Decisions, Decisions, Decisions (Part 1)

Hey all… welcome back to my pink room!

Grab a seat, get comfortable… we might be here for a little while. Yesterday, in “What is School Really?” we left off with a question whose answer has the power to expose our most core assumptions about education and schooling. That is “what is school really?” or perhaps better said what is required for school to be school? Over the next few days, we will continue our investigation by taking a look at exactly how my school district has attempted to answer that question by interrogating each of the decisions they have made/ make during remote/hybrid schooling.

Today we have one goal and that is to elucidate exactly how herculean the task facing many districts actually was and still is. Then tomorrow we will try to expose what our options and also perhaps how limited our imaginations were when facing an unprecedented need to rebuild K-12 schooling with nearly all new tools. And finally on Thursday (and likely also Friday) we will try and understand what each of these decisions mean and their implications when answering that infamous question.

Before we get started, on to your favorite part of any post … another disclaimer. Disclaimer: I hope that hearing a little bit about my personal story yesterday will help to legitimate what I will to say over the next few days but I will confess that we are entering the territory of hard questions and elusive answers. So just keep that in mind.

Alright with all that being said, let’s jump on in.

We have talked a lot about at this point how COVID has forced us to recreate institutions and practices in ways that most of us have never seen before. And the same of course goes for K-12 public education around the nation but also globe.

But let’s first begin our discussion for the sake of clarity by just reminding ourselves what exactly public education typically looked like before COVID. (One quick note: I will be describing public school from the specific perspective of my white suburban town which can easily be extended to other kinds of areas in many ways but also will not extend in several other ways).

Okay, your day will typically start, depending on your grade and location, with needing to the catch the bus in the morning ranging from lets say 6:45 – 9:15am. At the elementary school level there would also be some kind of morning care for parents with young kids and work before the bus comes. And there are always the kids with parents who could just drive them to school everyday and/or kids who could drive themselves. Depending on the neighborhood, the buses would be crammed with kids filling every seat or nearly empty, likely hot and rumbling with bits of conversations. On a typical day your bus would likely get you to school a little early and there would be time if you wanted to get breakfast from the school cafeteria.

Then the day would begin, attendance(meaning getting to class by the bell) would tend to vary in importance depending on the teacher and your grade (but would be technically tracked and reported by the school either way). While in class, “paying attention” would be just as important as learning comprehension. And there would be various ways in which you could assessed outside of typically exams, like classwork, participations or other projects/ activities. Bells would relegate your day, moving you from class to class and finally to a lunch/ recess break. You could bring your lunch but also lunch would be provided by the school with the food ranging in price.

You then would continue on until end of the day which would typically be about 6-7 hours after you arrived at the school building. For elementary school students there would also be often an after care program that would run until let’s say 6pm or so. And for older kids there were always after school activities and sports you could be involved in. There would many times be some opportunity for after-school snacks from the cafeteria vendors.

And around 4:30pm, there would be after-school buses for the older kids to get home. However, if you had activities that went longer than 4:30, you would need to organize your own way home. Once home, you would typically have some kind of work you were required to do for a grade before you would repeated the exact same cycle again.

Okay that was a lot but hopefully it was pretty complete. Our next step is to identify what has become suddenly impossible to do during COVID. Hopefully this will be a little bit faster since nearly everything became impossible but let’s just list a few. So for first thing, at the onset of a statewide quarantine in most places around mid-march or so, gatherings of any kind outside of immediate family was no longer allowed. So that means, no buses, no school buildings, no morning care, no school provided breakfast, no bells, no classrooms, no school provided lunch, no recess, no after-school in person events or sports, no school provided snacks and no hanging out with friends.

So here is where it gets hard. Let’s imagine someone told you before COVID to find a way to have “school” without all the things mentioned above. I would imagine, you would be pretty hard pressed to figure out how that would even be possible. School is busses, bells and classrooms. Yet that is exactly what we asked districts across the nation to do within the course of one weekend. It was task for many that felt like the equivalent of making ice without water. Impossible right?

But stopping school altogether was just not a viable option. The devastation it would leave in its wake was one that districts really could not afford to make. So superintendents, school boards, teachers and other staff members took on the task to recreate school without school.

It is here where it is critically important that we remember how impossible this task really felt. Here we are in November, in a new academic school year and for many of us we have settled into some kind of online/ remote learning rhythm (even though this honestly is not even true for several districts who just could not do school without school buildings, bells and buses). But we should remember that many school districts and public schools across the globe felt forced into that disastrous option of no school at all. There were places last spring like Philadelphia that just completely halted teaching and assignments , and only encouraged optional learning for the rest of the academic year.

Well, that time has come once again for us to pause for now. Tomorrow we will explore some of the options considered and the several options not considered in the creation of a new COVID school system. Alright, join me back here in the pink room tomorrow at around 11 am ET.

Till then!

P.s. sorry I have been little late, will do better next time.

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