Covid-19 forced many students into distance learning. Many parents discovered that our children perform better academically when learning from home. This article examines why Black parents should use this time of restructuring to push for a shift in education.
My son is a high-functioning autistic. He just finished the third grade, and like most children in the U.S., COVID-19 forced him into distance learning during the fourth quarter. When asked if he wants to return to in-person school during the fall, his answer is an emphatic, “no.”
COVID-19 has devastated the lives of thousands of Americans, but it has revealed many previously unchallenged realities. The first being that many businesses can still thrive via telework and productivity can be just as high when working remotely. The second is that many children, especially Black children, perform better academically at home.
My son never struggled intellectually. He was nonverbal the first two years of his life, but when he started speaking, I discovered he could read. My son struggles with socialization and classroom expectations. For example, he knows the answers to many of the teachers’ questions, and he wants to be called on every time. He doesn’t understand that other children need to participate in the discussion. He can recite the history of almost any topic, but he doesn’t recognize when the conversation shifts to another subject. He also suffers from sensory issues. Too much noise, activity, or lights can cause him to have a meltdown. As a result, oftentimes the teachers put him in a “Take 5,” which is similar to timeout. When asked why he doesn’t want to go back to school, but continue distance learning, he said, “I don’t want to get any more Take 5s.”
COVID-19 forced many industries to innovate. Education is no different. School districts all over the country are making adjustments to continue learning. Black parents should use this time of restructuring to advocate for changes that will benefit our children. Here are a few reasons why.
“…many children, especially Black children, perform better academically at home.”
My son has had great teachers. In fact, a teacher in South Carolina refused to give up on my son in pre-school and potty-trained him. However, I also had to fight teachers who attempted to misdiagnose my son with behavior problems after only working with a him a few months – and this was in Kindergarten. Needless to say, they were all white women. As a result, I had to fight teachers, one school psychologist, and the county school board so my son could have a fair chance. After I demanded they retest him, my son scored exactly where a Kindergartner should score. Today, he scores higher in math and reading than most of the children in the county, but this is after years of forcefully advocating for him. Numerous studies have been conducted on implicit bias in education. A hybrid class schedule or full distance learning, spares Black children from harsh and hostile treatment from teachers who are unaware of or unwilling to address their implicit biases.
Reverend Lauren Harris is an itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) and serves in Maryland.
A hybrid class schedule or full distance learning, spares Black children from harsh and hostile treatment from teachers who are unaware of or unwilling to address their implicit biases.
The Preschool-to-Prison Pipeline
Black children are punished at higher rates and with harsher punishments than their counterparts who display the same behaviors. My son’s kindergarten teacher was intolerable of anything he did and wanted to quickly diagnose him as ADHD, even though my son had been in private speech and occupational therapies since he was a baby to address his autism diagnosis. I told her she was trying to sabotage my son’s educational future because he was a Black boy. After speaking with other Black parents from her class, I discovered she had a history of “diagnosing” Black children with conditions that required medication. Black children face stressors other children do not have to face. This negatively affects their educational outcomes. My son feels relieved from the numerous “Take 5s” he receives due to sensory issues and meltdowns caused by autism. I know other children feel the same relief now that they are learning from the safety of their own homes. While schools are making changes due to COVID-19, Black parents should make teachers and administrators aware of the positive learning and behavioral outcomes of Black children during distance learning and push the school system to incorporate changes that will produce similar outcomes in-person.
“We love it because we can create an African-American centered curriculum.”
Shifts in Pedagogy
Distance learning and virtual classrooms have given parents insight into how their children receive and process information in an educational setting, and if you’re like me, then this season of distance learning has reinforced to you that all children do not learn the same way, and you can see where your child shines or struggles. The U.S. educational system is designed as a “one size fits all” model. If your child doesn’t adapt to that model, then they are left behind and even punished for it, especially Black children. COVID-19 forced many teachers to make major shifts in pedagogy because of distance learning. If they can make shifts due to moving the classroom online, then these shifts can be made when we finally return to the building. My son loves distance learning because he can learn in his own way and in his own time. We love it because we can create an African-American centered curriculum. He wouldn’t receive this in the public school system the way it is now. Parents should challenge their school districts to examine their pedagogy and see if what they’ve been doing is truly working for every child.
Reverend Lauren Harris is an itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) and serves in Maryland. She’s been published in Sojourners magazine, Gospel Today magazine, Washington Family magazine, Modern Loss, and the A.M.E. Church’s Christian Recorder. She blogs about her adventures as a minister and mother at Throw Up and Theology.