On Continuity and Education in Spring 2020

Educators are beginning to show their true colors. As we move to remote teaching in the spring of 2020, teachers are preparing for “continuity.” According to the Oxford Dictionary (which was the first definition when I searched) continutity is “the unbroken and consistent existence or operation of something over a period of time.” Of course, we must recognize that any school leader who is suggesting the teaching and learning that has been happening in classrooms over the last six months will “continue” are being deceptive. (The question “are they intentionally deceiving their communities or are they deceiving themselves?” when they claim that teaching and learning will continue—which is a very interesting question that needs more time—is not addressed here.)

As I see plans/ ideas/ resources being posted by educators, those support educators, and even parents, there is a clear dichotomy that is emerging. Continuity will comprise one of two approaches:

One group of educators is preparing for information to continue to be delivered without interruption. They have defining expectations for students and those who will be assuming primary responsibility for teaching them over the coming weeks. Packets of worksheets were copied, time guidelines were specified, and Google classrooms with links to instruction were prepared. This group of educators is concerned with assessment, grading, and accountability. If you follow “sharents” (those adults who post pictures of their children on social media), you are likely to see children sitting at desks or tables, pencils in hand, writing on stapled packets of paper. You will also likely see celebratory and braggadocios posts about completed packets. My guess is that this teaching really is demonstrating continuity. The students would have been completing the same worksheets were they in school, and adults would have been equally proud of completion of tasks that were conflated with learning.

Another group of educators is preparing their students for learning outside of school. They are preparing online book review sites (which their students will populate), assigning students to  listen to different types of music, to write and illustrate stories, build “things” that will solve problems, demonstrate they are engaging in house hold chores and tasks, and otherwise engage in productive and learning behaviors. The “sharents” of these children will be posting pictures of children sitting on couches reading, sitting amongst piles of cardboard and other materials, sweeping floors, and raking lawns. I the children whom you care about are in these pictures… actually I do not hope for this… sharenting is a very intrusive thing to do…. Please stop it.

The current pandemic situation we are experiencing is illustrating several truths about our society: We have some children who will be in places that lack the food and other necessities they need to be safe and comfortable. We have billionaires who are expecting their companies to be bailed out, but who will fight to keep every penny of the tax cuts they received just a few years ago. (As a corollary, trickle-down economics is a myth… just stop.) We have individuals who have no access to health care and who cannot stay home from work if they are sick. We have large geographic areas that lack access to reliable information networks. These are serious problems. If we are to avoid similar problems in the future and if we are serious about building capacity to overcome them, they will be addressed once this crisis is over; and the solutions will depend on the people who are currently in school to be “smart enough” to solve them.

The current situation is also (for me as an educator) illustrating the different, divergent, and contradictory versions of education that exist in our society. One of these approaches to education will prepare students for the current turmoil and to contribute to rebuilding our society to be resilient. The answers to our current and future problems do not exist in packets of worksheets. It is time educators stop acting like they are.