We have been in distance learning for almost a semester now, and schools around the world have been talking about how to implement distance learning or in some cases how to safely implement in-person learning. Most of the discussion is about how to solve logistical challenges.
How do we social distance in a classroom?
How do we check the temperatures of 120 Freshmen ?
How do we take attendance over Zoom?
How do we distribute Hot Spots? and so on.
While these all are important questions for the next month, we need to take a step back, look at the world as it is and ask ourselves if we feel that our current education system is preparing our kids for the world.
Our school is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we have been at the forefront of two of the three biggest issues in our country. An early February death in San Jose was linked to the Coronavirus, and we have been in some form of sheltering-in-place since mid-March.
Summer time and outdoor activities were supposed to bring us relief from the Coronavirus threat, but instead we have been battling record wildfires and record heat for the past month.
Although we have not had the sustained protests for racial justice that have taken place in other cities, the Bay Area is plagued by racism and according to a recent report by the Mercury News, Black residents make up only 7% of the combined population of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, [yet] they accounted for a staggering 27% of those killed by police. [A study cited in the same article also found that] Black people here are more likely to be killed by police than in any other metro area in America but Oklahoma City. It is no overstatement to say that climate change, a pandemic, and racism are three big problems that threaten our existence like never before. These are serious problems requiring new solutions and new ways of being.
It’s within this context that we have to ask ourselves if we should just be focused on changing the logistics of education. Time is running out to address these issues and the younger generation needs a commitment from the adults that we will help prepare them to face the world that they are entering.
This is why we have revamped our design thinking curriculum to have students focus on solving these issues. Currently our 11th and 12th grade students are doing a design challenge around what it means to be anti-racist ;our 10th grade students are learning how to apply their design thinking skills toward one of the UN Sustainable Development goals, while our 9th graders learn the fundamentals of design thinking. Although they may not solve these issues during their four years of high school, when they leave they are going to be more informed and better equipped to address the problems we are all facing.
Now is also the perfect time for schools to make this shift. This generation is going through something that none of us have ever experienced. They will be forever changed. The tide has shifted against standardized testing. Society and students want more out of our educational system. The adults need to provide students something more important than a 1600 on the SAT.
During this triple threat of a global health crisis, severe weather, and racism, we can’t just ask ourselves the logistical question of, “What do we need to do to educate kids in this environment?” We also have to ask ourselves “Given this environment, what do we want from our schools?” We can’t lose sight of that question, as it is fundamentally more important.
We are committed to equipping our students to face these challenges and supporting other schools wishing to the do the same.