Rector's Blog: For Our Children and Their Educators
This week I had to tell my kids that they were going back to remote learning. It was pretty terrible. I told them on the drive to school. It was going to be the last day of in-person classes for at least two weeks. They immediately started crying. You never quite get used to making your kids cry. I mean, if you’re a parent, sometimes you will make your kid cry for what seems like no reason: I have literally seen a child cry over spilt milk. But in this case, the tears were warranted, and all I could do was keep my own eyes dry and on the road since I was driving.
They didn’t transition to remote learning because too many kids were getting sick. They transitioned to remote learning because the current dominant strain of COVID-19 is so contagious, and is getting so many adults sick, that they are not able to appropriately staff schools. Literally, there are not enough subs to cover the absences.
This development is particularly painful for the young people in our community, who have had to live through instability and uncertainty in ways we adults can’t comprehend. If it sounds like I’m criticizing our school district’s decision, let me be clear that I absolutely am not. I fully believe it’s the best disappointing decision they can make right now from a broad selection of truly disappointing options. I’m grateful for their courage.
And as painful as things are for our children, as strange and confusing as it is for them, I may reserve my strongest sympathy for the educators: the teachers, administrators, principals, and, yes, bureaucrats and superintendent types, who have all been forced to be some super-human combination of flexible, resilient, thoughtful, patient, creative, innovative, and noble – all while not getting sick and not complaining.
I have said before, and I want to reiterate now, that this pandemic has been revelatory. In our scriptures, apocalypse and revelation do not foretell the future, but reveal to us the truth of our present: Our illusions and pretenses are stripped away and we are forced to confront the reality of how our lives and societies are ordered.
Our priorities for education have not been exempt from this revelation. We are seeing clearly now what has been present all along – a deeply hypocritical approach to the education of our young ones, and to those in charge of their education. It has long been commonplace to say that teaching is a noble profession, and then to undermine teachers every step of the way. We say we are thankful for our educators and then call them greedy when they ask for raises. We say we can’t imagine how hard their jobs are and then grouse about how much vacation time they get. We give our children into the care of these educators for enormous chunks of their upbringing, and then micromanage the decisions that are made by those who spend the most time with them.
On top of all this, we have no clearly articulated understanding of what we even want education for our children to be. What do we actually want for the youngest among us?
All of this has been exacerbated in the last 2 years. We have made schools into political battlegrounds that symbolize our cultural disagreements over race, class, masking, vaccines, wealth disparity, and a whole host of other topics. We have expected our educators to get it right in all these areas – right being undefinable – and we expect them not to have breakdowns, not to fall apart. We expect them, and our children, to act normal, to get back to normal, to keep our kids “on track” or from “falling behind” – again, all utterly undefinable desires.
Some educators are leaving, and more are about to leave this noble profession – and it’s not because of vaccine mandates. It’s because they are tired. They are tired and don’t see an end to being tired. Not, by the way, because they don’t see an end to the pandemic – but because they don’t see an end to being mistreated, underappreciated, underpaid, and undermined.
On Sundays throughout this church season, we will be focusing on the readings from 1 Corinthians. In those readings, it becomes increasingly clear that Paul sees a sickness in his church in Corinth. They are trying to build a community that honors, respects, and values all people – all the while they are seeking to hold onto cultural and personal distinctions that privilege some in the community over others. They seek the appearance of unity and equity, but they are not interested in making the changes necessary to their personal lives in order for that unity and equity to be incarnate. They want to say everyone is valuable, but they do not want to act like it.
And Paul won’t have it. “You all come from the same God,” he says, “and so do your gifts. Don’t just say someone matters, act like it. Structure your shared life as if you actually believe it.”
In that sense, I see Paul speaking to us directly today. And I see our treatment of our children and their educators as something that speaks directly to our larger dysfunction as a people: We want the appearance of caring deeply for something, but we do not want to structure our shared life as if we actually believe it.
What’s more, we don’t want to acknowledge that this pandemic has actually shaped and transformed our shared life, and this bears itself out in our desire to do everything we can to make school “like it was before” at all costs. Our lives are not like they were before, any more than our lives were the same after 9/11, or after JFK’s assassination, or after World War II, or after the Spanish Flu pandemic. We are being transformed. The Corinthians wanted to say Jesus is Lord, but then not allow their daily lives to be transformed by that event. It didn’t work like that then, and it doesn’t work like that now.
I see hope though. I see tremendous hope.
My children cried. And when I pulled up to the school, I got out of the car and I held them for as long as they’d let me, and then they ran off to class. And the next day they woke up and they faced the new normal with courage. They made jokes. They wore pajama pants to virtual school. I see hope in them, and not in some idealistic, “kids are magic and resilient” sort of way. I see hope in them because, even in their sadness and frustration, they are willing to do uncomfortable things in order to stay connected.
And I see hope in their teachers, who stayed with them, who put on their smiles and switched on their cameras and adapted again and again and loved their students in their teaching. I see hope in the school boards and principals, who keep making unpopular and impossible decisions. They do this for love. Heck, I even see hope in the teachers who left. They were honest about what they could handle, and courageous in stepping into uncertainty. I pray we learn from them too.
I see hope all around, because in our children and their educators I’m seeing a real and living example of people who are willing to structure and reorder their lives in order to better care for each other. I see in them an acknowledgment of transformation.
They are not unfazed. They are not untraumatized. They are not unaffected. They’re human after all. But in the midst of the trauma and uncertainty, they are willing to be transformed in order to share life. It is my prayer that we can recognize that; that we can learn from them; that we can honor them not only with our words but in our lives.
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