By Richard Davis
The challenges to re-opening the public educational system are rivaling the challenges of providing health care during the pandemic.
This country has a historical commitment to provide public education through grade 12. It has struggled with budget constraints and political pressure to provide the best education possible for students, but the pandemic has forced the system to the breaking point.
Some politicians want to open the public school system by September, but their plans lack detail and they will put a lot of people’s lives at risk. Despite the threats from one of the most ignorant and intellectually challenged presidents this country has ever seen, governors know that they will be able to move more carefully because ninety percent of their funding comes from local and state budgets. That provides a bit of a financial safety valve but little comfort for a safer future for this country’s students.
There are no easy answers and simply telling states to open schools is not an option for people who understand even a few of the COVID 19 related issues that must be considered when schools re-open. Some states have offered school districts a number of options to consider if they open their classrooms. They are all complicated and require more funding than would be needed if there was no virus to deal with.
I sat in a conventional classroom for my 12 years of public school and I received a quality education. When you are in the system you don’t have the experience or wisdom to reflect on the pros and cons of the type of education you are receiving. But now, over 50 years later I think there are a lot of changes that could be made in America’s public education system.
As I continued my education past high school it became clear to me that only a small part of education needs to take place in a classroom. It is important for face-to-face interaction with scholars and mentors, but that need not take place in such a formal setting as a classroom.
Some argue that the social interaction of students is just as important to their development and education as classroom instruction. That is true, especially for younger students, but one has to ask how much of socialization should be the burden of a public school system? Families and smaller communities can surely find ways for students to socialize in small and safe groups outside of the formal classroom setting.
We have already started to use the technology tools we have to provide education to some students during the pandemic. It has been difficult for teachers, students and families to move into a more remote style of education, but it is a format that will have to be a major part of any educational system if we are ever going to be able to make the necessary transformations.
If remote learning tools become more unified and standardized and if there is more financial and tech support from federal and state entities, we could begin to make permanent change in our educational system. In order for that to happen we need leadership on all levels and that leadership has to be coordinated. To date, all we have on the federal level is political bickering and posturing.
Affordable child care will have to be an important part of any plans for educational reform. Students may no longer be attending bricks and mortar schools on a regular basis and parents and caregivers will need to be able to afford to continue working. There is no child care “system” in this country and that means we will need national and state coordinated leadership to support families as educational changes are implemented.
If we want American students to be the best and the brightest we have to re-imagine an educational system that can not only withstand a pandemic but also be responsive to life in the 21st century. Our current public educational system is fragile and outdated.
We can do better.