There’s a silent war going on, and it appears to be going unnoticed. There’s a large divide, the haves and the have nots, and I’ve never seen anything like it in my adult life.
I don’t know, maybe I’m noticing because I’m directly in the middle, and if shit really hits the fan, I could end up in either groups, which is an uneasy feeling. As an American, I’ve always thought that if you work hard you can live the dream, and I feel like we have.
My hubby and I started out without much. It took me six years after we got married to graduate college and to start working full time. Fast forward to now, and we have both done well in our jobs and have everything we need and most things we want. The thought of losing everything when we’ve worked so hard for it is foreign and scary.
Disclaimer: The following are personal opinions and observations from my school and state (Michigan), the processes and information may be different elsewhere.
The first big battle was in March when schools shut down and everyone had to stay home.
Even though the district I work for is one of the wealthier ones in our state, the inequality within some of our families was apparent.
In the United States, the public schools must guarantee that everyone has equal opportunity for education. Well, if suddenly everyone is expected to learn from home in quarantine and some kids don’t have internet or computers, that isn’t equal. And it was up to the public school to fix it. So what did the public school do? They put all learning on hold until every family had a Chromebook and internet, and food of course, because it is also up to the public school to feed the hungry. All of that had to happen to make it equal, and that took time, and you better believe that schools got so much shit for that. Why? Because the parents who had internet, whose child had a computer, whose child had a hundred activities suddenly cancelled had to wait for the proper instruction to begin, and many parents were not happy.
So, a few weeks after the shutdown, it was announced that schools will be shut down until summer vacation. We learned that we will not see these kids in person again until the following school year.
It’s ok, everyone had what they needed, right? In theory, yes.
This sums up the last two months of the school year: Generally, the academically high kids did everything that was expected of them. The average kids were all over. Some started off doing everything, but dropped off the last month, while some hand picked which assignments they wanted to do, and some did excellent, proving that the environment was favorable for learning for some kids. The low kids, or economically disadvantaged kids, were less engaged and typically finished less work than their classmates.
Some of my students did very little to nothing that last few months of school. I work with students who have learning disabilities, and I worry that this will put them farther behind, as normally there is a sense of urgency at school to catch them up.
I don’t blame the parents. One of mine had to quarantine with three small children in an apartment, I simply can’t imagine since it went on for months. And others are essential workers and can’t be there all the time, or most the time, to help with school work, so the child is left supervised with an older sibling, grandparent or on their own. These families are in a tough spot and it’s heartbreaking. My colleagues and I would complain that we felt like we were stalking the families. We were just worried and wanted to see how we could help, but many calls and emails went unreturned.
Now it’s the fall and the start of a new school year. I envisioned the first day of school very festive with everyone just happy to be there. But the disease is still here, and we will not be going back to school.
Parents are divided, like the rest of the country. Some are adamant about keeping their kid home. Others are positive that this virus is a hoax and they aren’t going to pay their taxes because their kid can’t go to school, etc etc etc. And other kids truly need school. It’s their safe place, the only safe place for some.
Our president wants the schools all in session this fall. He thinks that mental health problems, neglect, abuse and hunger are far worse threats than this virus. Plus, public schools provide eligible kids with important therapies, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. He is absolutely right, and I think schools should be able to open with safety measures.
There’s only one problem: Public schools don’t have the money to open safely, period. Even in my district, with community and financial resources, there are way too many variables and unmet standards to be able to open safely at this point in time. The variables include important resources, mostly people, that we don’t have (adequate janitorial staff, substitute teachers, extra teachers for smaller class sizes for social distancing, etc). But we have to open, they say. Why?
Because of the hungry?
Because of the missed therapies for children with disabilities?
Because of the parents that need to get back to work, they need child-care.
When did this all become the public school’s’ responsibility?
So while the political shitstorm is brewing, and the virus is still spreading and while the teachers are preparing to teach virtually, there is a divide happening. I see it everywhere.
Parents on one end are organizing small learning groups and looking for teachers to hire, or sending their kids to private school where the class sizes are small and they can attend in-person classes safely, or hiring tutors, etc. Lucky for me, my hubby is working from home now, and my kids are older so my family falls in this group. If I had kids who needed child-care, it would be much more difficult. The kids in this group will all be fine- many may even excel with the online or small group learning.
But then there’s the other side. Low internet bandwidth, small space, distractions, little or no adult supervision, on top of potential hunger, abuse and neglect are just some of the obstacles facing some of our families.
And some schools are planning to open in a few weeks, despite unsafe conditions. I’ve read from teachers unacceptable protocols in lower socioeconomic districts, such as cardboard dividers (instead of plexiglass), 3 feet space between humans instead of 6 feet, lack of cleaning supplies, etc. I wonder how effective the learning will be in this environment. Most places are making the kids stay in the same room all day long with little room for movement. My heart breaks for these teachers and families, as their fate is determined by zip code?
I don’t have an answer, only 99 problems with zero answers.
But it’s the divide of the classes that is bothering me most, along with the anger that is directed at public education.