Education has never been one-size-fits-all, and under a pandemic that truth rings even louder than ever. For those with the financial means or strong support systems, virtual learning is a somewhat realistic fix. For those without the means, districts are scrambling to provide wifi hotspots and chromebooks in an attempt to level the playing field. But the inequities are much deeper than technology and supplies.
For example, we all know young girls who are second parents to their younger siblings. Heck, many women reading this will be able to relate to practically raising their brothers and sisters while their mom worked odd shifts or multiple jobs just to keep the bills paid. All over the country, girls as young as 4th and 5th grade are responsible for getting younger siblings dressed in the mornings and putting them to bed at night.
For these girls, school is the only place where they actually get to be a kid. Many walk into the school buildings and gladly shed “adulthood” and take their rightful place as a child. Others struggle to make the shift and constantly buck authority because where they come from they’re “grown” too.
Seasoned educators recognize those adultified girls right away and do their best to nurture (not punish) those girls into their correct roles while in school. But what happens when the second-parent role and the student role collide? How does a 9th grade girl who is responsible for her elementary-aged siblings act as both a student and a mom in the virtual learning world?
It’s hard enough for parents who work remotely to supervise virtual learning. Now imagine the stress a teenager feels when she’s supposed to log in for algebra, but needs to monitor her little brother so he won’t tear up the house. Imagine her frustration when she has to make sure her little sisters get logged in for their classes, but she doesn’t have a quiet space to tune in for her own. How does she realistically keep an eye on them and focus on her own education?
She doesn’t. She can’t. She shouldn’t have to try.
These girls (and sometimes boys) will be the overlooked victims of a virtual world that didn’t take their real-life circumstances into consideration. Don’t get me wrong, I get that some districts don’t feel that they can safely have hundreds of kids in buildings. The virus is still spiking in many cities and the safety of our students and educators should be at the forefront of all decisions.
I get it, and this is in no way a plea to push people back into unsafe environments. Teachers unions are speaking up for the educators and they should. Parents are making decisions that best fit their circumstances, and they should. But who is advocating for the children?
And again, I get it. The virus has pushed us all to the edge, but what happens to those who were already living in the margins? I apologize if you came to this post hoping I had answers. I don’t have them. Just know that when you are on that virtual classroom call and you ask that student who is also filling the role of a parent about the questions on page 3 of her assignment, she won’t have answers either. She’s busy.
Thanks for reading and remember to be a blessing to someone today.