because it seems to have been done for no good reason. We have known virtually from the beginning of this saga that not only are children not at much risk themselves from the coronavirus, they’re not even particularly risky as vectors for its transmission. Now, the worst of Covid seems to be behind us, and professional fearmongers struggle to find scary new data (not to mention move the goalposts) quickly enough to justify the continued shutdown of what was a fairly low-risk environment even at the height of the WuFlu crisis. And yet pandemic hardliners continue to insist that schools cannot return to normal until there is zero chance of a teacher or a student contracting just this one particular disease that is quite unlikely to do serious harm to either.

The Covid fanatics have lost the first battle, over whether or not to simply open schools. Even last year, many districts had returned at least partly to in-person instruction, and for the coming year it seems that the vast majority of schools nationwide are finally following suit. But don’t mistake a return to the classroom for anything like a return to normal.

The forever pandemic continues in the classroom just like everywhere else, perhaps best exemplified by the foremost symbol (and that’s really all it is) of Covidtide political divisions: the face mask. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has prohibited public school districts in his state from imposing mask mandates on their students, and for this has become (once again) the target of rage and ridicule from the national mainstream media—not to mention been accused by the president of the United States, bizarrely, erroneously, and angrily, of banning masks in the classroom. DeSantis’s directive and other anti-mandate efforts are founded in a concern that children will struggle to learn and interact as effectively as they should when their faces are covered for the entire day. These concerns are real and understandable, given that the obvious desocializing effect of face coverings impacts children, whose habits and abilities are still in their formative stages, even more than it does the rest of us.

Not so fast. Our moral and intellectual superiors are her to correct our errors. In another piece of classic New York Times buffoonery, research psychologist Dr. Judith Danovitch insists that “Actually, Wearing a Mask Can Help Your Child Learn.” It’s a truly bizarre bit of logic: Because wearing a mask makes your child’s learning more difficult, your child may develop new skills in order to overcome this artificially imposed obstacle. You’re welcome.

For example, the fact that people’s mouths are covered during conversation will force young kids to rely more on eye contact and body language to make out the meanings of their peers’ and teachers’ muffled words. Similarly, the fact that masks are unpleasant and uncomfortable will teach kids to endure unpleasant and uncomfortable things they encounter in real life. (Why stop there? Let’s just go straight for the hair shirt.)

Oddly enough, Dr. Danovitch actually admits that she doesn’t really know any of this: “Although scientists don’t have much data yet on how wearing masks during a pandemic affects children’s development, there is plenty of reason to believe that it won’t cause any harm.” These are the same people who gave themselves aneurysms last year screaming that you have to Trust The Science now mumbling from behind their masks that, actually, science doesn’t have anything to tell us here but we can guess pretty well that the reality is going to confirm all of our prior assumptions and political preferences.

Nor is pro-mask propaganda the only area in which pandemic panickers are suddenly abandoning cold, hard facts. The first New York Times report quoted above opens with the story of Deprece Bonilla, a Californian mother of five who has struggled with her kids learning remotely while she works from home:

It all sometimes feels like too much to bear. Still, when her fifth-grade son’s public-school teacher told her he was years behind in reading, she was in disbelief.

“That was very offensive to me,” she said. “I’m not putting in myself, my hard work, his hard work, for you to tell me that he’s at second-grade reading.”

The solution, according to the Times, is simply to not tell her. No joke. The headline is “Does It Hurt Children to Measure Pandemic Learning Loss?” Subhead: “Research shows many young children have fallen behind in reading and math. But some educators are worried about stigmatizing an entire generation.”

Without quite connecting the dots, the Times almost notices an ulterior motive:

Debates about the extent of missed learning are more than academic. If remote school is actively harming children’s skill development, it becomes harder for teachers’ unions, school boards or administrators to argue that schools should remain shuttered as vaccines roll out across the nation, or should operate only on limited schedules.

After the pandemic, your kids are going to be dumber. They are going to be less capable of interacting with other people in a normal, healthy way. We could have predicted this a year ago, but now we know. The only consolation the people responsible can give you is a promise not to offend you or stigmatize your kids by bringing it up, and a rosy prediction that your 78-IQ tots will be much more willing to accept irrational mandates imposed by people in authority with a smile behind their ever-present masks.

Or we can face reality: Admit the obvious fact that damage has been done, but recognize that it is not irreversible—and, most importantly, that the best way to reverse it is by a real return to normalcy. For the sake of America’s children, we have to demand that. Even if it means their teachers have to go back in to work.

about the author

Declan Leary is associate editor of The American Conservative. He was previously an editorial intern at National Review and a frequent contributor to such publications as National Review Online and Crisis Magazine.

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