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Social Justice: Equity in learning before and within a pandemic

Updated: Feb 15, 2022

Everyone knows how to explain the Pythagorean Theorem precisely the same way. All persons are extroverts. All persons do not like being around other people. These statements are generalities that can be easily proven to be untrue. And to be perfectly honest, how many people remember what the Pythagorean Theorem is, much less how to explain it? COVID-19 continues to amplify the inequities that are present in the United States and abroad. Food insecurity, housing instability, access barriers for persons with disabilities, obstacles to health care, education, and racial strife are among the most glaring challenges that we, as global citizens, are facing. In the United States, there is a sizeable push to return students to the classroom. Many of our youth are experiencing challenges related to isolation and depression due to the closures of school and extracurricular activities. Some of our youth are not performing well academically in the remote learning setting. As a result, a large initiative is taking place to return students to their classrooms for their social and emotional well-being. Additional arguments for returning students to class relate to home and work schedules. Some students are being left at home alone while their caregivers work. As such is a valid argument, this is not the purpose or subject of this text.

Half Full or Half Empty

As this public health crisis continues, and I look at my children and their friends and peers in various learning modes, I recall the caption on the left of this text. Some may state that their child does not have a disability, so how can they relate. The answer is simple. People with disabilities learn how to "pivot" daily to accommodate those without disabilities. This includes children and persons in the workforce. We are often reminded that situations need to be equal for all, but we forget about ensuring or working to have equity. When this pandemic began, my husband and I were not concerned about our children missing school on a physical basis. Why? Because they have gone most of their academic life missing large swaths of school in the physical realm due to their health conditions and disabilities, many of which are considered invisible.

The "pivot" that the world began in 2020 is a standard set of affairs for many parents and caregivers with children who have disabilities. The difference in how we handle it and those who have children who do not have these obstacles to learning is how we approach it. Instead of looking at what cannot be done, we investigate how it can be done, much like the glass being half full versus half empty analogy.

Instruction and learning is not one size fits all

I know, I know. You have heard this before; however, do you understand it? Our education system is predicated upon a one size fits all model. Those who do not "fit" with the norm are deemed as needing differentiated instruction or, in other words, an Individualized Education Plan or IEP. To be perfectly honest, all children need to have instruction that is suitable for their style of learning. Before I have parents and teachers become upset for what I am stating, allow me to share the following with you. I hail from a long line of educators dating back to my grandmother. I am a former teacher also and married into a family of educators. My husband is also a teacher. In other words, I get it. I understand how difficult it is to teach in an already overpopulated classroom. I know how teacher observations affect being able to instruct students. Yes, many of our students take standardized and state tests to adnauseam instead of being taught for mastery and that is an entirely different subject that I will address in a future post.

How does this relate to equity in learning and instruction?

All of our children should be afforded the ability to learn in the best way for them. Our instructional staff should be allowed to do what they went to college and university to do, which is to teach children and not regurgitate a one size fits all curriculum model. Our children who learn differently from others should not be ostracized from their peers because they are not performing within the norm. If anything, these children should have further exposure with their classmates to increase learning and positive social-emotional well-being. Yes, our goal should be to have our children back in the classroom, and we need to look at the best and safest way to do so.

Along with this goal, we need to look at the best mode of learning for each child. If being physically in the classroom works best for your student, then research and offer some positive solutions for doing so for all. If being in a remote setting is best for your student, then do the same as the previous. The problem with both of those statements is that it is not that easy to do. Some children who learn best in the physical setting are unable to attend due to various factors. Some include living in a household where one or more persons are immune-compromised. The half-day model may pose obstacles for caregivers for several reasons, including scheduling conflicts with work and the child's school. Children who learn best in a remote setting might not be able to do so because their caregivers cannot stay at home while their child is in class. Another factor may include the lack of suitable electronic devices or internet access in the house. One glaring aspect that we must address are teachers.

Yes, several reports indicated that young children have the lowest probability of contracting this virus; however, we need to look at who is teaching our children and who will be in the buildings with them. The answer is one word- adults. The sad reality is that teachers and school personnel are among the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their life to COVID-19 in the United States. Yes, there are vaccines available for our essential workers, and school personnel and teachers are in that group. The reality is two-fold; there is not enough of the vaccine to go around, and we still have staff members who are immune-compromised with or without the vaccine. Our children are unable to attend school without adults being present. How does equity for instructional, maintenance, support, and administrative staff factor into the equation of returning students to school?

So what is the answer?

Work on being part of the solution instead of adding to the problem. If your situation is working out great, then share what worked for you with others. If your circumstance is not working out well, ask for help or advice. In basic terms, practice empathy and action. The two can coexist. Eliminate the notion that if someone needs help, they should come to you or go and find it. One of the worst things anyone can do is doing nothing as such is of no benefit to anyone. Empathy and action are two of the basic tenants of equity and inclusion. Holding on to helpful information for only a select few is basic selfishness. If you know of a place that has food for distribution, then share it. If you have some extra learning material or books that may be useful for children, give it. Holding on to resources for personal gain is a form of elitism, and it has no place in our society. These examples remind me of a quote by the great American poet and Civil Rights Activist, Maya Angelou, who once stated, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel" - Remember that.

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