On the January 25 International Day of Education, Global Minnesota hosted a daylong event that included the insights of Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, head of the Education Transition Team for President Biden. She showed the picture of two young girls sitting on a curb outside a restaurant, borrowing the wi-fi signal so they could do online learning. She pointed out the old adage that bureaucracies — the original intent of rules-bound public schools — work best when people are dehumanized.
However, we now know that relationships are the essential ingredient in building brain architecture, she says. Feeling safe and protected, and the perception of your own ability, strongly influences learning — which is a combination of meeting academic, emotional, and social needs. Without trauma-informed and healing-focused approaches, the learning process is undermined. “We need systems of learning that are about potential and development rather than ranking, sorting, and selecting.”
Educational inequities in the U.S. are extreme compared to other countries, which is not helped by the fact that our wage disparities are greater than at any other time since 1929. Yet Darling-Hammond also notes that every 30 years there seems to be a cycle of progressive education. The “disruption opportunity” of 2020 has presented us with the ability to share information globally about how to make improvements in education for all. “This is how renaissance happens — in cooperation rather than competitiveness.”
She cited new reports of the Learning Policy Institute about New Mexico’s community-schools approach to combatting poverty and marginalization of students, expanded learning opportunities in Baltimore, pioneering inquiry-based learning, and innovative large-scale tutoring programs.
Biden’s agenda, Darling-Hammond says, includes universal pre-Kindergarten education, and a wider platform for teachers to speak up to policymakers about what they need.
The superintendent of the large Anoka-Hennepin school district — which serves 40,000 students — says what is needed is a greater understanding of the complexity of schools today as a center for equalizing society. Many adults, including legislators, are stuck thinking that the way they were educated is what is needed for today’s students, and that is not true.
“We need a mindset shift,” said David Law, who was Minnesota’s Superintendent of the Year in 2020. “Sometimes it is elected officials and parents who are the challenge. What we need today are creative, positive, hard-working, collaborative students. That is less about learning statistics and having everyone ready for college.”
Melanie Brown of the Gates Foundation also pointed out that the world has been crying for help, and it has been our failure to not focus on equity in the past. “We have missed the mark before. It was a great equalizer when COVID-19 hit, but health and distance learning disparities have been enhanced. We cannot go back. Not that nothing was working, but this is about thinking of things we never thought of before.”
She says that her concern now is “how behind students will be. How will we fill those gaps, knowing there were already gaps. I am worried about trauma, those kids we have not been hearing from during distance learning, who no longer have relationships with adults outside the home.”
When children return to physical classrooms in greater numbers who have been surrounded by illness, COVID deaths, home-based violence, fear, worry, increased rates of being unhoused and ill-fed — how will we be able to respond?
Austin, Minnesota-based Hormel reimburses employees for education, and provides two years of education for the children of all of its 18,000 employees around the country through its Inspired Pathways program.
What is available at the legislative level that would have an impact, including trauma-informed solutions? COMING SOON
What is the relationship between after-school programs and crime? COMING SOON