Covid-19 Teaching Diary Day 39: Noticing Joy and Liberation

I've written a lot about how schools can feel depressingly similar to prisons. I didn't discover this phenomenon, there are lots of educators and scholars who have studied and written about it more articulately than me. It's definitely a similarity that weighs heavy one me when I see it in my work.

But today I was struck by the need to add some nuance to this reflection. Schools aren't really just one thing. A school can be different things to different kids/teachers. It can offer a different experience depending on the day or other contexts.

For example, today we ended our closing circle with a dance party. I played DJ as the kids requested songs, and I did my best to look as silly as possible. In this moment I felt like I was offering (and taking part in) some joy and even a little bit liberation. This doesn't change the ways that my school and my teaching is oppressive at other times, but it feels important to notice.

Other times school can be a healing site. It can be a site of community building. It can be a site of nurturing and protection. I'm thinking of the kids in my community who suffer from food insecurity and other forms of trauma. When schools closed, my students experienced a loss, even the kids who generally hated school. They're cut off from resources and they're cut off from their friends.

On the flip side, remote learning has been oppressive and liberatory in different moments for different kids. Some of my kids are thriving in this new atmosphere, even though they miss their teachers and their friends. They have the freedom to do work at their own pace, and explore their own interests. Meanwhile other kids feel trapped by the boredom, monotony, and inaccessibility of their new digital learning.

I don't know if this is news to anyone other than me, but it felt helpful to think about. These joyful aspects of schooling don't excuse the harm caused by the other parts. My dance party doesn't absolve my other failures. Schools as an institution nested in a racist sexist etc-ist society are incredibly harmful. But within schools are communities of humans. So they're flawed, but also more than their flaws alone.


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