We are in a crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic has thrust us with head-spinning quickness into the grandest leaving to learn experience ever, a world that we could not have even imagined.
For a long time, education equity warriors have fought to get school systems to resolve existing inequities. Our blindspot to coming up with principles, practices, and policies to mitigate the damaging effects of inequitable practices is largely due to our biases around race, class, gender, ability, language, and/or immigration status to name a few. During his early visits to schools as the then-new NYCDOE Chancellor, Richard Carranza made comments on the obvious disparities he observed and questioned why students' educational experiences were largely defined by their fortunes or misfortunes. His efforts to address this was met with racialized elitist responses from the privileged. Even worse, these responses came from those we thought were “friends” of education and the New York City public school system:
Why do I have to have resources taken from my child to provide for someone else’s?
But we need places where the gifted and talented students can get the education they deserve.
That last one is my favorite. As if making sure ALL students get what they need and deserve somehow leaves them out. But versions of these is how it has always been.
The irony of the “crisis” is that it took a pandemic to get to a pseudo-level playing field where, just for argument’s sake, many who did not before are now experiencing some element of, if not loss, difference. In this time, we see what it’s like to have the education equivalent of toilet paper scarcity and the reliance upon essential workers who were, in many cases, once invisible to many.
In these “school in places other than school” times, we are witnessing what was previously deemed unreal, too costly, or impossible happen with urgency. What started for many of us approximately 60 days ago is the norm for many from one generation to the next due to institutionalized racist infrastructures that we have yet to dismantle. Yes, the urgency to provide students with a quality educational experience, which includes wi-fi enabled devices, access to needed social services, new thoughts on grading and assessment, alternate forms of communication for working families, nutritious meals, childcare for working parents, and “stimulus” funds, is the urgency that some feel all the time.
For real; no lie.
In many school districts, parents experience the same frustration of traveling from school to school in search of the best education that their resources can provide. It’s kind of like pandemic shopping for essentials -- toilet paper, cleansers, and face masks -- because the neighborhood grocer has not been able to restock for some time. There are many schools across the country where the community being served suffers the education equivalent of toilet paper scarcity each and every day -- they don’t have what many have as basic necessities of 21st-century learning. Yet, others are able to unroll as many sheets as needed or to their liking. This is BS--I’m really not sure if that pun is intended or not.
Although we may long to go back to life as we knew it, let’s not go “back.” Instead, let’s move forward with an empathetic sense of urgency to address the educational system inequities. Chris Emdin
, in response to being told this is not the time for critique, says “...good critique is the height of love. It’s the perfect time… it is in this time we design our system and ourselves to be better going forward.”
Educators, policymakers, John and Jane Q. Public: let’s learn forward from this time and consider the ways in which we coalesced, with unprecedented urgency, and found ways to make the unreal, extremely difficult, costly, and complicated happen. Let’s not lose the sense of knowing that we can meet the vast needs of students when we understand the urgency; believe the effort is deserved; make decisions without the limitations of what we have always done before, or what we think is affordable or possible for that matter.
Let’s not go through this experience unconsciously. Employ reflective practices -- be curious, dare to imagine something new to look forward to upon our return. American educational philosopher, Maxine Greene says, "Without the ability to think about yourself, to reflect on your life, there’s really no awareness, no consciousness. Consciousness doesn’t come automatically; it comes through being alive, awake, curious, and often furious."
Everyone is counting on us. Students deserve it and the community, our world, needs it. It’s time.