COVID-19 and Education

Being in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis is by far the craziest situation I have ever lived through. This is probably true for most of us. The implications for education are endless! A good friend and colleague said that this situation is “magnifying or amplifying” everything that was already problematic in schools. And it is! Students are not engaged. This is because they don’t have to be. They are not sitting at desks, in rows, and forced to stare forward. In some cases students are home alone, they don’t have access to healthy food, support, technology, and the Internet. Students can keep their phones out, they can open tabs, they can sleep, text a friend…the system is no longer able to control them!

When we are more worried about test scores, grades, and learning loss than we are about the health, safety, and well-being of our students then we have truly missed the point of what we can learn from this global collective trauma.

What if we use this crisis to spur real change in education to reexamine the fundamental purpose of education itself? What questions should we ask? What if we designed a system to support students’ social-emotional needs as the main component of what we do? I start wondering: What would be a more valuable course right now? Would it be “Shakespeare’s Life and Work” or something like “Public Health and Awareness“, “Algebra” or “The Science of Well-being“? What if graduation requirements became centered around gaining real-life skills and functional knowledge revolving around mental health and well-being, equity, justice, public health, digital literacy, political discourse, and financial literacy instead of what we have been doing since before anyone reading this was in school.

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “COVID-19 and Education

  1. I like where you’re going with this, T. But does it have to be either-or? Maybe courses like Shakespeare, Algebra, etc., just need to be re-contextualized , with grounding in those graduation requirements you mention. Those functional knowledge skills can certainly be discussed in Shakespeare’s works, along with the elegance and innovative use of language. Algebra is a bit harder to justify as a course unto itself, but it’s certainly a prerequisite for the ability to do studies and statistical analysis around equity, health, justice, and financial literacy, and it teaches other valuable life skills like logical thinking, problem-solving, and resiliency. Two elements I think are essential are (a) giving each student a coach/advisor who can guide the student’s discovery and suggest resources, and (b) a theme-based curriculum that includes some core foundational courses, real-world problem-solving scenarios and work-study (addressing poverty in the inner-city, achieving equity in healthcare/justice/employment/housing, improving representation and electoral systems, etc.), and on-demand instruction where the inquiry invites it. And students who go through that kind of education would be eagerly grabbed up by employers and colleges.


    1. Thanks, John. Love the thinking on this. I think you’re right, it’s far more nuanced than an either-or scenario. Individualizing a program can for each student will fix come of the issues we are seeing. Some lingering questions I have are; What is the purpose of school? What skills should be prioritized that align with that purpose? I know it’s not skills like test-taking, or compliance.


  2. Blow it up (not really, that is just an expression). The learning can stay, but the structures need to go. I don’t disagree with John P.’s call for nuance, but I do think it is odd that we think logical thinking or pathways to higher-level math and science are served by algebra. Algebra or Shakespeare are not sacred objectively, they are only sacred in our system. We can keep algebra but we need to stop calling it algebra because that name stands for boring, disconnected textbooks drilling students with numbers, PEMDAS and Ti-82’s. That is like trying to convince my son that Knight Rider is cool. He just looks at me like he wants to check my temperature. BTW, it is cool, he is just uneducated.

    We don’t need grades for learning, we need formative information…that’s it. That is why video games are so compelling. You die, you start over, you die, you start over, eventually, you get better and make 800k a year playing a stupid video game, or you end up in your parent’s basement with no job. That is like formative assessment leading to more formative assessment.

    I could not agree more with Tony’s original point. School, in the traditional sense, is about compliance. Compliance is a white, privileged tool for sorting in a way that inequitable, unjust and therefore, wrong (in my opinion). Learning is a cycle — explore, find something that has meaning, create with that in mind —- explore , find something that has meaning, create with that in mind, repeat, repeat. I also agree that the human connection we have the opportunity in school to foster is what keeps us well. It is scientifically proven that people with great friendships, relationships and deep connections to community live longer. Compliance leads to disconnection because the more connected we are, the less likely we are to agree to something that only serves a few. In my opinion, this is why compliance is so key in school because the system is such a house of cards, and if stop complying, it will fall. If we can use this crazy period of disruption to get back to two basic components, I think we will be better: Human-connection and unsorted exploration and learning.

    We don’t need grades, grade levels, graduation requirements, or even classes. What we need is a community of learners that are doing real work, solving real problems in ever-evolving and co-created groupings where we share what we know, what we build and we question our work without attaching it to our fragile and self-serving egos for assessment. How would they get into college? Two answers, one, it will never be easier to get into college than it will be post-corona-virus. Colleges are going to be hurting for kids. Two, how could they not? Imagine a child that spends twelve years in a school community working across age levels where they are creating, exploring, and working in a context without the traditional barriers school creates. They will not only be stronger academically, it will not even be close. They will present portfolios of writing read by real people, not just nearsighted, bow tie-wearing English teachers. (Shout out to English teachers, I actually love you all). They will be capable of building human connections, networks, and mobilize their peers, and they won’t need a grade to compel them. These are future entrepreneurs, leaders, etc.. and most importantly, they will think for themselves without only thinking about themselves. How do you think they will do when matched against a student that has graduated from the top compliance factory in the country and forsaken all real work for SAT Prep classes to ensure that top score. It is no contest. Thanks Tony for reminding me why I care.


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