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Gap Year for All

December 17th, 2020 by dk

The studies are piling up. Too many students are not succeeding with remote learning. To make matters worse, it’s the already disadvantaged who are losing the most ground. 

It’s too late to fix the systems we rely on to prepare our children for society. Instead, we should declare this a universal “gap year” and promise every student an additional year of public education.

If we don’t do something like this, teachers for the next decade will need to know how their students handled the Coronavirus Coda. To paint with a broad brush, students from stable households will be effectively one year ahead of students who didn’t have the same advantages.

Wouldn’t it be better to simply acknowledge the disparity and give everyone a chance to catch up? I can imagine giving children and families five options.

Those who were in Third Grade when the pandemic began last spring will be placed into Fourth Grade next fall, giving them two years to learn the material usually covered in one. Since most of their peers will also be repeating the grade, there will be no social stigma from being “held back.”

For the students who have been conscientious with their remote learning assignments, repeating the material for a second year might risk boredom or frustration. Educators can devise enrichment curricula, where advanced students can delve deeper. Leadership skills can be learned by assisting classmates who have not yet mastered the material.

For households where the parents can work remotely, this “gap year” would afford families a rare opportunity for a long trip or to settle in for a few months near grandparents or cousins. We took our boys out of school for four months in 1990. I’m not sure any of us have had any experience since that proved more formative.

Not everyone can or should travel, at least until the vaccine becomes widely available. But there will be multiplying opportunities for young people to explore service opportunities if there’s a nationwide acknowledgement that the previous academic year has been lost. It’s never too early for child to discover their passions.

Only those who are ambitious and industrious would stick to the “old” academic schedule, and only after showing they have mastered the material. Accelerated students with aptitude and parental support have always been allowed to skip a grade. This would be no different.

If the idea catches on, the same lessons could be applied to adults. Enlightened bosses might suspend performance reviews or tailor the company’s expectations to an employee’s domestic situation. A parent who isn’t worried about “losing ground” to colleagues might spend more time with their bored teenage child.

In the best world I can imagine, a yearlong “pause” would also be available from banks, mortgage companies, and landlords. The world essentially stopped spinning for many people last March. We’re better off admitting it than asking those who fell behind to catch up on their own.

In the ancient world, it was called a Year of Jubilee. And it was celebrated. It’s not too late to feel good about 2020, believe it or not.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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