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Last night I had to opportunity to participate in the first-ever 'Master Debaters' podcast and won!

When I got the request to be on the new Master Debaters contest, I thought my old buddy Dennis Foley contacted me by accident instead of Erin McCarty. After all, she is the queen of news here in the Ark-La-Tex. But, no, Dennis assured me he had contacted the correct 'Erin.'

He described the podcast as been centered around current issues and events in the news, with topical subjects being debated by three industry professionals in a light-hearted fashion in a game show format. Easy peasy, right? Like the gullible girl I am, I agreed. It sounds like fun and it's something new, right? Sign me up!

So then I get the show map/run down and realize that in addition to being conversant regarding current events, I had to prepare an argument that I should be able to defend on a topic of my choosing. Oh, no. This sounds like work! So, that's what I did. I got to work and I was drawing a blank! Thank for goodness for social media when you're drawing a blank! After polling my friends, I came up with the topic, 'Why distance learning will fail our children,' drawing a distinction between kids who are homeschooled vs. doing schoolwork via a virtually. I put some effort into it and I hope you can tell. You can find my theory and argument below. Meanwhile, thank you to Sharron Strawn and Stephen Parr for your assistance in fine-tuning my finished product.

Then it was time to do the darn thing! We, meaning myself, the other two contestants, the judge and the moderator, my friend Dennis all met together online via the Discord app. Boy was I intimidated! The other two contestants had way 'bigger' careers than me on paper. One was a reporter for The Washington Post and the other was a radio professional from San Antonio, which is considered a 'major' market compared to itty bitty little Shreveport. Yep, I was officially country come to town, especially considering the judge was from Long Island, NY.

As you can tell by the headline, it all worked out me for the end! It was looking bad for a while though! I'd like to think it was the liberal dose of 'southern charm' that put my arguments over the top!

I don't want to give too much away, but the show consisted of four distinct rounds. Give the first-ever episode of Master Debaters a listen and let me know what you think!

Prepared topic originally posted Wednesday, September 2, 2020:
While many students are successfully homeschooled, distance learning on a large scale is destined to fail our youth. In fact, I will prove to you why distance learning on the scope our country is facing right now due to COVID-19 restrictions is hurting our youth's education causing them to suffer intellectually, developmentally, and socially.

1. Parents Aren't Teachers - I think we can all agree that we found out fairly quickly during the initial stages of the pandemic that parents aren't necessarily equipped to teach their children coursework. First of all, many teaching styles have changed, especially with regard to 'Common Core' math. It's not that the parents can't do the math, they just weren't taught the same way.  Plus, parents, especially working parents, aren't always able to provide a structured and distraction-free environment that schools can. Structure is so important, especially our younger children. Unfortunately, you can't always ensure a structured environment with virtual instruction... especially considering that 21% of parents have had to change their work hours due to the pandemic to accommodate their kids being home. Finally, if just anyone could be a teacher, having a degree in education and the proper training wouldn't be a requirement. Conversely, teachers were trained to teach in the classroom, not manage virtual and in-person instruction.

2. Lack of Broadband/Internet Connectivity - According to USA Today, Microsoft did a study in 2018 and found that about half of Americans don't have access to high-speed internet, which is needed to stream classes via Zoom and other platforms. This adversely affects rural students as well as those from low-income homes and creates huge inequalities in access to education. There is no way that local school systems can provide enough hot spots to combat this issue.

3. Lack of Devices - Many school districts across the country are reporting that there is a shortage of devices to facilitate online learning. This is not only due to supply chain issues but also increased demand. In fact, retailers report that in some instances, new Chromebooks are completely sold out and other manufacturers like Dell, Lenovo, and HP are struggling to produce enough new products. 

4. Social Development - Ever since the pandemic began, experts have been warning of the dangers of isolation due to distance learning. Schools are one of the main places that our children learn to interact with others. In fact, according to one article, Dr. Bonnie White says she's seeing an increasing number of her patients suffer from anxiety issues and depression resulting from the lockdown. Psychologist Dr. Sarah Dew-Reeves is concerned that many kids will regress or have problems with social skills they had already mastered. 

5. Education - Everyone learns differently. The first glaring problem with mass online learning is the lack of one on one attention that many students need. The New York Times reports that the switch to distance learning wiped out 'academic gains' for many students. Sadly, according to a study by McKinsey and Company, many students at the best full-time virtual schools can do as well or better than those at traditional ones, however, most studies have found that full-time online learning does not deliver the academic results of in-class instruction.  

In short, to employ distance learning, it must be available to all students. Clearly, coronavirus has pointed out the painful disparity in our country with regard to socioeconomic status and how it impacts the learning process.

Read More: 7 Wishes for Humanity in the Post-Pandemic World

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