Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Education Revolution Will Not Be Zoomed

So much of the debate about how to open K-12 schools next month is based on the effects that having remote school will have on children.

The newest C.D.C. guidance, released on Friday is, quite honestly, another example of this country thinking small, thinking politically, thinking  that teachers will somehow avoid the virus, and thinking that it can get back to some semblance of normal, when it is clear that we need new thinking and new ideas. Of course, none of that will come from either the president or the Secretary of Education, so we're on our own here.

What's so disappointing about what the C.D.C. said was that it assumes that very little will change about American society and education before school opens. Indeed, much of the assumptions that other writers have discussed say that children need to go back to school because they might not have food or computers or the Internet or parental support or emotional and physical safety if they are home. And that, in and of itself, is the indictment of where we are as a country right now.

The decision to open schools full-time, then, must put adults and older students in jeopardy for their lives and force defunded school districts and devastated state budgets to endure more pressure in order to mitigate, not solve, this immoral dilemma that four decades of blame have produced. The simple fact that conservative members of Congress are actually against an economic package that might begin to help schools and states tells you everything you need to know about why we're facing this peril. And it's exactly why many teachers are considering retiring or asking to teach remotely or taking bold actions against their state legislators and governors rather than putting their lives at risk so that we can open the economy.

What the CDC and every other person in this country should be doing is agitating for Congress to make Internet access a regulated utility like the lights and heat so that everybody in this country has access to it. All students should also be given a computer they can use at home. They should make sure that we are spending our money wisely on community programs, public schools, health care, food security, and effective counseling, and stop spending money on military grade weapons to local police forces. That will create instances where the police are protecting more literate, more secure, more educated, more healthy, and more politically and socially involved communities which will be of tremendous help because those are the communities that have the lowest crime rates.

Much of the guidance the CDC recommends is also predicated on the idea that distance learning will look the same as it did in the spring. Much of that was considered a failure, but this lack of imagination is disturbing. Where is Betsy DeVos when we need her to mobilize the country's educational establishment to address the deficiencies of remote instruction? Where is the training and experimenting and exchange of ideas that will lead to more effective classroom methods? Where is the emergency money to support the children that all Americans see as desperately needing to learn? Where is the support for areas of this country--urban, suburban and rural--that are not wealthy enough to obtain these resources?

Where indeed?

Unfortunately, the answers we are getting are full of threats to withhold the very funds schools need if they don't open, which will result in even more desperate conditions for the children the administration and its supporters says they care so much about. Teachers are also being blamed for not carrying their weight as heroes in the same way that medical professionals have been lauded. I applaud and support our medical professionals, but nowhere in my training was there anything about giving my life for my profession. It's unconscionable that every teacher has to withstand Code Blue drills where students have to hide in a classroom as preparation in case someone wants to shoot up the school, then go back to the supportive, protective learning environment when the principal announces the end of the drill. Two years ago, proposals for arming teachers were actually taken seriously by a wide swath of the public. As if there was money to buy guns for teachers while school lunch programs and technology were seemingly intractable political problems.

This pandemic has uncovered what has always been hidden in plain sight about American society and its education system. It is underfunded, it is in many ways ineffectual, it excludes not only based on finances but also in the curricular choices communities make, focusing on an America that exists for Whites, but not for Blacks, it is the last refuge for many children who are starved nutritionally and emotionally, and it is not reflective of the promise and opportunity that form the bedrock of what it should mean to be an American.

We need change and we need it now. For the C.D.C. to base its recommendations on the notion that the country will not change is nearsighted and dangerous. Let's use this opportunity to make our education system responsive to all people.

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