During this crisis, we need to remind ourselves of the true purpose of education.
Some aspects of this post might be unpopular. I apologize in advance.
Why Do Schools Close for So Long?
Please, teachers everywhere, do not wince. It’s a good question. According to PBS, there is a really good answer as to why schools close for so long: It’s hot during the summer. There are still MANY school buildings that do not have airconditioning. (It is 2020, right?) That begs the quesiton: Why isn’t it a priority to make sure that school buildings are modernized? Why is it that 36,000 schools have air system problems, according to the GAO? Since this is the case, why is our President tweeting this?
Mr. President, screaming at us will not help.
Should we not fix the problems, make the buildings safe, and then return the students, faculty, and staff to them? It’s possible that just makes too much sense.
Oh, lest I forget: Betsy DeVos, I have a special message for you. Feel free to find me on Twitter.
Why Did We Close in June?
Well, Heather, you just answered that question in the last section, you are thinking. Keep reading, though.
Before discussing summer teaching in a virtual learning environment, it is important to note that educational equity and fair technology access is a serious problem. For example, in Prince George County in Maryland, virtual learning was impossible and so teachers sent home copies of learning packets. It’s 2020 and we still can’t get tech in the hands of students. That is heartbreaking. Furthermore, it’s a situation that can be fixed if districts can get the funds needed to purchase the technology that all stakeholders in education truly need.
There are other districts that have implemented a one-to-one initiative whereby every student receives either a tablet or a laptop to use during the school year. Some districts were able to get tech to their students during the crisis. Some were able to offer WiFi hotspots to their students at no cost to them. Internet companies worked hard to bring access to those who did not have it before. For those who were able to offer such technology, my suggestion below could have worked. For those who were not, more packets could have worked.
If we had continued “virtual learning” (further developing the skills we learned through “crisis teaching”) through the summer, would we still be having this national meltdown about re-opening in the fall? Perhaps we could have helped students stop their learning regression and restart their progress if we had just “soldiered on” for a little while longer. There was an opportunity to support educational experiences, and we did not take advantage of it. These hypothetical “experiences” would not need to look like “traditional learning.” Kids would not need to sit in front of their computer for hours a day. We could have crafted highly-engaging activities using project-based learning principles and portfolios that could have helped students rediscover what education is: The process of acquiring freedom.
Instead, many districts did not even assign summer reading this year. We were and are burned out, for sure, but that was a mistake. What better time to climb a tree and read? (For those who are not that adventurous, perhaps curling up on the couch or somewhere outside is preferable. Wear sunscreen! Take your mask with you!)
Everyone needed a break; that’s obvious. However, it is important to wonder if all of us would have benefited from some more time with the technology and the chance to develop the online community and its norms we are certainly going to need this year. Perhaps we will reopen in August and September, but trends suggest that we will be virtual again by Thanksgiving. Some colleges are already preparing for that, for example, and sending their students home at Thanksgiving break to complete the semester.
It’s all about money, which is – again – heartbreaking. I know that local entities are supposed to be in charge of education and that leads to a disparity in opportunities because of property-tax revenues. Still, it is not fair. Every child should have the same chance to receive a quality education, regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status.
None of this is fair. None of it.
What Is the Purpose of Education?
After listening to several arguments about reopening schools, my first thought was an angry one. Why are we being asked to sacrifice ourselves and the children so that the economy can reopen? What role do they think teachers and staff play in a child’s life? If we are opening schools ONLY because people need to go back to work, then we are not valuing the needs of the children over the economy. We are definitely not thinking things through to their logical conclusion, that’s for sure. When did we become such a crass country?
What happens if someone gets sick? Oh, the chances of that are rare, we are told. The likelihood of children regressing socially is higher than the chances they get sick. The number of behavioral health issues has increased since schools were closed too. Considering the number of videos online in which parents beg teachers to take their kids back, I believe that. While these videos make us chuckle a bit, they also make us realize just how important school is for monitoring and mitigating behavioral issues. Still, is there not another way to socialize?
What about the teachers? The likelihood that teachers will get sick IS high, considering that many of us are older.
It is time for us to remind ourselves of the true purpose of education. I’m not talking about the factory model of education, the one that is supposed to “produce” excellent citizens who can make a contribution to our society. I’m talking Socrates here. Education should be about freedom; through our acquisition of knowledge and our development of critical thinking skills, we realize we are free. By storing and using learning techniques, we can function as independent people within a society of interdependence. We know what we are capable of and no one can take that away from us. We can reveal truth to ourselves and others, citing evidence along the way that is concrete and verifiable. We prove that we are not sheep; we are the shepherd.
As we become more educated, we also realize that we are in charge of our education, we are self-directed learners, and will always be self-redirected learners. Teachers gradually release responsibility to their learners as they master the skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Teachers guide on the side, always ready to have the difficult conversation with a student. Get this: We are all students, too. We might have the title of “teacher,” but it is the wise teacher who realizes that we learn from everyone we encounter. Not that I am that wise (yet), but if I didn’t realize that truth, I would not have been as moved by receiving this quote from a student of mine.
“We used to think that if we knew one, we knew two, because one and one are two. We are finding that we must learn a great deal more about `and’. ” – Arthur EddingtonC.F.
Just take a moment to consider that quote and how it is such a powerful use of language. In martial-arts terms, it’s the cross followed by the hook. Boom! It knocked me out. It came from a student who has realized he is a self-directed learner. If he wants to achieve his dreams, he has to make them happen. He’s a voracious reader, adept thinker, and avid “tinkerer” with all things technological. We need to help more students achieve this level of development, and we can. If we have to do it online, so be it. If we can get back into the classroom safely, that is preferable. The key word is SAFELY.
Anyone who has studied Maslow knows that if physical and safety needs are not met, then there is little motivation to move onto the other aspects of the hierarchy. That just makes sense. Question: How much real learning is going to happen if everyone in the classroom is worried about whether today is the day he or she gets sick?
Until we are convinced that the “experts” know what they are doing, we need to consider all the options for reopening school, in my opinion.
Thank you for reading.