Would You Rather

The privilege of remote learning.

My 8-year-old loves “Would You Rather” questions. At the beginning of the pandemic, he tossed this one to me: “Would you rather live in a tree house or an underground shelter – both options, you can’t see any people.” A few days ago he posited, “Would you rather be bitten by a venomous snake or bitten by an angry tiger?” And that basically sums up the back-to-school options this year. Would you rather send your kid to a slightly dystopian school, with masks and social distancing, where they could potentially get sick or bring sickness back to vulnerable members of your family OR keep everyone safe in a bubble at home, struggling through remote learning, sacrificing kids’ socialization, risking your financial security and mental sanity? Neither. I don’t want to be bitten by a venomous snake nor angry tiger. Administrators, teachers, and families have no good options. Like many parents, I have been lying awake at night, stressing about making the right choice for my family, but simply having the ability to make the choice of remote learning is privilege in action. So many people do not have this option, including both working parents and teachers.

My parents are both retired educators {a high school teacher turned college professor and a college professor turned administrator} and I, quite literally, grew up roaming the halls of the high school and campus grounds that I would later attend as a student. As a child, I chatted up the teachers, faculty, and the custodial staff – Zelda would always let me follow her along and help clap the chalk dust out of erasers. I watched my mom stay up late and wake up early, grading papers, preparing labs, and tutoring students. At times she worked 3 jobs. In college, I even majored in elementary education for a little bit. I’m sure everyone reading this knows and loves at least one teacher, but likely more. These people we love, who have left an inedible mark on our lives, who are helping raise our children, many of them do not have the choice to opt to teach remotely and they are being asked to shift their teaching process, yet again, and bear the weight of the range of consequences. I have seen and heard people saying the most disturbing things about teachers in the last few weeks: ‘They should just suck it up like essential workers.’ ‘My tax dollars pay for teachers and if they’re not doing in-person learning I should get a refund.’ ‘The percentage of people who get sick and die really isn’t that high.’ On the flip side, some teachers who are ready to get back to their classrooms are being told that they are ‘signing children’s death warrants’ and that they are putting their own children at risk and should have their children taken into protective custody. Snake or Tiger?

There is so much that scientists are still uncovering about Covid-19, so it is simply not humanly possible for administrators to develop plans that will keep the virus fully managed with large gatherings of people, with people who will likely only loosely follow guidelines. {Do you really expect kids to wear masks all day?} My entire professional industry – the event industry – has been grounded for this exact reason. There’s no safe way to have large gatherings. It kind of reminds me of sex-ed in the 90’s – the only safe sex is no sex. But in this circumstance we aren’t talking about unwanted pregnancy and STD’s, we are talking about a virus that has already killed 142,000 people in the US since March. When I started writing this piece 4 days ago this number was 4,000 fewer. Teachers, students, and their family members will get sick. People will die. It is a mathematical and scientific certainty, and it is already happening. The medical community is still learning about the long term health effects, even for asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic people. It’s not just the teachers, faculty, and staff who are being expected to take this risk, it is vulnerable families who don’t have the financial means or privilege to choose remote learning. Predominantly White mom’s groups online are feverishly creating remote learning co-ops, micro-schools, and pandemic pods, where private tutors are hired to teach small groups of kids, at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars {or more}, leaving the most vulnerable families in the dust. This situation will only prove to create a more drastic discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots. If it weren’t so predictable, it would be stunning to see this unfold on the heels of the awakened energy of White folks newly engaged in the Black Lives Matter movement just a couple of months ago. There is a deep divide forming, not just between the remote learning and in-person learning crowds, but along socio-economic lines as well.

While my family is not at the level of privilege to afford a private tutor to facilitate homeschool, I am acutely aware of the privilege we do hold in this situation. It is a privilege that we can afford for me to pump the breaks on my career {again, thanks to motherhood – but that’s a different matter!} so I can be engaged in remote learning with my Kindergartener and third grader. It is a privilege that my mom has moved in with us to navigate these times together. It is a privilege that my husband can work from home for the most part, so we can keep our little bubble tight. Beyond that, it is a privilege to have internet, access to multiple forms of technology, an overflowing bookshelf, enough space in our home to create a healthy learning environment, and resources to fill that environment with 2 little desks and plenty of colorful supplies. This is what I mean by privilege in action. Ultimately, Covid has proven to us, in so many ways, that as a society, we have failed each other. Utterly failed.

“The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

Hubert Humphrey

In previous moments of global crisis, our ancestors shifted their priorities. I’d wager a guess that “academic rigor” wasn’t part of the thought process when children were sent to safety during WWII. What about the trauma that our kids {and frankly us as adults} are living through? At my local school board meeting last week, over 30 minutes of public comments were played and the most commonly expressed concern was the demand for summer sports camps to open immediately and multiple emphatic statements of how people want to see their tax dollars at work. 3.5 hours were spent reviewing plans, when most questions were met with “we’re still working that out” because there are no good answers. Yes, these are complicated issues, but are we just going to plan on building the plane when it’s already in the air flying? What do we honestly expect our school districts to put together that will rise to the occasion? When Covid-19 cases inevitably spike and we are all forced back to remote learning, like we were in the spring, we will be left scrambling to try to successfully pivot. Instead of spending so much energy developing untenable plans for school, couldn’t we, especially those of us with privilege, be focusing some of this energy toward finding a way to make learning safe and accessible for everyone? Funding programs that provide parents with the resources they need and bolstering efforts to ensure at-risk children are safe at home and have their basic needs met? Schools are already underfunded and have trouble getting the supplies they need, so how are can we expect the most underserved to keep their charges and teachers safe under these circumstances?

Haven’t we asked enough of our vulnerable communities already? We ask them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, when they don’t even have boots in the first place. As I mentioned, a lot of schools are underfunded – hello, redlining and systemic racism. We have pushed vulnerable populations to the edges of society, left them hungry, and hurting, and when they lash out, we call them uncivilized. Now we are asking them to send their kids to school, regardless of whether or not they are comfortable with it, because they need to work and they don’t have the resources to even log into a Google Classroom remotely.

Haven’t we asked enough of our teachers already? We ask them to provide educational and emotional support for our children when we’re not there, even if it means they are waking up at 4am to work before their own children awake, after they’ve stayed up until midnight grading papers and answering parent emails. We ask them to physically protect their students, if faced with a threat. We expect them to literally take a bullet for our kids. We ask them to buy their own supplies. We ask them to take criticism and smile in the face of comments like ‘my tax dollars pay for you.’ We ask them to do all this with a salary that often requires a second job to supplement income.

Haven’t we asked enough of our children already? We ask them to hide under their desks and in closets for active shooter drills. We ask them to raise their standards, do more homework, participate in more activities, and burn the candle at both ends. Now our society is asking them to go into environments that would be deemed unsafe if it were an event or office building, just so companies can recover lost profits and maintain productivity. Just so politicians can present a false picture that we are “back to normal” so that it’s less obvious that they absolutely dropped the ball.

Shouldn’t we be asking more from our leaders? None of this is easy and the solution requires our government to take a proactive approach, and obviously that’s not happening. Addressing these issues is the only place to start, because pretending they don’t exist is not going to make them go away. Kind of like how pretending the virus doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. Or pretending that we’ve solved racism, and therefore it shouldn’t be talked about. Ignoring issues is not a solution, it only causes things like gangrene. So let’s not forget to consider the root cause of why are we are even in this inequitable situation in the first place and help our communities do better.

So would you rather… disregard your neighbor or live in a society that strives to support, protect, and uplift one another?

Organizations To Support:

Chicago: {resources for underserved communities}
My Block My Hood My City
I Grow Chicago
Ladies of Virtue

Suburbs: {homelessness and domestic violence}
Mutual Ground
Lazarus House

Across the Country:
Together Rising
Futures Without Violence

Published by laurenlehmancarter

Heart on my Sleeve // Social Justice Fighter // Survivor // Mama // Wedding Planner

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