Collectively, our global human community is facing an unprecedented challenge. Together, we find ourselves in the grip of history, like it or not, as we stare down the invisible foe called COVID-19, a pandemic that may forever alter how, and what, we consider to be a regular, a “normal,” existence. As best as we can tell, based largely on the expertise of both scientists and sociologists, our “normal” will be something new. Improved, different, better, worse - only time will tell, combined with the decisions, behaviors and attitudes we all assume and display as we contribute to the definition of what this will eventually mean.
The fear and apprehension we are experiencing is not just an adult dilemma. While they may not fully comprehend the public health and economic intricacies of what we collectively face, children of all ages are experiencing some significant impacts. “I can’t go to school. I can’t see my friends. The park is closed. My parents are worried. Some of my relatives are sick. We need to cover our faces. What does this all mean? How did this happen? When will it get better? What can I do?” These questions are both real and reasonable. They deserve attention, consideration and answers.
Consider the possibilities.
My educational advocacy efforts, through my book and website both titled The Education Kids Deserve, as well as these weekly blog posts, focus on the reinvention of what kids experience in school. I continue to advocate for opportunities that are personalized, not standardized. Opportunities that utilize the curiosity of the learner and capitalizes on their creativity rather than trampling these powerful gifts. I long for a system where kids get to ask the questions that matter to them, and to be allowed to pursue learning activities that are based on guided inquiry, rather than the soulless quest of finding the “right” answer to someone else’s question. I call for a powerful shift in the task and influence of teachers to become true facilitators of discovery, rather than keepers and arbitrators of the facts.
Today, millions of American school children are experiencing distance learning. Their classroom is now a virtual space. I understand that this may be a huge challenge for them, their parents and their teachers. While we have tinkered around the edges of technology-based learning in recent years, no one could have conceived that within a period of a few weeks that this would be the only avenue of instruction. Kudos to all of the educational professionals that are confronted with making sense of this new reality.
I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” We have an opportunity, and we’re obligated to get it right.
Here’s what we must not do. We must not create a virtual sequence of electronic work sheets. We must not resort to creating packets, check lists and arbitrary, disjointed, and frequently meaningless, tasks under the guise of learning. This would represent a disturbing misuse of the potential this instructional arena holds. Even worse, it would be a waste of everyone’s time and effort.
We can, and must, do better.
Oh, the possibilities.
I challenge individual educators, and the systems they work within, to consider the previously mentioned observations and questions of kids themselves, notions that are rooted in fear and frustration.
I can’t go to school.
I can’t see my friends.
The park is closed.
My parents are worried.
Some of my relatives are sick.
We need to cover our faces.
What does this all mean?
How did this happen?
When will it get better?
What can I do?
These questions and sincere concerns could serve as the fulcrum of truly relevant educational experiences for American kids. If, of course, we’re willing to create opportunities for that to happen.
With the virtual guidance of their teachers, kids are sitting in front of some powerful equipment. In addition to allowing for effective communication, the screens kids now rely on are amazing windows for research and allow for the production of a wide array of creative content. They have the tools, again with the expertise and guidance of their teachers, to discover answers to their questions; answers that may very well lead them to some fascinating and meaningful inquiry. And may lead to some powerful learning.
Talk about possibilities! Our collective predicament is ripe with opportunities for discovery, the “teachable moment.” If I ruled the world right now, these are the topics we would be investigating in American classrooms across all content areas and disciplines of study.
Science and health
What is a virus?
How are viruses spread?
What are vaccines and how are they developed?
What do statistics tell us?
What are predictive models and how are they generated?
History and social sciences
What is a pandemic?
Do population density and globalization impact a pandemic?
Have there been other pandemics in history? What effects did they have?
What psychological effects do people experience?
Language arts and literature
Research the history of a COVID-19 victim and write their biography.
Write an essay that describes how this experience has touched and effected you.
Create a poem that reflects your experience.
Collect these reflective pieces and publish them.
Fine and performing arts
Write a one act play, a piece of music or choreograph a dance that focuses on our common experience.
Create 2D and 3D visual representations of your feelings in a variety of mediums.
Identify and study examples of visual and performance art from historical periods of significant societal impact.
You get the idea. The list of potential discovery points is virtually endless. But, here's the magic in this, the powerful imbedded educational impact. Every one of us, kids and adults, are sharing a common experience. The playing field is level. Zip codes don’t matter. Poverty or wealth do not differentiate what we are going through. All of the questions, confusion, fear and frustration we have in common will guarantee relevant learning experiences for kids if we face them. And that, my friends, is the education kids deserve.
Consider the possibilities. And stay well.