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Equity, Education, and Validating Frustration with ‘On The Day You Begin’
[Image: Illustration from ‘On The Day You Begin’ written by Jacqueline Woodson &illustrated by Rafael López. A young girl stands on her apartment balcony, cheek resting on her hand, as she looks wistfully outside. Her other hand holds a book, as her little sister sleeps in the bed behind her and a blue bird flies above.]
On The Day You Begin
Picture book, Text is best for kiddos ages 7-10 (Images work for kiddos ages 3-8)
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Our first day of deschooling: Learning about the slow, chaotic devolution of school segregation
Our current school plan leaves us with is a shit-show where the most targeted, overworked folks are grasping for information that’s never coming, while all the folks who designed our new system hire private tutors and bounce.
Now that education systems are finally forced to become more equitable for immunocompromised students and families who don’t have internet access, no one is willing to let go of this urge to replicate ‘normal.’ So instead, we have to settle for... an even less accessible version of education than we had before. We’re all so eager to get back to the agony we’re used to, as it’s the devil we know.
Our city’s plan is: create a segregated hybrid model where some kids have no choice but to go to school (but only for a few hours so quit your job) and some kids have no choice to but stay home (so quit your job). Instead of asking the most most marginalized and targeted, we fell into the lazy trap of listening to those most powerful and loud.
This system is designed to appease parents are rushing to cram all the kids back into school full time – so kids can become vectors of disease. But of course it doesn’t. We don’t have the resources we need to protect teachers and students from infection, but we do have oodles of wealthy folks hiring private at-home tutors and networked pods while the rest of us flounder to cook, work, and comfort kids kids sobbing over broken zoom links.
It’s almost like the goal is to ever-widen that opportunity gap. Our teacher’s organization, disabled and immunocompromised families, and families of color are all asking for us to re-imagine high-quality distance learning so all kids can roll back into school when it’s safe to do so – instead of settling for a hastily tossed together hybrid option that actively segregates students and thins our resources.
Which – let’s be frank? It is. Designing a school system that shoves a handful of students into the ivy leagues, while ushering the rest to insecure contract work for Uber and Amazon warehouses is the goal.
Imagine what a back-to-school rollout would look like if it was designed by boots-on-the-ground educators, with the insight and input of our most targeted and at-risk students.
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What if stopped trying to replicate a system that was broken even before the pandemic?
Like caregivers and educators around the country, I thought it would be best to wait for more information before deciding how to move forward with schooling this year. But no one is willing to admit how long this pandemic will last. So no one can make the decisions they need to move forward.
Would my kids get the teacher we had hoped for – making the agony of distance learning worth it? (We did not.)
Would refusing to participate in school surveys about ‘which side of segregation would you like to be on?’ force the administration to center targeted families or just create a headache for overworked administrators trying to make plans? (No, and yes, a truly lose-lose situation!)
Would opting out of public education entirely for our dream liberation unschooling adventure be a gross exercise in exploiting our privilege, or would opting-in just subject our family to more ableist, confusing work? (Both!)
We’re one week into school. It’s Friday, and even our teachers don’t know what time we’re meeting on Monday. There is no information coming. We’re just gonna have to take a wild guess and deal with the consequences. We saw this coming – because most of the country opened schools way, way, way before us. We should know. But nah. I blame private education profiteers and eugenicists attending Covid 19 parties!
But honestly, this is all of our faults for hoping someone smarter than us would deal with it. It turns out the only folks who had the ability to make their voices heard this summer were the wealthy folks. The ones with strong opinions and yet so many options. Those with private tutors and 4-car-garage learning pods – those kids our school system was already designed to accommodate. Of course they’d advocate for the white savior ideal we never wanted, and then bail while we juggle the fallout.
And now it’s all of our responsibility to deal with white & wealthy flight – defunding public schools as those who fought hardest for stuff we didn’t want opt-out for private school, private tutors, and learning pods.
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Best laid plans!
I spent the previous week setting up the ideal sensory-friendly collaborative learning space – with pillows in just the right spot for a caring dialogue and windows open for a connection to nature. But of course children are agents of chaos and unpredictability. Nothing ever works out the way I plan.
[Image: Best-laid plans! The deschooling discovery room three minutes before our first official ‘class’ (family meeting), lovingly set out with pillows for each of our four family members to sit on and have a reasonable conversation together.]
How can we transform this shit-show into something our kids can learn from – and give them the agency to make better?
We have the choice on whether to homeschool or not. Honestly – with our disabilities, the fact that I work from home, and the whole ableist, white supremacist framework that our school system rests on – It would be much, much easier for us to quit school and do self-directed learning at home.
But our hope is to keep the kids enrolled in public school to keep cultivating interdependence within our local community – and to keep our tax dollars funding supplies and payroll for families who don’t have a choice.
Keeping my kids in school makes my life exponentially harder. It means we have to do deschooling to counter the negative messages, bias, and frustration the Earthquakes are picking up from zoom meetings. We’re half a week in and I am floundering.
Do we try to do double-schooling? Do we leave the schools and build an education that is actually accessible for our family? There is no good decision. So we gave the Earthquakes the facts, talked about our hopes and dreams – and put it to a vote
What actually happened with those carefully laid pillows:
[Image: The Earthquakes in the discovery room, ruminating over their votes. One is hiding underneath a coffee table. Another is lolling on the ground, staring up at the ceiling like a wiggly zombie that needs to pee but refuses to take a bathroom break. The pillows have been confiscated due to recurring battles.]
What we planned for the first day of Bumblebee Hollow Academy
Last week, we gathered for our first formal day of Bumblebee Hollow Deschooling Academy to talk as a family about circumstances, vision, and action. To scaffold our first official meeting, we reviewed the messages in the following books, discussed our options, and decided to vote on how we would move forward.
I had hoped to adjourn this hour of family schooling with us working together to send our mail-in-voter applications, but alas, the room devolved into a pillow fight and demands for snacks before we could get that far.
Helping kids explore informed voting and a consensus for action
- Facts: What are the facts we do know? What are we unable to change, what circumstances will have to accept and work around?
- Opinions: What are our visions for what we do want? What are our hopes and dreams for the future?
- What do we do if we don’t have enough information to make a decision? If we choose to wait – how long do we wait, and under what circumstances do we have to make an uninformed decision?
- Where and how can we find more information before we choose the policy for moving forward?
- What other stakeholders in our community should we encourage to vote on this?
- How will our decisions affect folks who have less resources than us?
Example: If we choose to opt-out of public school to preserve our own sanity – how are we impacting the wider community? Private schooling and homeschooling makes us complicit in defunding the public education system. Are we okay with that?
By opting-out of distance learning, that leaves a couple less kids for an overworked educator to handle.
Who does each decision benefit? Who does it hurt?
- How can we make voting more accessible? Should our vote be public, or is does that put people at risk?
- How does the outcome of our votes count? Do we need full consensus? Do some people’s voices count more than others? Can we opt-out of voting?
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What Actually Happened: Deviations from our “curriculum”
Okay so it turns out that children are complicated human beings with their own agendas and challenges with attention and self-interest.
We did manage to discuss the main point about the impact of our education choices – which is that we are being forced to make uninformed decisions. And our decisions that could do real harm both to us, and our wider community.
Bit we did decide to do as we learned in the books – wait until we have more information to make a decision. We would participate in distance learning for six weeks, and then re-assess based on how much busy-work, condescending low expectations, and ableist compliance grooming we encountered.
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- The Earthquakes asked me to compile their list of questions for their assigned teachers, which I’m gonna wait on because I guarantee no one has given them information such as ‘when is school?’ and ‘how long will we be on zoom calls each day?’ yet.
- How to manage our various auditory disabilities. Our carefully designed discovery learning space (aka the largest room in our house turned into a Waldorf-style sensory-friendly Valhalla) still needs some acoustic baffling, because between the kid who has voice modulation challenges, the trucks roaring by via those windows, and my auditory aversion, it’s like a torture chamber in there.
- Does dying hurt?
- What is this green table for? Is mom’s idea to put a candle on it a good idea? What are the environmental repercussions of burning unnecessary candles? Are battery-operated candles any better for the environment? What if the cat gets up there? Will we light the house on fire?
After the Earthquakes decided to do distance schooling, I ‘introduced’ them each to the teachers they had been assigned to. One teacher had a cute video about her website that they enjoyed and then got bored and wandered away from. The other teacher had a letter about her vacations, visits with family, and trips to the beach.
Meant for an audience of kids who had no choice but to choose distance learning when their friends are at school. Those who have isolate for various reasons. Kids who haven’t left their homes for over six months.
… So, like every oblivious ‘getting to know you’ back-to-school exercise where rich kids boast about vacations and fancy camps – that was something I had to prepare the kids for. (SERIOUSLY TEACHERS PLEASE STOP TURNING ICEBREAKERS INTO A LIFESTYLE COMPETITION.)
No judgement for folks who have the resources for this kind of thing – but we do not. My kids have been locked in our block since March, with rare excursions outside. They have been begging me to take them to the beach (without a beach house or access to a public restroom – how though?!!?), begging to visit their grandparents who are either managing Covid or at-risk themselves, and as always, begging to travel to places we will never afford. How would we do that?! We don’t have a damn beach house!
Reading a letter to my kids about how their teacher can’t empathize with the isolation and disappointment of this summer is not getting us into the headspace of ‘let’s give this a try.’ And honestly it just makes me want to flip a table?
So I read the letter, while viciously blocking my screen and leaving out the paragraph about all the hopes and dreams my kids wish they could achieve, but others are effortlessly curating on Instagram. And then we read On The Day You Begin.
We talked about:
- What are the awesome, unique summer experiences they got together as brothers?
- How lucky are we to have a home? A block to run around on?
- …and two parents who are working from home 24/7 for you to scream I need a snack! at! (We say with manic, plastered grins on our faces)
- How great is it that we had unlimited access to clean running water, a washer and dryer, and other luxuries!
And then, then we read the paragraph from our teacher. Her adventures paled in comparison with being able to watch soothing Korean cooking shows on youtube together each night. Or being able to influence thousands of kids to work a little harder for abolishing the police, anti-racism, and supporting our neighbors. And I bet those vacation people didn’t save up for years to finally afford a Nintendo Switch, which got ample use each morning. (Satisfying!)
This helped. Unlike all the years when my kids come deflated and sobbing after disclosing their boring-ass summers stuck on our block, we were able to proactively deal with, and empower the kids to see how lucky they are and how much power they hold.
So maybe this 6 weeks of distance schooling, if we work really super duper extra hard – can be transformed into something great?
Stay Curious, Stand Brave, and Support Public School
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