Black students

Almost Two Years Into the Pandemic and We Still Haven't Gotten to the Heart of Our Broken School System

The kids are vaxxed and in school, so why do I still feel so hopeless?

600-some days ago, the world shut down and my kids came home for what I was sure would be just a few weeks before going back to school. My oldest was in first grade, my youngest in preschool.

Now, in what can only be called a miracle, the entire family has been vaccinated and some have even been boostered. The kids are back in school with full days every day. My oldest is now in third grade, my youngest in kindergarten. 

So why do I feel so broken up? Why am I just as tired as I was during lockdown? Why do I feel less hopeful now than in the dark days of 2020?

Maybe it’s the mourning for what’s been lost. 

More than 750,000 lives have been lost to COVID in America in less than two years. Tens of millions of children whose school lives have been turned upside down. Consider the following chart: 

Hundreds of days of missed school. Missed playdates, birthday parties, and holidays. Missed Halloween parades, proms, and senior trips. Missed traditions and rites of passage. So many missed moments of childhood.

Maybe it’s the mourning for what has yet to be won. 

Pre and post-COVID, the American education system is a rigged game—rigged against the poor, Black, Latinx, and other marginalized communities, rigged for the benefit of the wealthy, white, and privileged. It is rigged by design by those in power—white men—and by those who continue to benefit from these systems—the wealthy. 

Rigged by funding formulas and tax structures that empower the wealthy with fully resourced schools and disenfranchise the poor with crumbling educational infrastructures and inexperienced teachers. 

Rigged by racial, economic, and housing segregation that has created multi-tiered systems—one for the privileged few, the other for the underprivileged many. 

Rigged by whitewashed education curricula that omit or distort the truth about the nation’s history.

So long as schools are funded by ZIP code, so long as students of color face a school-to-prison pipeline, and so long as the least prepared and least experienced teachers are funneled into under-resourced schools, the work continues, so why should I expect hope to blossom each and every day?  

Maybe it’s not hope I’m looking for, but patience and resilience. As the days shorten, perhaps now is not the time to continue to vainly pour from a cup that is nearly empty. Perhaps now is the time to mourn what we’ve lost, hug those we can, and fill ourselves with the hope and energy that will be so badly needed in the days, months, and years to come. 

Read more about Wright's work and pick up a copy of his new book, "Dismantling A Broken System; Actions to Close the Equity, Justice, and Opportunity Gaps in American Education"—now available for pre-order!

Zachary Wright 
Zachary Wright is an assistant professor of practice at Relay Graduate School of Education, serving Philadelphia and Camden, and a communications activist at Education Post. Prior, he was the twelfth-grade world literature and Advanced Placement literature teacher at Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker Campus, where he taught students for eight years—including the school's first eight graduating ...

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