“It’s a big mess,” says Hollie Gesaman, a mother of two young children in Streetsboro, Ohio.
She was talking about the upcoming school year, of course. Her local school has drawn up “potential plans,” she said, “but the bottom line is that there’s really not a 100% good choice.” Send the kids to school? There’s a health risk. Keep them home, and what about socialization? Home school? Unschool? Let them watch cartoons and learn the entire Acme product line? “There’s a negative consequence for each possibility,” Gesaman sighs. “Just pick a punch in the face.”
The punch suddenly getting the most play is the “pandemic pod.”
“Pods went from, ‘Oh, isn’t that interesting?’ to ubiquitous in about 72 hours,” says Robert Pondiscio, a former Bronx public school teacher who now works at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
A pod is a small group of families who approve of one another’s quarantining habits and whose kids will spend the next few weeks, months or God-knows-how-long learning together away from the schoolhouse. These may be kids who were going to the same school already or are just neighbors. They may be the same age or not. They may tune in together to the school district’s online lessons, or they may choose a totally different home-schooling curriculum. They may hire a teacher, or they may have the parents run the show. And they may or may not strive to include a kid or kids from a different income level, race or neighborhood to create more equity. (That last one is a big issue in the Facebook chats.)
In other words: Everything is up for reimagining. “These pandemic pods are the ultimate in parent-driven education innovation,” says Kerry McDonald, author of “Unschooled.”
Amy Evans, a writer with two kids in Montclair, New Jersey, is trying to figure it all out. She thinks she will probably have her daughter attend whatever online/offline hybrid the local high school puts together. But what about her son, an eighth grader? Evans says she may not send him back “if it’s a whole lot of reviewing and hand-washing and still potentially unsafe.”
For her part, Gesaman organized an informal pod of first graders in her home in the spring. She is ready to do it again this fall.
Does having a parent who can teach or having a home with enough space for a class or even confining a pod to people who can quarantine — thereby excluding the children of essential workers — create inequity? That’s the question plaguing a lot of parents. Understandably so, says Pondiscio, “because everything in education causes inequity.”
He’s not being flip. As the author of “How the Other Half Learns,” he wants more equity between the halves, too. One idea that he and others have been discussing is giving students’ education dollars not to the school but directly to families. They could hire a part-time private tutor or pool their stipends and hire a teacher for their pod.
Corey DeAngelis, director of school choice for the Reason Foundation, calls this idea “universal basic education income.” Like food stamps that can be used at any grocery store, these education dollars could be spent wherever the family thought best, including at the local public school.
But to Beth Isaacs, a public school music teacher in Lexington, Kentucky, that sounds like a recipe ripe for the very worst inequity. The public school system takes students across the economic, educational and ethnic spectrum and gets them all learning together. She worries that giving the education budget directly to parents means some would choose to avoid any kind of mixing: race, religion, ability.
Clearly, this is a fraught moment. But no matter what happens, this is going to be a year of educational changes: pods, no pods or — given how things have been going — maybe even Tide Pods.
Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of “Has the World Gone Skenazy?” To learn more about Lenore Skenazy (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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