If I learned anything from Kip as a young teacher, it was to teach children from where they are—conceptually, emotionally, and physically. Right now, where we are is in the middle of a pandemic, a national reckoning with racial injustice, and the impacts of climate change. Some of us are learning and teaching from home. Others are struggling to stay healthy in our schools and universities. Derechos, hurricanes, floods, forest fires, and droughts have all made the news in different parts of the country. Could teachers use those big ideas as a starting point to engage student learning?
As the school year begins, I wonder how many teachers/schools/administrators are taking advantage of the enormous learning opportunities 2020 has brought us. The pandemic has altered how students are going to school but also brought big concepts into everyday news and discussions. Teachers and students could be embracing this shared experience as the perfect time to learn about our immune system, why handwashing kills germs, exponential growth curves, computer modeling, etc., etc. The list is endless.
My fear is that most teachers, schools, and districts are trying to shoehorn education in this incredible time into an old shoe. A shoe designed under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 holding ideas, now entrenched in the public school system, about academic progress and accountability. A view of education that aspires to achieving established standards and testing as its goal.
My hope is that some students will forever remember 2020-2021 as the year they learned about the novel coronavirus in school, the year they interviewed people about their experience with the virus, or made friends online with someone they might otherwise have never known. Or perhaps the year they got their school to stop using disposable plastic. I hope school children this year will learn to read and write and do math in engaging ways because their teachers embraced the opportunities of the moment. I envision teachers seeing the space and time and place in which students are living, and expanding their learning from there.
I hope learning in 2020 is framed around the new NCLB: Nature, the Coronavirus, Local interests, and Black Lives Matter. I hope some teachers’ vision of 2020 is that it is filled with unique learning opportunities and that they run with them.