Packets, distance learning, learning at home, parents as teachers. The system of education has been flipped on its head in one fell swoop.
In Educating Other People’s Children, Lisa Delpit speaks to educating, “the hearts, minds, and souls of students.” (p. xv) She goes on to mention, “were we focused on our children as inheritors of the future, perhaps we could be more deliberate in teaching them the traits they need to become protectors of the earth and all of its inhabitants.” (p. xvi) This pandemic has thrust this into our global lived reality. Never in the history of the world has every single country had to respond to a virus with the potential to wipe out its inhabitants.
This global health crisis has landed on the doorsteps of every public, charter and private school system in our nation leaving only days to respond. What was collectively chosen nationally? I can only speak to public school systems whose leaders chose to operate without the counsel and relational support of equity-centered leaders in each of their local school districts. Equity-centered leaders know who you are determines the way in which you experience the world. Who you are frames the decisions that you make. Who you are is the essence of your being. Who you choose to be in a moment of crisis is who you are every day. Public school systems are not equity-centered. Equity-centered and equity minded organizations are the educational organizations who are scheduling brainstorming sessions with multiple voices in the room. Among those voices are people with a lens toward equity, what does that mean? It means everyone in the room does not agree and there is a clear protocol and process to get the multiple perspectives to the same resolution, meaningful child-centered decisions focused on the success of the students and families in their care.
“Packets, distance learning, learning at home, parents as teachers” is the language being used across the United States. As a former elementary school teacher, I did not teach my students using packets and I did not send packets home to parents and families to maintain the learning in the classroom. I sent home books, spelling lists and a few word problems to help my students and parents practice together what I taught them in class. Students who needed extra practice to avoid the summer slide at the end of the school year received a collection of books and the parents were given suggestions to help them maintain the learning accomplished during the school year. My students were successful as they entered the next school year prepared to learn at the next grade level.
Websites are under construction and packets are being sent to parents communicating the expectation that parents and families are now responsible for teaching the state mandated curriculum to their children. State Boards of Education continue to dictate what is to be taught and how much of it should be represented in the developing distance learning strategies. There is no mention of the reality that the pandemic impacts citizens of each state differently. It is unrealistic to assume all parents are capable of working from home, that even with the #StayAtHome orders no one has to leave their home to go out to work. It is unrealistic to assume that those who have lost their jobs have the savings amassed to float them to the end of the curve, the apex, the resolution of the rising death toll in our country. It is unrealistic to believe that every adult in every home in your local school district attendance zone 1) is mentally capable of holding space for the learning of their child or children, 2) is mentally and physically capable of attending to the health and safety of their elderly relatives, 3) is maintaining a comfortable living wage, and 4) can go to the grocery store to find and purchase what is needed to sustain their family through this crisis.
As a parent of 2 children, my first responsibility to them is to provide a place for them to live to maintain their physical health and safety. My second responsibility is to their spiritual, social, emotional, and mental safety. My third responsibility is to care for them daily and make sure they have the food they need to sustain them. My responsibility in all of this is to make sure I am healthy in all the ways they need me to be so my household does not fall apart while our national leaders fight the advice of skilled, knowledgeable and respected medical experts on how to control the spread of the virus in fear of its long-term economic impact.
Every family will approach this crisis in a different way, some will create elaborate schedules because it’s what they need to make their homes function with some order among the chaos. Some families will not create any structure at all. What educators and educational institutions need to be aware of and hold space for is that we have no control over how parents and families choose to use our elaborate online learning tools or the packets we choose to send home.
Our students, families and community need us to operate as an organization that takes advantage of this opportunity to recreate how we engage in learning. For the first time since No Child Left Behind we have no state mandated standardized tests to weigh down our staff. We have the opportunity to approach our work with love, compassion, empathy and equity. We can create, innovate, build relationships and help ourselves, our families, and our communities through this unprecedented time. If we get this right, educators will emerge with a collective understanding of the power of our roles to shape the future, and our children will emerge with a renewed sense of their roles as inheritors of the future of this world.