Thursday, July 09, 2020

No Force on Earth Can Stand Before Us


Yesterday, I awoke to learn that the President of the United States and his education secretary are talking about punishing public schools that don't open in the fall by withholding federal funding. They've walked that back a little in the intervening 24 hours, but the message is clear: they are willing to sacrifice children and their families in the name of the economy.

This Covid-19 pandemic is far from over and while there are places in the US where we have slowed it through common sense sacrifices, other states seem to think that if they close their eyes and pretend hard enough it will simply go away. The result reminds me of when I was a boy and there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes: smoke doesn't recognize boundaries any more than a virus. When I shared this metaphor with a friend he crudely, yet to my mind more accurately, replied, "No, it's more like we're all in a big swimming pool and they've designated their states as the peeing area."

While much of the rest of the world has quelled the pandemic to the point that they've opened up a legitimate window for children to safely return to school, it doesn't seem likely that US schools can safely reopen before the end of the year. Yet the message from the highest office in the land is "Do it, or else."

This is far from the first time that elected representatives and policymakers have placed children on the alter of their precious economy. Indeed, if all you knew about our educational system is what these people say, you would think that our schools were just one big vocational training program designed to produce workers for their salt mines. We run our schools like factories with children as products being manufactured along an assembly line, complete with quality testing in the form of grades and tests. The ones who don't measure up, especially if they're black or brown, are systematically funneled into the prison pipeline where they are destined to serve that multi-billion dollar sector of the economy. It's as if they believe that our children only exist to serve the economy rather than the other way around. 

It's a sickness in our country, this addiction to money above all else, and it's not an illness confined to just one political party. In fact, I don't believe I've ever heard any American policymaker speak of education without tying it to the economy. We must prepare our children for the jobs of tomorrow! We have to out educate the Chinese!

We love our own children of course, but when it comes to children in the abstract, they're treated as afterthoughts at best. This pandemic, however, has shone a spotlight on how absolutely essential our schools are to the economy, not as institutions of vocational training, not to mention enlightenment, but as places to stash our kids while we go off to our jobs. As Deb Perelman writes in the New York Times, "In the Covid-19 economy, you can have a kid or a job. You can't have both." 

I can't believe I have to write this, but the needs, rights, and safety of children must come first, even above their precious economy. Our first priority must be to care for families, not leave them between the horns of an impossible dilemma: their children's safety or food on the table. It's unconscionable and cruel that this is where we stand today, even without the President threatening to punish anyone who prioritizes children.

Children are citizens, but they are citizens without the full rights of citizenship. We have chosen to leave them without a voice: they may not vote, they may not own property, they may not live where they choose and with whom they choose, and they must go to school or wherever else the adults tell them to go. Since it's unlikely that we're going to grant them these rights any time soon, it is our sacred responsibility to protect them, to speak for them, and to ensure that their rights are represented. There is absolutely no educational or developmental need for children to rush back to school until we can ensure their safety. The rush is purely economic.

As early childhood educators, as parents, and as citizens, we must find a way to join together to speak for children. Also, as Lisa Murphy says, "What makes us really good care givers makes us horrible advocates." We tend to be nice. We tend to be kind. We tend to eschew adult conflict even as we are masters of helping young children through theirs. Individually, we are weak, but together we are legion. Alone, we cannot stand up to those who would sacrifice our children, but together, especially when allied with parents, no force on earth can stand before us. This is the urgent hope of The Play First Online Summit. In just a matter of weeks, tens of thousands have already committed themselves to coming together July 20-25 to begin a global dialog about how we can be unified in placing children first. 

See below for details. Please join us.

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The Play First Summit is just around the corner! Please join us for this free event featuring twenty of the world's top early childhood and parenting thought leaders, including Janet Lansbury, Peter Gray, Lisa Murphy, Ijumaa Jordan, Maggie Dent, and Cheng Xuequin (Anji Play). This is not just another series of lectures, but rather a collection of conversations about our challenging times, how they are impacting young children and families, what we can do about it, and how we might seize this moment to transform the early years into what they ought to be for children everywhere. To see the full list of speakers and to register, click here.

Also, Teacher Tom's Second Book is now available in the UK, Iceland, and Europe thanks to my friends at Fafunia! It's also available in the US and Canada. If you want to go directly to the Fafunia page click here.  And if you missed it, Teacher Tom's First Book is back in print as well.



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