The Education System “Normal” Needs an Update
Schools are back in session. After over a year of online school or hybrid learning, about half the schools in the nation are easing back into in-person learning environments. But what is normal for school? We cannot keep ignoring that the education system has many holes and excludes resources and educational opportunities that would otherwise benefit students. Education and socialization at school can create generations of proactive, well-educated, well-prepared individuals who can successfully navigate our world. Education can break cycles of generational poverty and raise students that are brought down by systemic barriers. So why is our education system failing?
The structure of our modern schools is outdated. Established based on factory model learning, this mode of learning consists of students seated in rows and following strict schedules. Historically, this replicates the way factories were run in the industrial era to train workers to be compliant, punctual, and do exactly what their instructor asks of them. A curriculum centered around repetition and memorization rather than engaging students to be innovative and form thoughts and opinions on their own proves to be fatally flawed. Students are encouraged to get good grades and are told completing assignments indicates success; however, these aren’t skills that every student excels at. This already sets many students up for failure. As schools are moving away from online learning and back into classrooms, it is essential to reconsider the way classrooms can be restructured.
Switching to virtual learning was the best course of action to keep students safe, however, online school wasn’t always a viable option for those without accessible or permanent housing or internet. Educators have had to learn to navigate these issues to ensure students are still receiving a good, quality education. Melissa Paventi is a social studies teacher at Liverpool High School who has dealt with the struggle of adjusting to online school firsthand.
“When we were learning online, I couldn’t get anyone to engage with me,” Paventi explained. “It was very difficult to find a method that worked.”
“This new online learning environment is one that has taken a lot of adjusting to and is still being integrated. With the added anxieties of living in a pandemic and for families who were hit hard by economic devastations, providing quality education for students has become increasingly challenging. The biggest lesson I learned was I had to be more flexible for students that came from non-traditional households,” Paventi shared. “Students who were trying to manage adult things while they are young people and that was last year’s lesson. Sometimes a deadline isn’t a deadline anymore. But it wasn’t worth the harm it was doing to my students.”
Not every student learns the same; people are at different places in their education and succeed with different methods. The way educators teach is just as important as what they teach. “I think you need a variety of styles,” Paventi explained. “I try to use different methods and different models for engagement.” The use of High Impact Teaching Strategies helps students learn in an immersive and engaging environment. Collaborative learning in the classroom and giving students multiple exposures to topics rather than memorization and regurgitation are some strategies that engage students to ask questions and use problem-solving skills.
For younger students, socialization and communication skills are critical. Before COVID, students interacted with their peers, learned social skills and developed their knowledge of the world. But with online school, how can teachers encourage this development?
Aracelli Morgan is a kindergarten teacher at a Title 1 school in South Bronx called Icahn Charter School 1. In her classroom, she believes “providing students with opportunities to discuss their thinking and work together, even online, can benefit the students’ communication skills.” She added, “I believe that nothing can replicate in-person learning.” Adding daily check-in for mental and social health, creating an established routine to help students maintain stress and allowing students to collaborate with their peers through online activities are all methods teachers could use to promote social-emotional learning.
A part of learning is being aware of current world news and how people are being affected by it. Just in the past year, life-changing events have hit many people: devastating loss of loved ones due to COVID, social justice movements, rise in hate crimes, elections and natural disaster events.
“Based on my experience, not many schools make it a part of the curriculum or the school environment to discuss these topics,” Morgan explained. “Most of the time, it is the educator’s job to prioritize the discussion of these topics in the classroom. Discussions are happening but not because of the school administration. Improvement is needed. Purposeful planning to teach on these topics is necessary.”
We can see this battle between educators and those in power in our current news. A ban on teaching critical race theory in classrooms is present in multiple states such as Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and more. Supporters of this law believe school is not the environment where students should be discussing these topics of race and gender. Restrictions on teaching these topics makes it difficult for educators to engage their students in important conversations about society. To be in a space where one’s struggles are recognized and validated fosters a healthy space for healthy discussions. How can we teach growing children to be respectful, inclusive and intelligent adults if they never grow up in a space where they are exposed to the real world?
Unfortunately, what educators teach is often out of their control. Due to the stress of risking their own health, being responsible for the health of all their students and being overworked and underpaid, an overwhelming amount of teachers leave their jobs for their own well-being. Educators are doing their part to create positive and engaging environments for their students, but more pressure must be put on higher-ups who are controlling what is taught in schools. State governments set budgets and set standards for the curriculum and testing. School boards, which are usually locally elected, regulate budgets and are in charge of the allocation of resources; in many cases, a teacher’s classroom budget is predetermined. People working in state governments don’t interact and work in classrooms, or come in close contact with students. The curriculums they’re creating do not incorporate the intersecting issues in our society; rather, they have a heavy focus on math and science. Alternatively, a good example of inclusive learning is STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education. It prioritizes multiple educational foundations and doesn’t place emphasis on one aspect. Its goal is to implicate real-world application and encourage creativity.
Running schools is a difficult task and it’s important to acknowledge that for schools to run, hard-working people are putting in the effort to create spaces for learning. However, it’s crucial to be aware that there are parts of the system that are simply not working. As voters and members of society, we can put pressure on lawmakers and school administrations to confront the failures of our education system. We need the upcoming generations to be educated in environments that promote positive change and incorporate holistic learning. In order to foster a more inclusive environment in schools that better prepares students to succeed, we need to accept and advocate for a reformed education system.
Navroop Kaur is a first-year speech-language pathology major who wants to make education accessible. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.