Like many of you, I’ve been listening to the public school debates. Long before I became a full-time artist I was a teacher. Education is close to my heart. As I listen to parents and teachers swimming in the stress of remote learning vs. onsite and what it all will look like, I can feel the emotions well up. When I see schools installing what amount to plexiglas cubicles for students, or teachers being encouraged to update their wills, I lose it.
What have we come to?
None of the problems parents, teachers, and schools are facing right now are new. Classes filled to the brim? Not new. Lack of adequate art supplies? Not new. Poor HVAC systems? Unequal resources? Teachers and parents pushed to their limits? None of this is new.
The pandemic was just the straw that broke the education camel’s back.
But the reason I started this website, started writing all of these posts, is because CREATIVITY MATTERS. Yes, I’m yelling. Loudly, passionately.
I wrote about reimagining before, and education is part of that. We have an opportunity to rethink things from the ground up. We didn’t get to choose the timing, but we do get to impact the outcome. And we need to start now.
The beautiful thing is that there isn’t a single right answer. There will be a variety of solutions to a variety of challenges.
But they all start by asking the same questions:
What do we want education to look like?
What does a real parent-teacher partnership entail?
How can employers of parents of school-age children now learning from home be supportive of this new dynamic?
There are a thousand more, but they’re all answerable. All we need is a big, fat dose of creativity.
When the pandemic first hit, people jumped into action. Everyone with a sewing machine started making masks. Distilleries began converting fermenting grapes into hand sanitizer. Artists with 3-d printers started fabricating face shields. Engineers devised tubes for connecting multiple valves to a single ventilator.
This was creativity in action. Would it have all been easier or more efficient with better leadership? Yes – and a renewed opportunity is staring us in the face.
Back in my early days of education, I taught a summer program that reimagined STEM learning integrated into every subject. It was sponsored by a science museum which provided each teacher with a science-rich curriculum for their subject area. At the end of a week we had a group event where teachers and students shared what they learned.
The group I remember most vividly was physical education. The kids were divided into groups of 6-8 students and given the name of a common machine. They had to act out its mechanical actions, with each child playing a role and everyone acting in a collaborative manner. The group I saw was a washing machine, and the young girl who played the agitator took her role very seriously.
It opened my eyes to what phys ed could look like. Collaborative gym?? Who knew there was such a thing?
Back in my day, gym was basically Lord of the Flies with uniforms. Dodge ball was a blood sport. The size difference between a petite fifth grade girl (me) and a post-growth spurt boy (everyone else) was enough to determine who lived and who died. The “death” was mere mortified embarrassment if you were lucky, but if you weren’t, you could kiss your working innards goodbye.
If they could reimagine gym, surely we can reenvision everything else.
We have the perfect opportunity right in front of us.
What does creativity look like in the education sphere? Can we create cross-disciplinary initiatives that span schools, grade levels, or even states? What about mentorships and buddy systems between parents, students, and teachers? Can middle schoolers help elementary students with their reading? Can secondary art students create activity packs for primary kids? Can music students teach others a new instrument?
Or what about the public sector? Can companies donate part of their bandwidth to their local school district? Can corporate data centers provide free hosting for online instructional materials? Can unused office spaces with a sudden excess of paper, markers, and highlighters gift them to employee parents for their school-aged kids? Or can they loan out unused office furniture for schools deemed safe enough for socially distant in-person education?
And that’s all beside the relatively simple fixes. Adjusting the school calendar to push the start day back to a safer date. Letting go of our iron grip on the agrarian calendar. Holding classes outside where possible. Foregoing standardized testing for a year to remove some emotional pressure. Or, simply allowing ourselves to make big decisions on a semester-by-semester basis rather than setting them in stone for an entire year.
There isn’t a single right answer, but there are a thousand worthy options. Necessity has always been the mother of invention, and the need has never been greater. If gym can be a collaborative sport, why can’t education?
It’s time to reimagine.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on this important topic. Please share this post and leave your comments below. Let’s start a dialogue and make a difference – for our kids, for our schools, and for our communities.