If you want a clear sense of just how deeply wedded we are to the traditional rhythms and practices of school, even in the middle of an incredibly disruptive pandemic, the “home virtual lockdown” has to win “best of show.”
As Dan Kois writes in Slate, his daughter was expected to practice hiding under her own desk, in her own bedroom, “to prepare for the possibility that someone might try to shoot her, someday later, at her school.” His reaction is not surprising:
Great question, isn’t it?
This strange anecdote aside, there’s a legit incentive to ask that same question of much of what we do in school, whether in a pandemic-induced remote setting or face to face. Especially if we situate that question deeply in the idea of what is supposedly school’s number one purpose: helping students learn.
Why would we force kids to sit in online class sessions hour after hour, mimicking the in school bell schedule, complete, in some cases, with virtual “bells” to signal a change in Zoom rooms?
Why would we collectively spend millions on “online proctoring software” to monitor tests, adding another layer of surveillance to our students’ lives with embedded messages about how they can’t be trusted?
And why would we try to “deliver” the full scope of the curriculum, the full slate of homework, and the full accounting of grades in a moment of abject chaos and emotional distress on the part of both students and teachers?
I mean, really, just how stuck are we?
No doubt, 2020 taught us that we can change the window display of school if we have to. We can go remote, or hybrid or whatever other adjective is in vogue. But while we may be able to make it look different, underneath the veneer, the experience we expect kids to have is not very different at all. Not much at all actually changed.
Yet arguably, this is a moment for a serious discussion about doing school differently. Continuing to try to employ old practices and systems, in a moment when so much about the world is manifestly new and changed, amounts to malpractice. And it signals a paucity of imagination and a deep well of fear that limits our ability to rethink our values and get unstuck.
The good news if you look for it is that a “different” school experience is ascendant, even if it’s on the edges at the moment. Parents, who have endured not just home lockdowns but their kids’ boredom and frustration are asking harder questions about the purpose and value of an education as it’s currently defined. New variations of school are cropping up, founded by deep commitments to student well-being and an understanding of how learning actually happens. Expectations of business and industry are changing.
Getting unstuck starts with a willingness to do a deep audit of our practice, to see if what we are doing in school (remote or face-to-face) actually comports with our deepest beliefs about how children learn and flourish. If it doesn’t, we might just consider leaving it behind.
If we’re honest, there’s a lot that might fall into that category.