For many, school was an escape. Despite the environmental challenges of lead, mold, and asbestos coupled with inadequate resources, it was a safe place with caring adults and two daily meals. The covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the routines of everyday life with mandated social isolation raising concerns about domestic violence.
In a recent article in the Atlantic, The Kids Aren’t All Right, Vann Newkirk II, writes:
This is likely a once-in-a-generation disaster, and it will affect every domain of human life. It will be traumatic. And trauma always falls hardest on the youngest among us.
The country has learned this lesson the hard way before. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina and the crucial failures of federal levees devastated the Gulf Coast and the city of New Orleans, a generation of young people bore the brunt of the long-term damage.
The storm and the flood were only the first in a chain reaction that uprooted children from homes and communities, and evacuated many of them to brand-new places across the country. They lost family members and friends, endured bullying in new places, suffered high rates of homelessness and violence, and faced major disruptions in learning and support traditionally provided by school.
The body of research conducted in the years since Katrina indicates that those effects have endured over time, especially for poor children and children of color.
How is the already taxed protective service system monitoring the wellbeing of children during this crisis? There has been a murmuring about equity in terms of meal distribution and access to technology. What’s happening to the student whose parent was already teetering on the edge, is now unemployed and is forced to “homeschool” and feed their child?
The memes on social media are cute but the struggle is real for some students. In just two weeks everyone knows what teachers have been saying for years – schools have a plethora of things with which to contend, education being just one of them.
Covid-19 has exposed the gulf in this country that academics have been pontificating about. County jails have pumped the brakes on mass incarceration and grocery store clerks and Amazon warehouse workers are now essential.
In her analysis of the global economy, Saskia Sassen wrote about this dichotomous relationship between low wage service workers and top earning professionals decades ago. We see it on the ground, just look at the difference between the drop in ridership on SEPTA’s Regional Rail Line as compared to transit. Suburban commuters were have the luxury of working from home; subsequently, they don’t have to choose between exposure to covid-19 and a paycheck. We should also wonder who has the ability to stockpile toilet paper, sanitizer, disinfectant, and food.
What’s even more tragic is students who were already grade levels behind their peers will have lost 4 weeks of instructional time because of the digital divide; but this loss is not evenly distributed throughout the district, many students still have access to enrichment at a minimum.
What will September look like for the most marginalized who are home without fundamental resources while other children have a cozy study space with a MacBook and a gigabit of Wi-Fi at home? What will proficiency look like compared to students whose districts or private schools were able to make a quick transition to online learning?
What about the students whose parents can’t get them extra help via Zoom? It’s not just K12 students, there are first generation low income college students across the nation that have been displaced from their dormitories. They are now housing and food insecure and potentially lacking the resources to become online learners. How will they navigate the challenges of higher ed while disembodied from academia. Even universal pass/fail can’t save them.
Some type of socialism doesn’t look so bad when the most powerful nation in the world is on the brink of economic collapse and crowdsourcing PPEs for frontline staff despite spending $3 trillion on healthcare. A progressive stimulus package that could potentially prioritize labor over profits made it through the senate. Now might be a good time to also authentically invest in education equity and justice.