"Academic Content Is Secondary to Thinking Skills"

In a pandemic like the one the world is currently facing, these are the words of Maine's education chief: "Academic Content Is Secondary to Thinking Skills". From a learning packet my son received this week, he was asked to write 5 things he feel thankful for during these times. My son wrote: (1) The privilege of having loving and caring parents, (2) Having a safe environment around me, (3) The opportunity to continue learning, (4) Having a skateboard to keep myself entertained during "spring break", and (5) Having a sister to give me company. These things my son wrote reiterate what the Maine's education chief is trying to tell parents. Pender Makin, Maine's education commissioner, reminds us first to prioritize. In this respect, it is important for all of us to see that there are still good things that remain. Our relationships remain. It is only through a correct prioritization that we can navigate through this crisis.

Above copied from Portland Press Herald

In the health sector, protective equipment for healthcare and grocery workers is a must. We can lament about how much testing is lagging behind cases, but we really should realize that we must attend first to the dire need of protecting those who are in the front line. If we cannot even provide masks for these workers, how could we even talk about testing?

A similar exercise in prioritization is necessary for the education sector. In education, communication is first priority. If we cannot even communicate, how can we even imagine continuity in learning. In any crisis, our mental well being is at risk. Most of us have lost our usual daily schedules. Everything is not normal and amid this chaos, we are in need of something that is familiar, something that is expected, something that looks like a schedule. These are the most important needs of a child whose school has been closed for a month now. The expectations are not the same as those we hold dear during normal times. The standards of learning we have before the pandemic are not even close to what is necessary at this point. The expectations may actually appear even less challenging. "Academic content is secondary to thinking skills." Indeed, these may be less challenging than asking a child to solve an arithmetic problem involving fractions, but the lessons these times demand are much more meaningful.

Pender Makin mentions that "Teachers, counselors and social workers, school staff members and administrators are available to support you and your children, so please reach out as needed - communication between families and schools is more important now than ever." Unfortunately, our school district, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), has miserably failed in this regard during this week. FCPS started its first day of distance learning after four weeks of schools being closed with its main platform of communication, Blackboard, crashing. FCPS hopes to restart it next week. The frustration is highlighted in this post by the Fairfax Education Association:

Fairfax Education Association

FEA was very disappointed in the Superintendent's lack of direct communication with school staff prior to public release of recent changes in distance learning plans. The letter sent by the Superintendent to the community this evening was a far cry from the wording we expected to see when laying out requirements for staff. Some of our school staff in the county work with upwards of 700 students. The requirements described are unreasonable & unacceptable and we have called for their immediate removal. Our educators have been working overtime to ensure distance learning assignments were adequately prepared. We intend to continue providing world class student support, no matter the digital learning platform's limitations.

Pender does remind us that teachers have "literally reinvented their practice overnight". Poe Middle School shares this video with all of its students.

"No matter the digital learning platform's limitations" should ring louder. FCPS unfortunately dropped the ball by relying on one avenue for communication. We must return to our correct set of priorities. The teachers are ready and willing to reach out. The FCPS administration is not. It is no wonder FCPS cannot navigate through more serious problems such as achievement gaps and under-representation of poor and minority children in its advanced academic programs. These times show us that FCPS cannot even provide communication. One wonders how FCPS could even know how many children are left behind in this pandemic.