We Have No Solid Answers

My district is a week in to schools being closed. So far we’ve not mandated anything. It’s not clear to me, as a teacher or a parent, how this is going to play out for us but I appreciate that neither I nor my teenage children were expected to be online doing school as of last Monday morning. And we could have been. I mean that both from the perspective of our district ordering that to be our reality, as many across the country have done. And from the perspective of having the devices and bandwidth to do that in our home. As well as at least one parent home who is still getting a paycheck. All that being true, I am grateful for the time to process this new reality together, to think through things together, to have some fun and some thoughtful discussions, to sleep, etc, etc, etc. At this moment our family of four is pretty calm. I think some of that comes from having not had to jump headlong into online learning for all of us.

Audrey Watters, one of my favorite human beings, tweeted something this afternoon that summed up many of my concerns.

Devices and connectivity don’t guarantee equal access. And she’s spot on about how many other inequalities are still being ignored. Katie’s response hit more of my concerns.

My district is supplying breakfast and lunch at about 30 locations every school day. For free to anyone under 18 and for $2 to adults. They had that happening immediately (well, not all locations immediately). That’s definitely addressing one more inequality. But we’ve barely scratched the surface.

I keep thinking about all the assumptions we’re making about kids and their realities when we plan to move to completely online learning.

The obvious ones:

  • device availability – it should be noted that simply having devices in the home does not guarantee availability as multiple individuals may be sharing and need to be online for extended periods for work or school
  • connectivity and bandwidth – we’ll be testing out the strength of our bandwidth with all four of us home and online, especially when both my husband and I participate in virtual meetings at the same time, and I’m confident we have robust internet
  • adult supervision – not just an adult there, but an adult who can be actively involved in the child’s work and life for at least parts of the day

Less obvious ones:

  • lack of other responsibilities (how many kids are now caretakers for younger siblings or other family members while other adults still have to work?)
  • mental health (how many of our students who are anxious, depressed, addicted, etc. are able to function in this moment with all its stresses much less function in isolation and do school work?)
  • self-control/motivation/self-discipline – I’m not really happy with any of those words for various reasons but I’m trying to get at the idea that kids will need to work independently online and will require that they be in charge of a lot of it; if they aren’t interested or dedicated or whatever, that will be a challenge

I don’t know what this should look like, in this unprecedented moment. I don’t have solid answers. I will say, as one who has taught K-5 for more than two decades, I believe children at the elementary level should be left alone. They’ll survive without grades for the last two quarters of the school year. As teachers (and schools and districts) we should be offering support to families and to our students but we must be honest and recognize that our young children cannot and should not be tied to devices or packets of worksheets day after day. We should ensure they have books and tools for writing and exploring their world. And let them do so. Different children will need different things. Different families will have different options. We should allow that to be true. They’ll be just fine.

We also need to remember that a large part of what schools do is not academic. This move to online learning has been almost completely focused on content and how best we can pass that content on to children. Supporting their social-emotional health and growth, especially in a time when that could be a significant issue for many, is being ignored. Adding lots of skills practice or worksheets will not be helpful for that. Children need space and adult support to navigate this unknown. We need to keep them at the forefront of our planning. Not grades. Not standards. Not testing. But children.

(I lack enough knowledge – or the necessary ego – to address how we should handle this at the high school level. I know there are complications there that I don’t fully understand. I leave that to others.)

2 replies on “We Have No Solid Answers”

  1. Gary Stager says:

    Of course all sorts of terrible teaching is happening “online.” That should surprise no one. My colleague Ron Canuel observed that, “Laptops make good teachers better, great teachers greater, and bad teachers worse.” I’ve actually seen 1:1 with vision dramatically improve teaching, but largely agree with him.

    Here’s my reply to Audrey’s tweet…

    It’s not perfect but does go a long way towards acknowledging that we don’t live in 1893. Other people’s kids should at least have what my kids and grandkids enjoy. Deprivation is clearly not a cure for deprivation. See Papert. http://dailypapert.com/bates

    • jenorr says:

      You are not wrong about any of this. But I fear we’re missing vision in this moment. Vision requires time and we’re functioning without that and in something of a panic. There will be good things that happen and I hope we’ll be able to hang on to those later but there will also be a lot of junk and that is unfortunate, especially when there are lots of other challenges for our kids.

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