My mom has been sitting with Covid, in her nursing home, for a couple of weeks; my kids and I have been home avoiding Covid for more than a couple of months. I was complaining about the heat and trying to stay fit during quarantine after too much time teaching from my couch, and boom: I fell and am now stuck on the couch overthinking and planning because as a teacher, it is a pre-req for greatness, right? While some teacher friends scramble to make wills, we all contemplate what choice we have vs. what choices our states and districts will give, I penned:
First let me say, I am an educator; I am an advocate for equity and for reading and writing and learning new things whether they be formal or informal, and I think that each has a major place in people’s lives to help us be life-long learners. Whether we are watching a youtube video on how to reset our modems, change a tire, or frame drywall, we are learning. We might be reading reviews of the newest budget app and its pros and cons, reading and discussing one classic novel a month with friends, or taking a community cooking class–still learning. Educators coin it as curiosity and becoming a life-long learner. So, while I am an advocate, I am more of a foster-er. Teachers want to foster potential; teachers want to foster confidence in trial and failure and trying again. Teachers want to foster this love of LIFE-LONG LEARNING. That being said, one year of a less-than-remarkable online education while people wait out a vaccine is not going to kill anyone, while quite possibly opening buildings while Covid is so dominant will.
I have taught since 2004 and had my degree in TESOL (teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) since 2010. Within this degree, we learn–either anecdotally or formally with real students–about sweet young kids we consider SIFE students: Students with Interrupted Formal Education. While there are many textbook definitions to describe this, let me use stories of kids I taught and know, not all of whom were from homes with multiple languages: one girl was in an orphanage in Ukraine and did not see written language until she moved to the US at 6 where she was dumped directly in US schooling; one girl had the same Ukrainian orphanage background and came at 2 with major remnants of PTSD with flashbacks of alcohol and physical abuse and neglect in the home prior; one girl was born and raised here, but raised by deaf parents who did not know what to do about that and was neglected formal education and even outward spoken word in the home until adopted at 7. She started Kindergarten late and only had a vocabulary of 37 words when those teachers tested her for school. One family I taught spent 4 years in a refugee camp in one country that spoke one language, and were taught in the camp in ANOTHER language, and neither of those languages were their actual language. ALL of these students have prospered, some HUGELY surpassing an average student I have come to know. Some hated writing but loved reading; some hated reading but loved writing. Many craved science or art or business classes later. Many of these students adapted to using voice texting or audio books or both; some had me scribe for them; some I had to have special permission from principals to check out more books than they were allowed for weekend or summer reading because they hungered for more. And while books are written about these types of learners, these kids are not anomalies. They had survived interrupted formal education and yet they were ALL OK in the end, many BETTER than ok. WE are going to be ok. My son, who I REALLY REALLY want in my building’s hallways learning from and laughing with my superior colleagues in person, will be okay.
Am I worried about kids without technology? Yes. Am I worried about kids who have parents who cannot read themselves nor do they have even one book in their house besides the Bible or Quran? Yes. These are not theoreticals; these are MY students. But it reminds me of standing in a one-roomed school last summer in Peru and watching a man, probably not even 25 years of age describe how he taught approx. 90 kids on his project/commune. We stood with 15 St. Louis highschoolers and were amazed that this man taught all the subjects to kids from 5-16; he asked the 13-16 year olds to stick around and learn more, so they could help the younger ones; he made altered schedules for families that needed to have their kids farming and cooking and cleaning at different hours of the day; he made altered schedules because they could not fit 90 kids in the 12 or so seats in the one-roomed school with no working toilet. His hardship was horrendous to many of our North American eyes. His passion was beautiful to most of those same eyes as well. We shed many tears that day and were humbled, students and teacher-chaparrones alike.
But my point is, we have so many resources, be they human or material, and we need to be figuring out how to make them work for kids safely while we wait out a vaccine. We have had a history of times when people have overcome circumstances for learning: Native Americans inescapably learned English when colonists force fed it with Bibles and Bible-related primers; slaves and descendents had to sneak discarded reading materials out to read and teach each other in private; we made it through 2 world wars, an industrial revolution, a great depression and have educated ourselves in and out of schools. If we homeschool for a year, we will be ok. As tired as I am of my couch, we will be okay. We can offer assistance to those in need of the aforementioned items than many lack, no matter if that be within our districts or across them, school-funded or charity-funded. Teachers can foster potential online; teachers can foster the confidence in trial and failure and trying again, ONLINE. We will be okay if we are here for each other now because then we can REALLY be here for each other with fewer lost next year, so the kids can become curious LIFE-LONG LEARNERS while their grandparents are around to watch.
Here are a just a few more famous autodidacts that have overcome lack of resources or access to formal education:
William Shakespeare quit at 13.
August Wilson dropped out at 9th grade.
Ray Bradbury graduated highschool but says he learned more by going to the library 3x a week on his own.
My personal favorite Americans:
Ben Franklin quit school at 10.
Mark Twain quit at 11.
Frederick Douglass didn’t learn the alphabet until he was 12.
Abe Lincoln walked miles to the library before doing his chores, so he could read by firelight in the evening after finishing work by nightfall. Many even called him lazy.