Updated: Jan 17, 2021
I’m drawn to this article by Dr. Shayla R. Griffin on ways that pandemic pods create a “social justice dilemma”. Her thoughts mirror my own. In my area, parents are distressed at the idea that their voices and their needs are not represented in their district’s fall plans. The same parents appear unaware that their lobbying and their pandemic related school decisions may be creating Griffin’s “social justice dilemma”.
Communities in my area are predominantly white, middle- to upper- income, and debate about Fall 2020 is fierce. Some parents want full remote learning for absolute safety. Others want in-person learning because they cannot work from home. Still others support teachers who are (understandably) not ready to return to the classroom. Regardless of their view, parents are launching email campaigns, lobbying school boards, making speeches, and starting movements on Facebook. These debates are hampered by general misunderstandings of educational policies. Moreover, many parents are using their resources to make alternate plans: pods, babysitters, private tutors, online classes, private schools… I could go on.
Dr. Griffin draws attention to how individual parenting decisions exacerbate inequities in our schools and communities. If you are a parent who
a) has the time and influence to lobby your district, and
b) you can write a check to solve your COVID school problems,
your “privilege footprint” is probably large. This phrase is my way to describe the advantages some of us have over others - think healthcare, job flexibility, saving and investments, educational opportunities, skin color… there are many more.
And every time we (I fit into this demographic) use our large footprints to boost our children “up the educational ladder”, we leave other children behind and we make the enormous gap in education much, much worse.
This is where “parenting for equity” comes in (read more here). We can and need to care about all kids alongside our own. We are in the middle of an historic pandemic. Black Lives Matter is increasing awareness of how our systems – and COVID – disproportionately impact our black and brown neighbors. At this moment in time, our privilege footprint matters – it matters a lot. And so, if our own families are more or less OK, we can examine the size and shape of our footprint and reduce its impact. We can make sure that children who need more from schools right now – get it. What does this look like in Fall 2020? Here’s my imperfect and evolving list.
Consider local educational decisions broadly. We can:
Consider our family’s needs, the needs of other families, the needs of teachers, admin and staff, and understand that there are families whose views have not been included because they are less likely to be heard.
Evaluate how our own parenting decisions impact equity in schools.
Support our school district if they prioritize the needs of some students over our own. Making space for others will not hurt our children.
Recognize that our children may not need that “boost up the educational ladder”. We can let this go and our children will be OK. If we can’t let this go? Find a way to reduce your privilege footprint.
Pledge to support pod teachers, tutors and sitters fairly. Pay a living wage and don’t take advantage of them (From Dr. Griffin).
Focus on the big picture.
During an historic moment in history, what is most important to your family? In my family, we have decided to downplay a “perfect education” and straight As. Instead, we will focus on working towards a better world – locally and beyond.
The “public school scramble” in response to COVID is the result of decades of underfunding. You cannot vote against school funding bills and also have a rapid and nuanced response to a pandemic. Lobby for increased school funding.
Dr. Griffin suggests using our time and energy to meet the immediate needs of our communities. Work to address food and housing insecurity, advocate for extended unemployment benefits, fight for extended moratoria on evictions, address injustice and inequity in your children’s schools and in your community.
COVID has upended child care for many families. And while families and schools discuss solutions, businesses need to step forward and a) acknowledge the importance of school and child-care to the business world, and b) participate in finding solutions.