I look over her shoulder – my wife’s that is. And watch as the picture, the object of the puzzle, slowly but surely begins to appear. Picture puzzles are intentional. Public policy puzzles inevitable.
The pandemic puzzle was mostly dark at the beginning – those puzzles are the most difficult. Only the shape of the piece is instructive. We were introduced to a new shape – the structure of the virus – it had meaning only to a small sub-set of a small sub-set.
We were told to avoid this infectious virus at all cost and for the most part, we have. And we were told that the national treasury would take care of the costs. We now know that was window dressing, in part. What about mental health and education and community and so much more? Well, the optimists say the consequences of the pandemic were useful stimuli to help us “re-imagine” our role in the world.
Perhaps schools should add a re-imagining course so the next time we will be better able to respond to shock therapy. And while we are at it, perhaps we should re-imagine public health and start by asking whether assured access to individual health is a necessary element. I believe it is.
And, as we re-imagine public health, we should especially consider children with decades of life ahead of them. What are the consequences of sequestering children as they are abruptly required to learn a new way of learning? What about all those extracurricular activities that are often the handmaiden of personal growth?
A recent conversation with a mother of a ten year old boy who has devoted her life to children’s education was revealing. For her son, the abrupt end of the school year shut off his daily community and range of social services embedded in the school community. She also thought the day-to-day education quality was inferior.
I worked closely with my friend, Anne Adler, as we started the Reading Excellence and Discovery Foundation (READ) in New York City. We recalled the second year in our mission to bring children who were reading below grade level to grade level standards. READ began as an after-school program with high schoolers in the neighborhood tutoring reading-challenged first and second graders. In our second year, teachers told us we needed to begin a summer program, as the summer break caused regression.
We seniors – the most vulnerable – can look after ourselves, not perfectly, but approximately. Children can’t.
Public health, in the broader sense, says opening school in the fall is not an option. We must. Yes, in the narrower meaning, protective steps must be taken, but we have now had almost four months to re-imagine elementary and secondary education as an evolving part of the picture puzzle.
And we shouldn’t let our virtual school experiments simply be set aside. It is almost certain that elements of virtual schooling worked. While we are re-imagining, educators should glean lessons that might make homework more beneficial through virtual connections. My Mother, a teacher, was instrumental in my daily home schooling after I left the school.
Education, well it is about learning. What have we, educators and parents alike, learned during this unfortunate period of time that will make the future better? Human challenges will always puzzle us, but we should be better prepared than the last time.