Let me begin by saying I am not a school administrator nor would I ever want to be one, especially right now. I’ve always felt the best part of working in education is contact with kids and I would miss that immensely if I were in a bureaucratic position rather than in a library or classroom.
That doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t have my own thoughts about learning and what skills students need to master to provide them with the tools necessary to navigate through life. It’s probably no surprise that “ability to take online drill and kill tests” and “capacity for reading canonized literature” are not on my list of mandatory lessons to be learned.
While I couldn’t be prouder of the administration in the district where I teach, I believe that educators are in a position in which to radically redefine curriculum for the duration of this pandemic. I certainly don’t have a comprehensive plan (or 3 plans as districts have been tasked with creating) of how that might look, but I’ve got some ideas.
The central concept for how I imagine Covid Education is this: instead of trying to continue with our traditional curriculum and fit it into the reality of social distancing and preservation of health, we just might need to put it aside until this crisis is over and go with a different model. It’s been done before, specifically during the last pandemic.
First of all, if I hear one more person talk about “kids falling behind” I just might lose my sh*t. Falling behind whom? Their cohorts are all in an essentially identical position of pause, aren’t they? Why are we pressuring kids (or being pressured by state or federal authorities) to maintain a pace of instruction that isn’t possible? What does that teach students?
It seems to me that younger children benefit the most from being “on campus.” The routine and socialization are important aspects of education, particularly for elementary age kids. Perhaps making those kids the priority for in person instruction is the way to go. Districts could spread the kids out over all the buildings to provide a relatively safe and manageable environment, which would give parents of this age group the freedom to return to work.
Older children are the ones who I believe would gain the most from an alternative curriculum. Instead of trying to manipulate a common core based education to fit these whacky times, why can’t we boldly attempt a different type of education, one that is taught outdoors or in public facilities that allow for optimal social distance? Walking tours (masked, of course), around the Capital Region, which is rich in history and architectural beauty, could provide students with authentic experiences to inspire writing, art and deeper study.
Our local arts organizations which are currently standing idle, might be opened to provide opportunities for larger group (socially distanced) instruction on topics directly related to adopted curriculum. For instance, The Palace Theater or Capital Rep could host performances relating to subjects such as institutionalized racism or the role of local historical figures in the settlement of our region. Collections from area museums could be made available to small groups for instruction using primary sources.
High school students might work with trained individuals and crafts people to learn new skills such as carpentry. There’s a pedestrian bridge on the walking path down by the Normanskill which has fallen into a state of disrepair. Couldn’t a technology teacher collaborate with teens to design and build a replacement? Aren’t there other public spaces which would benefit from some basic tending and hands on attention?
I certainly do not claim to have the answers as to how to provide safe and meaningful instruction to kids during a health crisis, but I think we need to shift our focus and be creative and innovative. Don’t our children deserve that? Additionally, we must give professional teachers the opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to educate students in a manner that feels safe and meaningful. There’s so much to be learned. Let’s get busy.