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Questions That Need Answering

I was reading a recent article in a local Colorado publication* about new trends in school attendance. I was interested, but mostly just scanning through data and testimonials like I usually do. And then—this statement stopped me.

“If families weren’t happy with how students’ education unfolded last semester and they don’t see evidence that it’s going to be dramatically different this next school year, they’ll look for alternatives.”

As I sat with this, my mind wandered with questions. “What evidence will convince parents that school will be dramatically different next year?” “How unhappy do parents and children have to get to make a change?” “What are the alternatives, and will those alternatives be available to everyone?”

There is much fear about the steep decline of public funding for schools next year caused by the exodus of students due to COVID closures. For example, 1 out of 10 students in America are now homeschooled while other students have enrolled en masse for charter schools and well-established online institutions. Even so, the vast majority of K-12 students remain in traditional public schools where teachers and administrators are trying tirelessly to maintain “school as normal.” Tirelessly. I know many teachers and I admire them deeply. But I’ve been wondering why everyone is fighting so hard for “normal?”

A norm is a “pattern that is regarded as typical.” I think you may agree that the pattern that settled us into a sleepy routine of school has been tragically interrupted. Now what? Do we sacrifice and fight to bring “normal” back? Or do we use our newly found alertness, and dare I say, hope, to pursue a better way?

Can school look different from years past? Is it possible to win back the hearts of students so that they engage fully in learning with passion, curiosity and wonder? What could those alternatives be? And could they become our “normal?”

I’m a parent of two young boys who have been affected. I’ve listened to countless other parents tell me how difficult this year has been managing virtual learning while begging their children to care, stay awake, attend, try harder and stop procrastinating. Perhaps real learning doesn’t breed apathy like we are seeing? Dare I say, perhaps our children aren’t really learning? What if they were struggling with learning before “virtual school management from home?” So then, what does the product of real, deep, transformative learning eventually look, act and sound like?

 So many questions. But the one that continues to ring in my ears is the silent question that articles and education gurus don’t seem to be asking, but my parent friends who have been thrown outside of the normal pattern of things are starting the murmur amongst themselves:

“Do we have the courage to advocate and ultimately choose something different than what we’ve always known and expected?”