So, the world of education and school boards around the country failed miserably in their responses to the COVID-19 shutdowns. They still are. Even after all we know about good instructional design, there were no massive calls for teacher trainings, or non-voter approved levies to bring in teachers over the summer of 2020 to learn how to teach online. Many went for the free tools that vendors dangled over their heads and then figured it would all be over soon so they would be good enough for the time being.
Parents set up support networks to share childcare, tutors, home learning groups, while students of all ages tried to navigate complicated schedules and requirements on their own for the most part. I listen to their struggles, their tears, their feelings of inadequacy. I work primarily these days as an online educator, skilled with technology and access to devices, and even I struggle with supporting my kids at home. I tell parents that I do not care about academic progress right now, but I understand how hard that is for them when every time they log into their child’s system they see evidence of failure in grades and progress. I am disgusted by all of it. Why are we grading little kids anyway? The content is not accessible for those with disabilities. The software is not platform agnostic. We just skip the stuff still using Flash.
My own second grader is “learning” about formal and radial balance in art class instead of drawing pictures of his family, because that is what the vendor curriculum his school uses says he should learn about. It gets worse, but my kids are still better off now than they were in their traditional public school experience. For almost a year now, I have not had to deal with bullying; they have not taken home worksheets that have racist undertones. I have not had to talk to them about the sexist, racist, ableist, and homophobic language that they heard on a daily basis in their schools. I do not have to argue about why singing religious songs during the winter season is inappropriate. But in all other ways, we have failed them. Schools still struggle with finding ways to provide social connections and experiences even though families and students are begging them for it. Even something simple as a Google Meet session for no academic purpose, just to be silly with friends has not even been offered. The mechanism for trying to find the contact info for other parents is complicated and labor intensive. It is designed broken…just like the educational system they left behind.
No one reading this does not know all of that already, but here is what people might not be thinking about yet. What next?
While I personally feel that learning good online pedagogy is key to student success in the future. Those practices will only benefit students even if they are meant to supplement a face to face environment. Investing in that practice and teacher development is not a waste of time post-pandemic; it is necessary. This was our chance for real reform. Some of us tried and ran into systemic resistance. I am often reminded of the Frederick Douglass quote that, “Power concedes nothing without demand.”
Also, speaking of the future, what is going to happen to all of our kids next fall when they have been out of the school routine for a year and a half? You think they are ready to go back to that broken system we spent hundreds of years perfecting for those able to game it? I know my fourth grade son likes his frequent breaks for games, snacks, hugs, playing outside and playing Among Us with his friends. He was never much for sitting in a classroom. I was never much for making him. He craves attention and interaction, but I am not willing to hit the reset button on all he has accomplished this year to put him back in a racist, broken system that is unwilling to change.
I have not yet heard anyone talk about the impending struggles of classroom management for these free range kids who have been learning and adapting on their own for the last nine months. Most schools still operate on a punitive model (which we know does not work), they are going to need a lot more assistant principles and behavior specialists to deal with the storm that is coming, and that will lead to more inequity. Stories of racist treatment and disproportionate punishments will become more common than ever. Standardized tests will be back so we can continue to rank districts and punish the ones in need of the most support. One thing schools excel at is failing marginalized communities, but if we cover up some of that by not disaggregating district data by race then no one will notice.
I am angry and frustrated. This was our chance to change it all, not run to Google or EdPuzzle for solutions. I do not have much hope that things will change; because after all we have been through, and all the lessons we have learned, and the microscope COVID-19 has put on all aspects of our society…not much is different within the confines of the educational system. The next big phase of public education is coming soon, and we are not ready for that either.
I’m burnt out. Admitting that is difficult, but it reminds me of yet another Douglass quote, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” I will continue to struggle for progress, I just wish all of our kids did not have to struggle waiting for all of us to get our act together.