The pandemic has thrown us into a tailspin and tossed our routines for back to school like a garden salad. More than one educator I know has said, sounding scared and tired, they just want life to go “back to normal.”
Who can blame them? Some educators know how their districts will start the year; some don’t. Many educators will start with distance learning; some won’t. Will there be enough PPE? How will the buses work? There’s question after question. And no one knows what schools will look like in November.
We’re so turned around we’re on the edge of forgetting something important: Normal didn’t work.
Our districts were under-funded and many of us worked in dilapidated buildings. Parents expected us to educate their children so they could grow up and soar, but our profession was losing too many good people to budget cuts and exhaustion. Students who desperately needed support services weren’t getting them.
Our schools were unwelcoming to many Black, brown and Indigenous students. Too many students who needed us the most were falling through the cracks. Many places were making progress on cutting the school-to-prison pipeline, but it wasn’t enough.
Our communities weren’t thriving equally. Inequities by race and ZIP code were rampant in the neighborhoods our students went home to. The systemic racism in policing and health care we’ve seen on the front pages this summer existed long before everyone knew the name of George Floyd. Full-service community schools were changing lives, but comparatively few students had access to them.
And even before most of us had ever heard of a coronavirus, there were politicians and powerful corporate interests trying to blame and shame communities of color for all the obstacles put in their way by an economy that had been rigged for the wealthy.
No, going back to normal isn’t good enough. We can do better, much better.
When we get past this crisis, if we’re serious about making sure every child can pursue their dreams regardless of what they look like or where they’re from, let’s get serious about doing what works.
We all know real learning can’t happen when kids arrive hungry or stressed out about issues at home; so, let’s make sure those who need it have healthy meals, support and trusted counselors.
Educators can’t give individual attention in packed classrooms; so, let’s fund schools so small class sizes foster stronger relationships.
Our schools can’t do any of this unless the richest 1 percent and the biggest corporations start paying their fair share. If certain politicians don’t go along, we can join together and elect new leaders who reflect the very best of every kind of Minnesotan and who will deliver the policies our families need.
So, let’s use this fall to create a new normal, where public education is a top priority.
There are some people who will say the continued push for full funding is crazy during a pandemic, but I say it would be foolish to give up. The new coronavirus is magnifying the issues we’ve seen in our schools for years so that more people can see them. The polls say they’re ready for something new.
Although many of us may feel like leaves in the wind right now, we’re not powerless. We can come together for change. Organized educators have the numbers, the smarts, and the passion to lead Minnesota through the next year – not just back to the status quo but into a future that’s better for everyone, both inside and outside our schools, with no exceptions.