I’m not an education expert, but I do have a master’s degree in education. And I am a teacher, a mom of four, and a former homeschooler. And I’ve taught grades 6-12 in public and private school. Okay, maybe I am a little bit of an expert. But even with my considerable experience as an educator and a parent, I am not a public health expert or an infectious disease specialist, so I do not know what should be done about school in the fall.
So many questions, so few answers about school this fall
Should schools in my area hold off on sending kids back to the classroom if the numbers in our area continue to increase, as they have since my state re-opened? Maybe.
Should we send our kids back to school on alternating days to limit the number of students in each classroom? That sounds like a reasonable idea.
Should we send all students back wearing masks and implementing social distancing measures?
That sounds really hard, but perhaps it’s our best bet.
The point is I do not know what the best option is, and frankly, neither do you. In fact, at this point, I’m not sure anyone does. What I do know is that we cannot base our personal decisions about our children’s education, their health and the health of the greater community on what we want for our kids and then demand the educational powers that be accommodate us.
Sure I want my kids to go back to school, but not at any cost
I want my daughters to go back to college and enjoy a full year of in-class learning, active social lives, and all the fun that goes with campus living. I want my son to enjoy his sophomore year of high school playing football and basketball and hanging out with lots of friends.
I desperately want my kids to get to do all the things we’ve come to expect as a normal part of American teenagehood and college life. I want them to have a “normal life.” But as much as my children have worked hard to get where they are academically and athletically, none of these things are as important as their health and the health of the most vulnerable among us.
It’s a harsh truth, but I also know that despite all their hard work, my children aren’t entitled to everything, no matter how good, that they want or that I want for them. They deserve to be healthy, mentally and physically, and they deserve the best education possible. Unfortunately, it’s unclear at this point, how best to achieve those things and how to ensure that our children’s academic and mental health needs are met without putting them or others at risk.
One thing is clear, it will likely require sacrifice.
In the early days of the virus, there were several posts on social media comparing the sacrifices our kids are being called to make with the sacrifices of previous generations. Various memes pointed out that unlike their grandparents and great grandparents, today’s teens and college students are not being called to war. They aren’t being asked to give their lives for their country–only their social lives.
We are being called on to sacrifice
We now know that the comparison isn’t always quite that simple. The social isolation our children have endured might not compare with the foxholes of Germany or the jungles of Vietnam, but the depression and anxiety caused by this experience are real and significant. And just because previous generations have suffered more doesn’t mean our children don’t have the right to experience and express disappointment over their admittedly smaller losses–canceled proms and graduations, sidelined internships and summer work experiences or any other setback caused by the pandemic.
All of these losses are real.
What we and our children should learn from previous generations isn’t some sort of hierarchy of loss. What we should learn is that sometimes we are called to sacrifice. Sometimes we are asked to give up things we counted on and expected. Sometimes life doesn’t turn out as we planned. It’s okay to be disappointed. It’s even okay to be angry. But it isn’t okay to demand we be given something just because we’ve come to expect it.
This isn’t to say that our kids have to school from home again this fall or forgo sports and social activities. I don’t know if those things should happen or not. But as a teacher, I’ve seen our generation of parents advocate for their children in ways that empowered their kids and in ways that enabled them. I have seen parents demand things their children did not deserve and fight for things they did.
Now, as our kids face a new school year and an uncertain future, is not the time to advocate just for our own children. Now isn’t the time to think merely about what we think is best. Instead, as we consider how to move forward in the fall, let’s look, not just to our own hopes and desires, but to public health experts and infectious disease doctors.
Let’s consider the mental health and academic needs of our kids and encourage governors and school administrators to seek innovative ways to meet those needs, no matter what school looks like in the fall. Let’s teach our kids to make necessary sacrifices for our nation and make the best of difficult circumstances.
It ‘s not too late for us to pull together as a country and do what’s right, whatever that might be. And as the new school year approaches, it might just be up to kids and parents to set the tone of sacrifice and cooperation for the rest of the country.
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Laura Hanby Hudgens is a part-time high school teacher and a freelance writer living with her husband and children in the Arkansas Ozarks. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Grown and Flown, Parent.co and elsewhere. You can learn more about her at Charming Farming, where she occasionally blogs about faith, food, education, and family life.