On March 12, we got the email we had been begging our Superintendent to send for days. All schools would be closed for 6 weeks in an attempt to curb the rise of Covid-19. In the days preceding this State mandated decision, schools with wealthy parents had already drafted petitions to keep their children and families safe at home while our students’ families were working. Their schools had closed early on while ours remained open, filled with the children who came from working class, undocumented, and marginalized families of color.
We had 24 hours to prepare for our students and families, many of whom had no access to computers or internet for learning at home. There was no time for the English speaking staff to translate the homework into the 26 languages our school serves. There was no time to put together 6 weeks of meaningful work that students would feel motivated and excited to complete on their own. All 26 classroom teachers worked together to compile homework and materials to send home to the 600+ students we teach.
Within that same 24 hours, families had to weigh staying home to supervise their children and going to work to make the money to pay their rent and bills, possibly exposing themselves to the coronavirus. While teachers went home with a paycheck, many of our families struggle to keep their children safe and cared for right now while they go to work. No family should have to choose between the demands of capitalism and keeping their families safe, housed, fed, and educated.
Not only has the arena of public education been a historically traumatizing environment for many families of color, but it is now closing its doors on them and their children, without adequate support. We as teachers are asked to contact every family on a weekly basis during this closure. Expected to miraculously have healed the trauma and division between so many individuals and the racist public education system overnight. How are families expected to trust teachers through this vulnerable and terrifying time when they have learned to fear them in the past? Why would they pick up the phone for a teacher who is sitting at home getting paid while they are forced to work outside the home during a pandemic? While the district preaches about equity and closing the achievement gap, I am unable to communicate with my Dari speaking student or my unhoused student without a phone. How are we providing for them? How are those students getting the resources they need compared to the wealthy students living in the waterfront communities?
Our District and State pretend to support these families by handing out homework printed in unreadable academic English, and online resources many can’t access. The prevalent and patronizing white savior complex of so many teachers working in low-income communities of color is fed by teachers with no analysis of how we got to this point. The continuous narrative of white teachers asking all the wrong questions, “How will these families possibly feed their children without us? Will they leave their children home alone all day? Will their parents’ even help them with the homework I send?” Instead, we could use this time to ask questions that get to the real issues. Why are these families having to choose between paying rent and keeping themselves quarantined? Who is to blame for families having to risk their safety in order to feed themselves? How did we get to this point?
Working class families are not the problem. Capitalism is forcing working class people to expose themselves and their families to a deadly virus while upper-middle class families stay at home safely, judging and blaming those who don’t. At what point do we recognize and attack capitalism as the real issue if not during a pandemic?