I have been thinking about one of the last schools where I taught and realizing: what teachers are going through now, is what many students go through on a daily basis. Lack of job security, lack of structure, lack of routine, lack of control. In some cases, lack of rent, and the threat of having nowhere to sleep as spouses are laid off and people crowd food closets. And it brings home the need to support people in poverty regularly and from structural support and not just handouts. A lot of the people we teach in “rough” schools are struggling because of structural injustice, so it only seems fair. And what about compassion instead of the school to prison pipeline?
What is going on now is a wake up call to people who believe in meritocracy. If anything is clear now it is that we only have compassion for people when we realize the humanity of those at the top who seem to have earned their invincibility when really they have often only inherited it or gained their status at the expense of others. I have had homeless children in my classroom. And only when homelessness poses a threat in the time of pandemic – when we realize that many have no shelter with which to follow the law of “shelter in place” – only at times such as these, is the lack of housing something that needs remedied. We are now housing homeless people in hotels.
Many of my former students had technology at home. But many others did not. Many others brought phones to school that did not work only to have one to hold so that it seemed like they had the money to afford the technology that some of their peers had.
On the other side of things, teachers are often judged extremely harshly and now we are realizing how hard their jobs are. Parents are realizing that not everyone can teach, and their children’s behaviors seem at time unmanageable. Let alone what parents of students with special needs are experiencing as they try to work from home while tending to their child.
What I hope comes out of this are more compassionate educational frameworks as opposed to the industrial model of education that Dewey created in his extensive work with privileged students (note: he did not work with students in poverty). Our educational values have prioritized the needs of a select few, and our educational system has been created to sort, select and exclude. Here’s to a compassionate educational model in the decade of the 2020’s.