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What is a School?

Have I mentioned that I hate trying to teach on-line? Mentioned that everyday feels like a failure?

If you think that I am posting daily lessons on Seesaw and putting together ‘home learning’ packages because I want to, you are crazy. I don’t want to send packages home, I want to TEACH.

My passion is enquiry-based learning and it doesn’t involve booklets or time on the computer. It involves asking questions and then finding answers. It involves finding a problem and then seeking out different solutions. It involves critical thinking skills that can last for a lifetime.

There isn’t a cyber-bandaid big enough to help families cope with schools being closed because being at school isn’t just about learning to add and to spell.

According to the Global Partnership for Education, education plays a key role in human, social, and economic development. Education can promote gender equality, reduce child marriage, promote peace, and overall increases a person’s chances of having a healthy life.”

Does that sound like something that can be put on Seesaw or photocopied into a learning package?

School is part of the social structure that we have built to keep us functioning as a society. Parents can’t work from home and keep their kids learning in a school-styled cyberland because it doesn’t work.

It’s ok to give up on the internet based learning that your child’s teacher is trying to carve out for you. It’s ok if this all feels like it’s an impossible juggling act. Let the teacher know that you can’t balance this style of learning and stay sane. Let the teacher know that you and your child are ok (or are working on becoming more ok) because I guarantee you that your child’s teacher is worried.

Being done with trying to manage this weird at-home zoom-style of school life is fine, but please, please, don’t think of it as giving up on your child’s learning. Think of it as choosing a different avenue for learning.

Learning can be whatever your family makes it.

Last week my kids were interested in beavers and so we spent the week learning about beavers. This doesn’t mean that we sat at the computer and searched up beavers, or that we read and watched beaver educational videos.

We went out and walked along the river looking for beavers. We looked at areas that showed signs of beavers and areas that didn’t. We noticed how the river expanded and then receded. We spotted other animals that lived along the riverbank and we started to recognize the songs of a few of the birds that we kept seeing.

You might be thinking that that doesn’t sound like school to you. And if you are, great. I’m not trying to make my kids’ lives into school away from school. There is no room to fit homeschooling into the moments that I have around the online classroom I have to maintain.

But there is room for learning.

I give my kids structure during the day because without it, they feel lost. Our schedule gives the kids a sense of flow and purpose and it helps me to manage my work time around their learning.

Our schedules don’t have set periods of time and involve more trampoline and Lego than math, English and French. When the kids do academic work, they rarely ever work for more than twenty minutes at a time. We are not running a school, but that doesn’t mean that the kids aren’t learning.

The kids learn when we talk with them, exchange ideas and encourage them to wonder. They learn when they are doing origami or mastering a trick on their skateboards. Learning and school are not synonymous.

I follow every article about reopening schools in Canada. So far they have all succeeded in leaving me empty and broken.

Not just because it seems like school will not reopen for this school year (despite the fact that Manitoba has 0 new cases again today and only around 50 active cases in the province), but because I feel like our government has no idea what a school is, or why it’s important.

Schools are not just really large daycares. Schools are not data collection sites where we program students in literacy and numeracy. We are a place where your child belongs, where they can learn to regulate their impulses, talk about their feelings and build friendship skills. We have parent centres and food programs, we provide coats for kids and resources for families.

Don’t worry, I am fully aware that schools are far from perfect. We are built on an antiquated system that is filled with stereotypes. It’s not a perfect system, but it is our system and it’s hard to function without it.

When we talk about reopening schools, let’s talk about the mental and emotional strain that the closure is having on parents, teachers and students. Let’s talk about the loss of structure, freedom and community that is impacting the lives of families. Let’s lean towards empathy for each other and away from finger pointing and judgement.

Humans are not solitary animals. We are meant to come together and rely on each other. The physical danger of Covid is real, the economic danger is oppressive, but the mental and emotional cost is also mounting and needs to be a part of the conversation.

I’m not saying we should open everything up, my family is still practicing social distancing and is concerned about the impact that our decisions can have on our front line workers. But I’m also concerned with the mental and emotional wellbeing of my community.

Many countries in Northern Europe either never closed elementary schools or have already reopened them, finding that the spread of transmission for young children was low and the cost of keeping schools closed is high.

I don’t know what the answer is, I don’t think anyone does. I would just like the conversation to involve all the costs and variables. I’d like everyone who is struggling to know that they are important and their needs also count.

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