Does anyone else find this curious and telling about what's important to Americans re: schools? Over the last couple of weeks, I've performed informal data collection (think lists with tally marks that I briefly considered making into a pie chart, but then got distracted) from observations of social media posts, conversations, and news articles, the top three reasons people want schools open (don't even get me started on that verbiage - schools never closed; buildings did, but I digress) are as follows:
1. Parents/Guardians need childcare so they can work
2. Kids need structure
3. Kids need socialization
Notice the utter lack of mention of any sort of academics, free exchange of ideas, career training, or mentoring. I'll address these things from my own perspective, and explain the flaws.
1. Yes, parents/guardians need childcare so they can work. However, when did assuring free childcare become the job of school districts? Why isn't this the *employer's* issue? Why isn't a battle cry being raised to Corporate America to work with employees and create schedules conducive to childcare, or to offer temporary on-site care for employees, or a benefit to cover costs? Why isn't the government stepping in to fill the gap, rather than threatening to cut funding to schools (don't even get me started on Betsy DeVos)?
2. Kids need structure. Again, schools provide structure. However, structure can and should also be provided at home with a little creativity and clear set of expectations. If there hasn't been structure during distance learning, the fault does not lie with the school system.
3. Kids need socialization. However, in Covid times, kids will face forward wearing masks sitting in rows. They will attend school in shifts, not necessarily with friends. They will not be allowed to talk or work in small groups on projects. Lunch may be in classrooms with kids arranged apart from each other, or with assigned seats in a cafeteria. Activities will be either canceled or cut back. Even in "normal" times, socialization is limited to fractured minutes here and there during passing periods and lunch - about 45-50 minutes of a school day (plus short recess periods in elementary). The rest of the time is presumably spent on academic endeavors. Socialization mostly happens outside of school anyway, through gatherings with friends, sports, and extracurriculars (don't even get me started on the incomprehensible and illogical way it's decided that some activities are allowed to go on and others are not).
TL;DR: The top three reasons people want schools open can all be accomplished without schools or teachers. Let that rattle around in your brain for a minute.
I am "highly qualified" to teach English, according to the designation afforded me by the great state of Indiana. This craft I've chosen, which naturally involves structuring my day and promoting healthy social interaction, is mainly focused on facilitating the expression of independent ideas, critical thinking skills, and most importantly demonstrating the power of words and how to use them to manipulate readers and listeners. I did not get a Masters degree to be a babysitter who oversees playgroups. I'm not saying whether in-person or virtual is better. Both have the potential to be ridiculously effective when done well. But perhaps it's time to reflect on the overall attitudes toward schools and teachers and their purpose in society. Are they bastions of intellectual development and growth, or warehouses in which the kids congregate while parents/guardians work? In the end, what messages are our kids getting from the adults about the importance of school? Is it any wonder so many kids check out?
As we go back to the hallowed halls of school buildings, however and whenever that may be, I implore you to emphasize the importance of education being the primary focus of schools, regardless of whether your school offers hybrid, virtual, or in-person learning. Kids hear you. If your conversation revolves around schools being childcare, or for socialization, that's how kids will treat it. If you talk about how teachers grow minds, create strong, thinking adults, and get kids ready to launch into the world, what a richer experience it will be for us all. Just the ramblings of a madwoman, I suppose. Or perhaps not.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.