I, along with everyone else, am navigating the twists and turns of fall planning. I have concerns, I have frustrations, I feel all the things we’re all feeling collectively. And, as restaurants, bars, gatherings open and people get out and about again, I find myself wondering, “what value do we place on school?”
Now, I know that question has many obvious answers. We underfund schools regularly, we have never fulfilled our funding promise to support and teach kids with disabilities in our schools. We pay testing companies but choose not to buy pencils. We have outdated textbooks and curriculum forcing teaching to create anew with their own resources – all while working a second job because living on a teacher’s salary is unjust. I could go on. For the purposes here, though, I’m wondering about the value we place on school in a pandemic.
There are many reasons we need to be able to go back to school in the fall safely. Families are returning to work and need consistency in their child’s care schedules. Kids need access to their education, to their services and supports, their breakfast and lunch. Kids need social interactions, friend time, social experiences. There are limitations to what technology can do. Additionally, expecting teachers to master digital pedagogy over an unpaid summer is also unjust. Some of the options being floated are unbelievably burdensome on both teachers and families to navigate hybrid in person and online schedules with days/weeks of rotating delivery menus. We all want to go back to our school days of yore.
My question, though, is what are we willing to give up in order to have that?
I don’t see how we can have it all. We are breaking records daily for the highest confirmed cases with no end in sight. Wearing masks is now a political statement rather than a public health initiative. Given the challenges we are facing, I’m suggesting that we flip the narrative and start with prioritizing schools over restaurants and bars and gyms and large public gatherings. What if we continued to distance, to limit groups to fewer than ten, to carry out/eat at home, all so that our kids and teachers and staff could go to school more safely? Are we willing to continue in a state of inconvenience in order for education to resume?
Would it be enough? I truly don’t know but I do not see any other way.
Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??). I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.