I’m not one who subscribes to the “everything happens for a reason” philosophy. I just can’t conceive that all the horrors and injustices in the world were meant to be. Such an ideology is both too cruel and too hands-off a dogma for me. I do believe, however, that we can learn something from every experience. With that in mind, what are we to make of the series of catastrophes that represent 2020? What lessons have we learned that will help us redesign education in newer and better ways? Here are my takeaways…
1. Let’s stop talking about equity in education and actually do something about it. 2020 has laid bare the inequities that have been present in our system of schooling for quite some time. It is no secret that we have underserved students of color, those from low socioeconomic households, students with disabilities, and those with languages and cultures who differ from the majority. Why then are we surprised that these students are struggling now more than ever in remote or hybrid learning environments? It is convenient to blame their struggles on COVID-19, limited internet access, or lack of parental support in an online learning environment, but maybe we need to look within.
Programs that level, track, separate, and segregate perpetuate a system of marginalization. The coronavirus has only amplified the problems resulting from such structures. Once and for all, let’s dismantle exclusionary practices. If we choose to use the pandemic as a scapegoat for the poor performance of marginalized groups, “equity” is simply another trendy buzzword in education.
2. Make choices that strengthen relationships rather than tear them apart. Our schools are a reflection of society at large and the polarization we see in this country has spilled over into our education system. While we as adults are busy arguing over politics, the coronavirus, racial injustice, and the best way to educate students during a pandemic, our children are watching and they are hurting. As the grown-ups here, it is our responsibility to model the behaviors we wish to see in children. We must invest in relationships and prioritize kindness. We must create spaces where children feel safe and respected. How can we possibly do this for students when we can’t do it for one another?
In an insightful interview, Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University, reflected on students in higher education, stating, “This [time] is about taking care of people who are absolutely traumatized. We took the generation of learners with the highest record of depression and anxiety, and we added a pandemic and a recession...This is about dialing up compassion.” LeBlanc’s statement holds true for K-12 education as well. As we enter 2021, let us act with empathy and understanding, both for our students and for each other.
3. Use technology for innovation rather than substitution. Schools have been operating in crisis mode for the duration of 2020. The initial dilemmas of transferring a brick and mortar system to online learning were replaced shortly thereafter with problems of social distancing, mask-wearing, and safety protocols upon a return to school. It is understandable then, why many school systems attempted to merely replicate in-person learning in online formats - there was just too much else that took priority first.
Now, however, we have an opportunity to leverage our digital tools to their fullest potential. What if we viewed technology as a platform to elevate learning instead of a flashy substitute for current practices? Because a worksheet in Google Slides is still a worksheet. A screencast of a powerpoint remains a lecture. If we are being honest with ourselves, these practices didn’t work well in their original format so why are we replicating them digitally? Let’s embrace creativity and lean in to opportunities for innovation.
Out of Crisis and On to Change
It is time to move out of emergency management and into transformation. Despite decades, even centuries, of calls for change, our education system has remained largely immutable. So instead of getting back to business as usual, let’s recognize instead that we can do better.
We can rethink how our systems operate. We can question if “the way it’s always been done” is really the right way to do it. We can reject practices that allow some students to thrive while others remain struggling. We can invest in relationships built on the foundations of kindness and understanding. We can use technology to truly transform learning rather than as a replacement for existing practices. We can reshape and reimagine education to fulfill its potential of creating a stronger society.
We can do all this...or not. Because everything doesn’t just happen. People make things happen. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that people are capable of changing and adapting in rapid ways - ways that are much faster than anyone could have anticipated. We can change. We can learn. We can do better. If we don’t, 2020 was for naught.
If you liked this blog and are ready to rethink education, check out Reimagining Special Education: Using Inclusion As a Framework to Build Equity and Support All Students.