The new Bank Street Occasional Paper Series #46—”The Pandemic as a Portal: On Transformative Ruptures and Possible Futures for Education”—launched today to examine inequities in education that have been accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic and how we can reimagine the system in a way that centers justice and makes high-quality education a reality for all.
In the Q&A below, guest editor Mariana Souto-Manning, President, Erikson Institute, provides a closer look at the timely theme of this issue. She hopes that, through the powerful insights of contributors, including scholars, teachers, educators, parents, and children, we can begin to recognize this historical moment as a “transformative rupture” that allows us to rehabilitate our education system and reorient teaching and learning to create a future that our children deserve.
Q: How does the COVID-19 pandemic, which shows a major disruption in schooling, exacerbate inequities in Black, Indigenous, and other communities of Color?
A: For many, the COVID-19 pandemic brings longstanding systems of racial injustice and inequity into focus. As the Centers for Disease Control noted, COVID-19 unequally affects communities of Color, visible in racially disproportionate rates of infection and death. Not only are essential workers more likely to belong to and reside in communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19, but they are also at higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19 due to the nature of their work in food delivery, janitorial work, the care industry, and more.
This is not a new issue; historic systems of subjugation, oppression, and exclusion prevent Black, Indigenous, and communities of Color from having fair opportunities. Together, racial discrimination, exclusion from health care, the overconcentration of workers of Color who work in essential settings associated with higher exposure to COVID-19, and the disinvestment in the education of Black, Indigenous, and other children of Color disrupt schooling. Additionally, the lack of social supports requires adults to leave home to work and to find child care arrangements to support children’s at-home learning. As schools engage remotely, there are resource gaps in communities of Color—including the lack of access to personal computers and Wi-Fi. The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on how schooling has long been marked by damage, inequities, and dysfunctionality.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are able to glimpse into the power of families educating their children. We are witnessing some of the harm being inflicted by centering white curriculum and imposing white ways of communicating as superior. Black, Indigenous, and other families and communities of Color organized. Yet, the narrative we hear today is one of pathology, of learning loss, of the essentiality of returning to “normal” and remediating children. The loss of life due to COVID-19 is higher in communities of Color, where children are more likely to live in intergenerational families. These children were impacted by multiple losses—not just of their school routines and social activities, but also of family members and friends. I know that there were many losses brought about by COVID-19, but it is shortsighted to ignore the incredible learning that takes place within the context of homes, families, and communities.
Instead, this special issue shows how—although children missed their friends—they did not miss the rigidity of schooling—of having to control their bodies while sitting on the rug for read-alouds and mandated naptime at ages 3 and 4. They relished learning alongside parents and elders in their communities. Although they were not being schooled, they were being educated in powerful ways.
Ultimately, COVID-19 school closures highlighted the inequities of schooling for Black and Brown children. It peeled back the curtain into what happened in classrooms, how damaging curricular expectations, learning goals, and schooling structures and norms were on Black, Indigenous, and other children and families of Color. Given this, instead of engaging in what is expected and normalizing the harm being done to children who do not see themselves reflected in the curriculum, in their teachers, and in their schooling expectations, it is important that we engage in the pursuit of justice, upending inequities and focusing on potentialities.
Q: The introduction references the pandemic as a “transformative rupture” and an opportunity to disrupt “long-established educational structures.” What is an example of what this might look like in action?
A: A transformative rupture is a concept developed by Delgado Bernal (2018). It is an opportunity to revisit some of the myths we have been socialized into—what’s best for young children, that academic language must be a focus, and more. Learning so that we can unlearn these myths is very much at the root of transformative ruptures, which are necessarily entangled with healing. In schooling, transformative ruptures require breaking with the past. We can certainly acknowledge lessons learned but should be cautious about allowing them to determine the future. Instead, we need to focus on the ingenuity and brilliance of historically dispossessed young children, families, and communities. It requires us to ask: how will we reorganize schooling in a way that honors, cultivates, and sustains the voices, values, practices, and histories of Black, Indigenous, and communities of Color? This question guided many actions by teachers, which are part of this special issue.
For example, author Grasilel Diaz was able to engage grandparents in learning—as they joined their grandchildren in learning—via Zoom. She noted that she was able to engage with families that would rarely attend parent-teacher meetings within the context of schools. Better yet, she was able to develop deep and meaningful relationships with them. Author Jessica Martell brought racial justice and trauma-informed teaching into focus in her teaching. She was able to reckon with the (surprising) fact that some students felt better in their homes, where they could easily go to the bathroom, drink water, and have snacks. Schooling, she found out, was organized according to a carceral structure for some kids. In their essay, Julie Orelien-Hernandez, Patricia Pión, and Rafaella Soares-Bailey attended to the need for systems to support the mental health and well-being of teachers and to attend to their full humanity and need for connections. These are a few of many transformative ruptures that can inform future systemic directions for school systems.
Q: In addition to teachers, educators, and parents, this issue invites the perspectives of five children who help us understand schooling during the pandemic firsthand. What can we learn from their artistic contributions?
A: We included contributions from children so that they can be recognized as brilliant humans with their own agency who need freedom to express their talents and identities. During the pandemic, children were free of some of the limitations they experienced at school where they need to conform to a group setting. The contributions of five girls show how having alternative schedules supported their learning, how they were able to teach younger siblings, how much they benefited from being with their parents (and grandparents), as well as how challenging the transition from home to school can be for young children who do not automatically feel like they belong in the classroom. Their perspectives and insights are invaluable and can serve as a North Star inviting us to free our students from carceral systems of schooling. Instead, they help us to center the importance to think more creatively and expansively about schooling—in the pursuit of freedom and justice.
Q: How can the pandemic serve as an opportunity to re-envision our education system and reimagine possibilities for all our students?
A: The pandemic disrupts the status quo and provides us the opportunity to move forward in building an educational system that is more just—one that honors the creativity, imagination, and wisdom of children and their families. As a society, we were confronted with the importance of early childhood education—and the challenges that teachers and caregivers face in terms of professional respect and compensation. More people are now aware of what successful learning environments can look like for young children, and we can move that awareness into action so that we do not fall back into old patterns from the past.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from this issue?
A: That they can and must challenge pedagogies of “expectability,” which are restrictive and serve to constrain. Instead, I hope that readers engage in reimagining education in hopeful and transformative ways via pedagogies of potentiality. I hope that readers can learn from the examples provided—focusing on potentialities.
I hope that the insights provided by creative and committed teachers, children’s ingenuity and brilliance, mothers’ letters to their children, and studies on the need for us to center racial justice in teaching and teacher education call upon our educational system to orient toward a North Star logic—moving toward justice and freedom.