We aren’t going back because we aren’t innovating forward.

When Covid hit I was just sad for our country that we hadn’t taken any action to keep this thing away. That sad turned into being pissed off. Pissed because we weren’t doing ALL we could, because we were putting economy over human life, and because we looked like complete assholes to the rest of the world. What a cluster.

I care deeply about the intent of public education and am relentless in my mission to ensure access to high quality (meaningful/purposeful) learning experiences for all children.

I’ve see people selfishly ignore risk because “they believe” that what the medical community is advising is not worthy of attention. I’ve seen dear friends cry with worry while other dear friends laugh at risk declaring it “just a virus.” I’ve seen our schools politicized and the people who power them outright ignored.

Suddenly the underpaid, undervalued few have become the lynchpin of reopening our country. While I appreciate the pain staking efforts of everyone trying to reopen schools

We have kids home alone, kids being abused with no daily love and watchful eye from their teachers, and kids going hungry because their families have no jobs and no home and no income. What I’m disappointed in is that we have one safety net for our children over age five that is federally funded/state mandated: education. The education our country sought to provide is now about providing childcare so that our economy “comes back.

To top it off education is so locked down that it forces management within confines instead of leadership without limits. With those confines (real or perceived) we can sadly expect one thing: myopic thinking and lock step management of a system that is no longer addressing needs of kids (rather it’s meeting the wants of adults).

Leaders in our schools and communities must be brave, open minded, trained to pivot, and determined to innovate around a challenge in order to survive. Sadly I’m not seeing too much of that. Rather I’m seeing a pretty big focus on “how can we do what we’ve always done with as few tweaks as possible.

So why are we not sending our kids back to school?

Because decision makers aren’t doing what COULD be done. Rather they are trying to fit education into a box that simply won’t work in the current moment. They have poured hours into debating masks and social distancing. They COULD have poured hours into creative programming that uses community and school spaces creatively (while meeting the daily/hourly requirements of states). They haven’t (in mass) dreamt of new ways of doing school that allow staff to social distance, safely interact, and facilitate learning. They didn’t think about what they COULD do, rather they focused on the should do list. A list that may help with safety but simultaneously promotes mediocrity.

Current reopening plans are lackluster in commitment to turning this situation into an opportunity. Those plans put our teachers in a position where many will walk away, and some may be laid off when herds of families go elsewhere.

If you are a teacher, you either risk it all on a mask, a canister of Clorox wipes, and a prayer or, what?

The what is the thing I have a problem with. Because as someone who advocates tirelessly for our schools and children, I just can’t stomach this.

We have teachers with high risk health concerns, we have teachers with high risk kids at home, we have teachers single parenting that are “it” for their family. We have teachers who are the caretakers for their elderly parents or disabled siblings. We are telling them that the responsibility to provide daytime care for our children is theirs.

Our teachers are scared, fearing for the well-being of their loved ones, and feeling like a pawn in a political, economic game. Schools need to reopen but the question is: do we have to reopen with our traditional lens of school? The answer to that question is unequivocally NO.

Because we COULD use outdoor spaces to hold engaging mini camps that are safe and provide solid learning. Because we COULD use seat time in different ways that ensure lesser anxiety and more teacher led, innovative action. Because we COULD work with local businesses to provide emergency childcare to employees so that teachers don’t have to risk their own security. Because we COULD use those skills (creativity, tolerance for ambiguity, critical thinking, design thinking, etc.) that we so eagerly expect from our kids to drive a solution that puts no one at risk.

We played it safe and our teachers are scared out of their minds. And no one seems all too worried that if the rockstar teachers jump ship they could double their salary, increase their life-flexibility, and stay safe. They aren’t going to leave because they are done inspiring kids, they’re going to leave because they won’t shoulder the burden.

So while our family has our unique reasons, we won’t head back to “regular school” this Fall. We believe in the importance of education, and treating public education as a slave (placing economic peril at the feet of teachers) is just too much bullshit to take in 2020.

We had a chance to do things right. Sadly we just did things that would show effort. Sometimes doing things that follow suit may appear to be right, but they are a far cry from doing the right thing.

They deserve better. But if you happen to disagree, that’s fine. If you truly believe that we have done our very best to innovate around the situation we are in (truly doing the best we can) please grab that emergency teaching license and sign in because there will be a vacancy or two waiting for you.

Dr. Britten has been an award winning educator, advocate, activist, and thought leader in education. You can keep up with her work online here.

fierce mom, constant learner, writer, speaker, researcher, thinker, designer, gadget queen, advocate for learning that matters & public ed, lead with my actions

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