Pro-Tip: At the Start of a New School Year, Don’t Play God

Pro-Tip: At the Start of a New School Year, Don’t Play God August 31, 2021

Me contemplating the new Scholastic Year

This is a pretty great piece of writing, full of cutting description and well-timed sarcasm. Very bracing for any day of the week. Here are some money quotes:

“There is no such thing as learning loss,” she [Myart-Cruz] responds when asked how her insistence on keeping L.A.’s schools mostly locked down over the last year and a half may have impacted the city’s 600,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade students. “Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.” She even went so far as to suggest darkly that “learning loss” is a fake crisis marketed by shadowy purveyors of clinical and classroom assessments.

So that is a curious idea. Also this:

In early March, when Newsom tried to coax teachers back into classrooms by dangling $2 billion worth of incentives for schools that reopened before April 1, Myart-Cruz dismissed his proposal as a boondoggle for wealthy neighborhoods and “a recipe for propagating structural racism.” As much of the rest of the state started bringing teachers and students back to campus full time, Myart-Cruz dug in, waiting until late April to only partly reopen for hybrid, part-time learning. When parents complained, pointing to the low incidence of COVID cases in schools that had fully reopened, Myart-Cruz dismissed their concerns as the product of their unexamined privilege.

Mmm, yes. I love the unexamined privilege trope:

“Are there broader issues at play? Yes, there are,” she says. “Education is political. People don’t want to say that, but it is.”

That I absolutely agree with. Education is political. It’s also spiritual, so that’s embarrassing. On we go:

“I love that my picture is the biggest one,” she said. “But here’s the trouble: You can recall the Governor. You can recall the school board. But how are you going to recall me?”

That seems to be a question that no one knows how to answer. And we continue:

Two new reports—from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company and the education assessment group NWEA—show that in the past year of remote schooling, schoolchildren have fallen dramatically behind, and none more so than low-income and Black and brown kids whose parents lack the resources to create an adequate classroom learning environment at home. Keeping L.A.’s schools closed isn’t doing those communities any favors.

It’s so interesting, the interplay between things like “rights” and things like “favors.” I wonder, is it possible that everything is more complicated than it looks? Probably not:

Pitting white, wealthy neighborhoods against poorer, more ethnic ones isn’t exactly a recipe for social equanimity. On the contrary, it tends to breed suspicion, hostility, myopia, and paranoia. Last winter, for example, as protests mounted against Myart-Cruz’s handling of remote teaching, the union leader saw it as a racial attack, not an educational dispute. She posted an article to Facebook in which a school superintendent in Chicago charged that parents pushing to get kids back in the classroom were fueled by “white-supremacist thinking.” “Right on!” Myart-Cruz wrote approvingly, going on to claim that she and other UTLA staffers were being “stalked by wealthy, white, Middle Eastern parents.”

Then, apparently, she tried to find out the race of those people who were opposing her, and some of them were newly arrived from Afghanistan. Hashtag So Awkward. Anyway, that doesn’t matter nothing really matters:

“We’re reenvisioning what the future of public schools will look like,” she says with assurance. In the end, Myart-Cruz may not get everything she wants—not even UTLA is powerful enough to end the conflict in the Middle East or even raise taxes on the wealthy—but it’s abundantly clear from the last year and a half how far she’s willing to go to push her agenda.

Imagine, systems so perfect that everyone would just naturally be good:

“Cecily wishes the world could be more like a classroom where she could get people to break down the boundaries between them and make them into a community,” he says. “With her in charge.”

Mmm, I love the smell of hubris in the early morning. So anyway, I am about to start my own school year, and I’ve been wondering anxiously about how everyone in my town is doing as the long complications of a worldwide disease that seems to be morphing and changing continues to do that. The problem for all of us is that there is no ideal that we can reach. We can’t perfectly educate any child—no one can. Just when you think you’ve got something figured out, the child changes, or it turns out you were mistaken, or covid comes into the world and spoils everything.

What I like best about Christianity, for those who don’t know which way to turn, is that it does provide some helpful clarifications along the way. It can help you—like that vial of whatever it was that Galadriel bestowed Frodo that he kept forgetting about apparently until it was basically too late—think through all the bad options and pick the least bad one.

One of those helpful clarifications is the Render Unto Caesar ones. That one goes like this: God is the maker and designer of your child and your child doesn’t belong to you, he or she belongs to him (God). The child is only yours for a while. All you have to do, to the best of your pathetic ability, is deliver up the soul of the child back to God so that he (God, not the child) won’t be mad at you. You don’t really have any rights or privileges in this situation, other than the immense privilege of getting to be with the child for a while, though it is often hard to “feel” the truth of this as you struggle along. The great thing about this is that you can deliver up the soul of your child in many different kinds of imperfect situations. You don’t have to land on just one bad educational situation, you can work with all of them!

Another helpful clarification is the You’re Not That Powerful one. Someone gave me this one before the birth of my first child and I have found it to be such a comfort. The thing is, both you and your child are sinners. And sin makes you weak. You not only can’t do what you know you should do, most of the time you don’t even want to. And neither does your loathsome adorable offspring. Unless you absolutely set out to ruin the life of your child (which, as we are unfortunately privy to because of social media, apparently a lot of people are so malign and wicked that they set out to do just that), you really can’t utterly destroy everything. If you do the best you can and beg God constantly for help and ask for a lot of forgiveness of everyone, it will probably be ok. God is stronger than you and he makes it all ok—eventually. That’s literally why he died for you.

And, for good measure, I’ll add in, Don’t Play God. But that’s true for everyone, whether or not you’re involved in the educational industrial complex or just trying to teach a recalcitrant child to read. Have a nice day! I’ve got some kids I’ve got to go yell at about their “learning loss.” Boy, that is a great great term. Almost as good as “impactfulness.”

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