2020 – a year of heartbreak, great loss, stir craziness, divisiveness, and yet also a year filled with bountiful blessings. As I reflected on the end of the year in December of 2019, in Influencing My Heart, My Mind, My Soul, I wrote, “As 2019 draws to a close, I am mindful that my greatest teacher this year was life itself, the curveballs that you cannot see coming.” This statement could not be more true as 2020 comes to a close.
As mindful as I was of the blessings of 2019 at this time last year, it is with this same mindfulness that I am struck more than ever by the extraordinariness of the blessings of 2020. Some of the blessings have brought great joy while others are blessings have come disguised in pain. There are blessings disguised in pain and discomfort from which we can learn. The painful and uncomfortable blessings of 2020 create the opportunity to lift ourselves up and to meet the crisis of injustice head on in our actions. The blessings of these painful moments serve as the catalyst for moving us beyond being a society of complacency or tolerance of the injustices that live just below a facade; a facade that our systems are functioning in an acceptable manner of distribution of resources and justice.
There are, of course, the exceptions. We have leaders who have intentionally entrenched themselves in the work of understanding and working towards dismantling systematic injustices before the whole world got this year’s up close and personal view of how harmful this state of denial and lack of knowing has been. The curtain has been pulled pack on how significant the unequal distribution of resources, including access to internet and devices which increase the divide in access to opportunity. This same technology, internet and devices, laid bare the hateful underbelly of racism, not only in the United States but in nations around the world. Video captured the undeniable truth that the divisive intentions of Jim Crow laws from the 1800s continue to have been passed down through values a large segment of society of have benefited from upholding. The hiding of our nation’s full history by not including it in the content of the curriculum that is taught in our schools has left large portions of our communities to live uninformed and thus in confusion both about the anger behind the impact of racism and a society based on patriarchal values.
This image by Doug Mills of the New York Times serves as a strong visual of the why behind the deep disenfranchisement felt by the constituencies not represented in the decision making processes that effect our daily lives. In a nation where white men make up 31% of the population and men make up 49% of the population, we can do better.
It is no secret that 2020 was hard, really hard! As we head into 2021, we have the opportunity to stand resolute in not allowing systematic injustice to once again fall into a comfortable state of tolerance. The deeply entrenched system that has allowed these injustices to flourish is already showing signs of falling back into the acceptable mainstream of how things are done. Complacency and exhaustion bring with them the risk that we lose the power of this moment in history to make changes that steer the trajectory of our nation’s future and not just put bandaids on this juncture in time.
As the global community came screeching to a halt in March of 2020, a stark awareness set in that government, private industry and the citizenry would need to work together to survive the impact of the Coronavirus. We all needed to work together to provide access to the resources required for daily living to educating our children and being able to work. As a nation and a global community, we largely met the moment, but only for a moment.
As decisions are now made to encourage having students from marginalized communities return to school first, and called for in the name of social justice, we must be wary that this call also holds the power to walk away from the real issues, the inequities that uphold the system that denies access to opportunity. We live with the moral imperative to provide the needed infrastructure at affordable costs that will build the bridge from marginalization to access and opportunity.
This moral imperative digs deep into holding leaders of for profit companies accountable to leading in a manner that allows them to leave a legacy of ensuring that our nation continues it’s dream of being “One nation under God for liberty and justice for all.” The Spring of 2020 showed us what can be accomplished in the matter of mere months when both government and private industry work together in a state of urgency. The state of urgency, the opportunity to create policy and enforce policy to right the wrongs of the past by closing the opportunity gap is in danger of passing us by if we allow our industry experts and legislatures to make decisions out of expediency and short term political gain.
Massive amounts of money are being allocated for short term solutions. As California, as one example, looks to fiscally incentivize return to in person school, it appears that a greater understanding is needed of things really play out in schools and districts. California entered 2020 with a teacher shortage and an administrator shortage, as well as a substitute and bus driver shortage. Burn out levels were already at an all time high. Educators are simply asked to bear too many of the ails that burden society. Not unlike the healthcare, social services, and law enforcement professions, policies and funding tell the story of a society that do not truly value those who work in professions that serve. Look to budgets, look to funding allocations and not sound bites and speeches for the real story about what is most valued.
As the saying goes, “follow the money.” Should schools be incentivized to return to in person instruction quickly, the time and energy that can be spent of putting long term solutions to disrupt the education system that has shown virtually no sustainable systemic growth in student achievement will be diverted to chasing a short term dollar. These short-term one time monies due more harm than good. They serve as a serotonin hit like that of winning $10.00 on slot machine that we dropped $20.00 into, like the serotonin hit of winning $2.00 off a $5.00 scratch off. We lose more than we invest.
The same one time, short-term monies that are being suggested for our schools should be used to stand up community infrastructure that gives every student and every adult 24-7 access to online learning. Learning that can happen through YouTube videos, masterclasses, reading the news, current event videos, creating digital art, working on collaborative projects, creating our own video tutorials (demonstrating application and synthesis if you’re with me on getting us to demonstrate deeper levels of learning in an authentic manner), applying for jobs, to colleges, for financial aid, and accessing healthcare. The same one time short-term money can be used to recognize that we have overburdened educators who’s schools and districts are often not funded at adequate level to provide the basic resources needed to be successful in their positions – home internet, a high quality device for lesson design and instructional delivery, a reasonable work day, and support staff to meet the many non-instructional needs of students, parents, and care-givers in addition to planning and peer collaboration.
Let’s use this money towards designing models that measure what students are learning rather than compliance systems measure seat time. Let’s invest in structures that don’t overburden, burn out our educators, and drive resentment in such a noble profession. Imagine a 2 shift instructional day with class reasonable class sizes that enable teachers to have time to invest in strong relationships with the families of their students. One shift of educators could be available for families who prefer or need mornings to connect with school and the other shift could work with students and families who work or need late afternoon times. Ah, I begin to digress into solution oriented details. Along those lines, I won’t ever pass up the opportunity to say, let’s start with our small schools and districts to create models that we can scale up rather than allocating large sums of money to large bureaucracies and then trying to scale down where fewer resources are available.
As 2020 draws to a close, let us not lose this moment!