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And What Of The Children?

Image of Black Educator with Black Students

In the months since the US government formally announced COVID-19 as a global pandemic, government officials have made calls for city and statewide quarantines to control the spread. However, [self] quarantine as a solution has been disrupted by the government’s inability to provide assistance to its citizens and by the ruling class’ organized push to “reopen America” in spite of the overwhelmingly affected colonized people who make up “essential workers”. 

As states begin to reassess reopenings because the number of cases continues to increase across the country, there can be no question that we have all been made to embrace a new and alienated normal—- six feet distancing, wearing masks in public and avoiding human contact.  But what can we expect from this sort of alienation? Karl Marx’s theoretical basis of alienation depicts that under capitalism people invariably lose the ability to determine life and destiny when deprived of the right to think of themselves as the director of their own actions. 

Where is this most evident? In the realm of public education. 

In the beginning weeks of state lockdowns, there was a serious focus on smoothly transitioning from classrooms to online learning. Online learning has always presented itself as an equity issue. During a global pandemic, however, the issues of equity are magnified. The initial concerns for this transition have been, “who’s going to pay for the computers? Who’s going to pay for Internet access? Who’s going to pay for the teacher development?”

According to the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) executive director Daniel Domenech, only 30%-40% of American public schools were equipped and prepared to offer online instruction. Fewer than half of American schools have what’s known as “ one-to-one laptop programs” that loan computers to students for the school year. Households without a laptop or computer is one of many challenges schools, teachers and students have faced in this transition. 

Recent census data showed an estimated 18% of students do not have home access to broadband internet making them unable to access online learning. The ASAA also acknowledges that fewer than half of teachers have the requisite training preparedness to immediately offer effective online instruction. In fact, the initial hiccups highlighted that hardly anyone knows how to teach young children online. 

Considerations made for children of early childhood intervention and other special needs programs that provide learning assistance became limited, challenging the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  While we should acknowledge the hindrance COVID-19 has placed on that aspect of learning, we should also acknowledge how states have often found ways to curtail and violate that act and how online learning gives yet another advantage for bad practices it took three separate revisions of the act to address.

Aside from the issue of equity and accessibility is the criminalization of Black households, which have been made easier during the pandemic driven transition from the classroom to online learning. As school boards rushed to make online learning sufficient, they were also sure to enact policies around online learning that specifically target Black households. 

Jane Crow policies are discriminatory laws against [Black] women, specifically Black mothers, that often results in the criminalization of their parenting and removal of children from the home. Most recently, A mother in NYC waiting for a city-mandated iPad to arrive for her child’s learning was met by Child Protective Services for failure to “check-in. The school-to-prison pipeline has also managed to find its way to online learning. A 15-year-old in Michigan was incarcerated during the coronavirus pandemic after a judge ruled that not completing her schoolwork violated her probation. 

Then there’s the troubling issue of shifting public schools online placing public education in the hands of private entities. During the beginning of lockdown, countless corporations like Comcast offered to provide households with “free WiFi” and others in the private sector made donations of hardware and software. Zoom offered schools and teachers free access to conference rooms. These swift actions made by corporations, while arguably noble, does not challenge the inherent issues with privatizing already gutted public schools. 

While education is a commodity, it is the teacher who produces said education. The value of educators can not be overstated. Teachers and parents are not (inherent) enemies, but the decades of neoliberal policies being influx into communities, as well as school administrations, has created a dynamic that does not fully challenge the impacts of ruling class policy. 

Though one can not ignore the ways the colonial education provided to our children through public schools are in service to the state, that existing fact should not make us any less alarmed by the ways the state has taken full advantage of the pandemic to fast-track plans to end public education, altogether.

Public schools were already facing budget cuts, toxic buildings, the influx of Teachers for America, frozen wages, and the never-ending challenge of meeting the needs of impoverished students with little support and drained resources. While the current debates have been funneled into a shallow pitting of teachers against parents, and states are making no attempts to defund police in any material way yet continue to defund schools, we must take back the narrative. 

The politically motivated polarization of the Trump administration’s uncompromising stance on reopening of schools has caused many to disregard the larger context— we are being left to fend for ourselves. Instead of moving like individuals, there should be collective calls for deprivatization of services we are now finding ourselves completely dependent on as quarantines continue due to deliberate mishandling of pandemic. 

There should be even louder calls for and in support of canceling the rents across the country. We are not only dealing with what may happen to students if they return to school but what may happen to them when they find themselves and their families as one of the millions expected to be evicted and displaced a month into the school year. 

Furthermore, if we can acknowledge the issues with youth in closed spaces (like schools) during a pandemic, then there should be strong appeals to close juvenile jails just as there have been the calls to remove police from schools, especially as we are witnessing the criminalization of students whose learning has been shifted to an online space. 

It is evident that colonized communities will be disproportionately and negatively affected by each decision made, from jobs to healthcare to schools. It is also evident that Democrats and Republicans, who have either done bare minimum or nothing at all, are beholden to a neoliberal vision for the US. We can not be reliant on them to make self- serving decisions on our behalf. Organizing towards revolutionary socialism is the only resolve.

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Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.

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