As we speak, there is a battle raging for the future of the American education system. It isn't happening in your legislatures, or in the media. It isn't happening in your teacher lounges or in your school board meetings. The new front line for American education has erupted in mothers-only Facebook groups around the country...and it is getting raucous.
In recent weeks, as districts are making controversial decisions to either stay closed or reopen, these Facebook groups have become the epicenter for a revolution in education that is fueled by two well established and thoroughly vocalized themes: Moms are worried about sending their kids back to school in the fall and they are dreading another semester of distance learning. Currently, most school districts have made the decision to begin the year with a full distance learning program but unfortunately most school districts are no better prepared this fall to deliver a quality distance learning program than they were in the spring. As a result, many moms aren’t waiting for their districts to get their acts together so they’ve decided to do something about it on their own.
Recently, provocative buzzwords like ‘learning bubbles’, ‘pandemic pods’ and ‘microschooling’ have been flooding our feeds. The hype hit a crescendo with the San Francisco Examiner and New York Times publishing pieces about the
fledgling movement with much of the coverage being negative. But through all the buzz, hyperbole and panic about education in the fall, it is important to separate fact from fiction about pandemic pods and know what it really means for your families, your children and their education.
It’s safe. Nothing is scarier for a mom than imagining their child packed into a classroom surrounded by 35 other children as they touch, grab & lick every surface in the room. Recess has become a superspreader event and the school bus is a Petri dish on wheels. Smaller groups at home means a more manageable, predictable and safer learning environment with friends and family you feel more comfortable with.
It’s social. Kids are starving for social learning experiences. This past spring, distance learning had almost zero social elements and many kids simply turned off their mics and cameras and coasted through lessons without uttering a word. Pods, even with just a few kids, are a marked improvement and returns much needed collaboration and socialization to a child's learning.
It’s better than your school’s distance learning. If we are being honest, distance learning in the spring was a disaster for everyone. Teachers were overworked and undertrained, parents were overburdened and unprepared, and students were underserved and disengaged. Anything would be better than the spring version of distance learning and pandemic pods take a step in the right direction.
It’s expensive. Many quotes have pandemic pod educators charging $350 per student/week in a pod and some firms charging $5,000 just to help FIND a teacher. When spread out over a full year this is roughly the cost of a mid-priced private education, and that doesn’t include all the frills that come with tuition. In the rush to find a safe option for the fall, many families are dramatically overpaying to form a pod without looking at all of the available options.
All of it depends on the teacher. It is much easier to find an elementary school teacher able to teach all subjects throughout the day than to find a do-it-all middle school or high school teacher. Finding multidisciplinary education experts who are not already employed in a school district is difficult which means finding multiple teachers for each independent subject area is nearly impossible. Also, the chances of finding a knowledgable, reliable and professional teacher drop when the school year starts because most of the "keepers" are already employed by school districts and private schools.
The kids better like each other (and the moms too). The kids and their families will be in close proximity and dependent on each other for the next four or five months so those bonds need to be strong. Parents will still be responsible for behavior management, homework facilitation and a host of other duties normally reserved for teachers so there needs to be a shared understanding of the standards and values of the pod and each parent's role in supporting them.
It’s inequitable. Pandemic pods are a great option...for those that can afford it AND have a parent available to supervise it each day. But what about families without the means? Or those dual income families? Clearly, Pandemic Pods are an option for those that have the means, but this can only widen the education gaps between the haves and have nots. Until there is a way to create a more inclusive pod model it will always be viewed as an option reserved only for the privileged.
It could replace traditional school. This is actually not such a terrible thing - unless you work in the field of private and public education. Make no mistake, pandemic pods are an enormous existential threat to traditional education and they should be. If the pandemic sticks around for longer than expected, and more families opt for Pandemic Pods don’t expect the public educational system to sit idly by and watch. Already, districts and unions are beginning to push back against the pod movement and it is only a matter of time before our antiquated and outdated system of education will try to reassert itself through heavier means.
It's a missed opportunity (so far). If parents are setting up their pods to be miniature replicas of traditional classrooms, they are missing a huge opportunity to truly transform the way their kids learn. Instead, parents should be searching for more experiential learning opportunities, rich with the tools of the modern economy and rooted in project-based learning and problem solving. Otherwise, if they are just “trying to get back to normal” they are essentially paying for a bad public education twice - once through their pod teacher and the second time through their local property taxes.
As a grass roots response to an enormous disruption in education, pandemic pods are both exciting and terrifying. When the first wave of pods take root, look for the movement to become more organized through social networking, pod-specific curriculum offerings and agencies who recruit and outsource qualified teachers. While it resembles the Wild West right now, as more families adopt the pod learning model it will begin to take shape as a legitimate and formidable alternative to traditional education.
At ARES Learning we are looking at ways we can support pod families remotely with certified tutoring for their district’s distance learning while also providing an exciting STEM and space-based supplemental program for when they finish their school's curriculum. We feel the real future of pods and microschooling is the innovative delivery of content through cutting edge technology able to create safe, dynamic, virtual learning spaces that promote collaboration, empathy, socialization and problem solving.
ARES Learning's goal is to provide small, safe pod communities for families, and protect them from their district's immune response against the pod movement. We believe we can offer an opportunity to partner with parents to truly do something transformational...and better. We feel this is a huge opportunity to fundamentally transform the American education system and pandemic pods may be the right movement at the right time to make it happen.