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The media needs to stop spreading fear about ‘pandemic pods’

Pandemic pods.

Are they a saving grace for families displaced from traditional schooling or yet another mirage hiding serious educational inequities.

Like most things it matters who you ask.

Much of the media coverage of pods has shown a deceptively white face which predictably has drawn significant warnings of widening gaps in educational outcomes.

I understand the concerns, but it’s still a damned shame there is more vigilance about hamstringing solutions rather than finding them.

The idea of self-determined home-based solutions for education has barely made it into the mainstream. The public has only a slight idea of what pods are, but already the always-on social justice naysayers and self-interested bureaucrats are breakdancing chicken little suits all over pod news stories.

Of course we should care if the unintended consequences of educational trends will hurt societies most marginalized children, but that fear shouldn’t immobilize creative attempts to stem the learning loss school shutdowns have caused.

What is a “Pod” or Micro-school?

First, a definition of pod-schooling might be helpful. WebMD offers one of the most concise and informative explanation of what a pod (and micro-school) can be:

Pods involve two or more families coming together regularly in person to create small learning groups during the school year. They can meet in people’s yards or homes, and they can take many forms. Arrangements range from formal agreements with contracts to informal ones, and they can include homeschooling, nanny shares, home-based preschools, or playdate and tutoring pods.

More formal micro-schools are hiring teachers to educate a group of children, often matching salaries and committing to pay for a full school year. Others are opting for a parent-co-op approach, where adults commit to take turns teaching or coming together with a tutor who will help children who gather for socialization while taking part in virtual classes offered through a school.

How did the pandemic pods becoming a thing?

The mother of invention and the mother of children are equally powerful during a crisis. The reason we trade pod stories now is only because a California mother reached out to a few friends to consider podding, and the effort blew up quickly.

Their Facebook group connecting parents to each other, and to learning resources, has over 40,000 members and is growing.

While many worry self-schooling arrangements among private families will further segregates white families into well-resourced islands of privilege, the group makes an attempt at an affirmative and progressive frame on the matter.

“We aim to be anti-racist, not colorblind…We agree to engage in difficult conversations with an intention to learn, centering the voices of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, immigrant, lower income, disabled, LGBTQIA, and other marginalized people,” Chang’s Facebook group welcome form says.

And, if facts matter to you, the pandemic pod social media group was started by Lian Chikako Chang, a parent of color who was considering how to help her 3-year-old safely socialize and learn with other children during the pandemic.

With that qualifier in place, the pod idea seems to have exploded with affluent white parents beyond those in California.

At the same time there have been efforts of other parents seeking culturally-affirming versions of the pods that have been overshadowed. For instance, two weeks after the large Pandemic Pods group was established in July, an Atlanta parent, Nikolai Pazarro de Jesus, set up a Facebook group for Black-Indigenous People of Color parents.

Landing on her page you’re greeted with a direct cultural appeal from the “commune.”

“This is a place to find and organize local people wanting to join or host a Black/Brown POD/microschool. Non-BIPOC parents committed to liberation may join group and ask local people if it’s ok to join theirs.”

Though their numbers are far more modest at this point – less than 3,000 – they are getting some attention.

A story by national reporter Elizabeth Ruiz for Scrippts relies on Pazarro de Jesus’ voice to highlight what families of color are doing to meet the challenges of the moment:

“I saw that the [mainstream pod] demographic was different, the narrative was a little bit different from my market, the price point of the teachers was different from my market,” Pizarro de Jesus said.

According to Pizarro de Jesus, flexibility of work and ability to pay for care contribute to the challenges faced by Black and brown parents right now. However, she says the racial equity divide isn’t an issue of pandemic pods.

“The truth is that the existing educational system prior to the pandemic was already not working for Black and brown children.”


“Our learning pod will be free. That will be no cost to the community. And we have some excellent teachers that are involved with students in these schools already who have committed to saying ‘we will do this, and we will be there to help these students,’” McBride said.

And, what’s the result?

Pizarro de Jesus says students are already seeing the benefits of learning in pods.

“I will say that a lot of children inside of pods and homeschooling coops end up thriving because they’re getting one-on-one care, because they’re not being measured with the same metrics, because they’re not being graded, not being subjected to standardized testing, because they’re not walking through school metal detectors everyday,” she told Ruiz.

I wish we could hear more from parents like Pizarro de Jesus, and especially from the ones who know firsthand that the pandemic isn’t the first time people of color are being creative about educating our children (including the fast growing number of African American homeschooling parents).

Nothing about this moment will be easy for parents of all hues. We are all scrambling to navigate between school district plans, online learning programs, and even unschooling schemes. We would do well to call out the middle-class media chauvinism that instantly assumes solutions like pod-schooling is an instant boon for white families with money that necessarily locks out families of color.

That story is far too simple. It’s damaging and disabling and makes too many of us invisible. Our families are already proving that insulting point wrong and our kids won’t be served by telling us what we can’t do for them.

Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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Public Schools

Cobb County public schools: academically excellent, racially backward

Forget the hype about democratically elected school board ensuring racial equity and local control in public education.

By the most basic measurements, Cobb County schools in Georgia exemplar the great American public school system.

With 112,000 students in 113 schools (22 of them are Blue Ribbon schools, and the state designates 56 as “schools of excellence”), the district is the second-largest in Georgia and the 23rd largest in the nation.

The student body here is racially balanced: 37% white, 30% Black, 22% Hispanic, and 6% Asian.

And, Cobb students have higher average ACT and SAT scores – 22.8 and 1,107 respectively – than the nation, while having a higher graduation rate too.

Above all, a democratically-elected school board governs this high-performing district, something that teachers’ unions and public education advocates nationally argue makes the schools accountable to the public they serve.

Those advocates should have seen the heated meeting Cobb County school board members held this past Thursday. During that meeting, one of the board’s three Black members (the board splits between four white Republicans and 3 Black Democrats), Jaha Howard, seemed to accuse his colleagues of participating in “systemic racism.”

His calmly delivered rebuke came after the board voted to abolish a community advisory committee scheduled to reconsider how schools and district buildings are named. A second proposal up for vote would require board members have four votes to put items on the public meeting agenda. Both of these proposals are anti-democratic in my eye, but what’s new?

It was the first proposal that drew the most heat. The East Cobb News reports that the community advisory group on school renaming was “approved by a 4-3 vote in August.” Back then, a Black school board member took issue because of the district’s 113 schools; there wasn’t one named after a Black person.

Cutting deeper into that wound, community members have complained that two of the district’s best schools are named for racially problematic people.

A student at Walton High School started a petition to rename the school, saying:

Walton High School is named after George Walton, one of Georgia’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence. For many in history class, that’s where the conversation stops. No one ever talks about how George Walton was a white supremacist, belonged to a slave owning family, and spent his political career championing white supremacy in Georgia by stripping Native Americans time and time again of their land. For a school well known on the national stage, it is sickening that they choose to carry themselves using a man who represents one thing: continuing white supremacy in the American South.

It is no surprise that Walton High School specifically chooses to exonerate a figure who oppressed minorities his entire life, as the same behaviors that the school is named after are behaviors that plague the halls of that school to this day. It is no coincidence that Walton High School is only 6% black, significantly lower than the county average of 30.2% and the state average of 36.3%. Walton has always been districted to block minority students and especially black students from enrolling in a sizable number, acting as a beacon of white supremacy in a majority-minority school district.

According to the East Cobb News, “Georgia Department of Education data…indicated that Walton, which opened in 1974, had 155 black students out of an enrollment of 2,616.”

I’d have to dig really hard to explain how that is possible in a district with 30% Black students.

Another high school was also under community pressure for a name change. Wheeler High School alumni formed a private Facebook group that led to a call for that school to rename.

The Wheeler “Wildcats” had this to say:

“Students do not deserve to attend a school whose namesake celebrates a Confederate history and one that was named for a hateful purpose: to hurt and shame Black youth that were, by court order, integrated into our county’s white school system. It does not go unnoticed that the school was named after the passing of Brown v Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously ruled that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. It does not go unnoticed that the school was named after the state of Georgia finally began to adhere to the ruling, seven years after it passed. It does not go unnoticed that the Cobb County School Board finally voted to desegregate in 1965—the same year they named Joseph Wheeler High School.”

In this dispatch from Cobb County, there should be plenty here for public education believers to address in stories like this one. Does an elected board really ensure accountability to local concerns when the power dynamics of those boards break down along racial and political lines?

Is this messy form of democracy, as practiced by school boards, a safeguard against discrimination and racial inequality?

Doesn’t the very idea that four board members could pass rules to prevent three other board members – all of whom are the voices of a public constituency that voted for them to have a say – from even putting items on the agenda create suspicion?

Shouldn’t it bother us that the white leaders of the Cobb County school board, in an effort to stifle Black thought, voted last year to prevent board members from making comments at the end of board meetings?

And, shouldn’t we all take note when one of America’s largest districts, one that prides itself on academic excellence for all, should lift up the names of dead Confederates over the objections of living educators, parents, and students?

I think you know the answers.

And, in keeping with Dr. Martin Luther King’s words “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” I’d ask that you take an interest in letting the local leaders in Cobb County know that we are watching from afar. You can find their email addresses here, and perhaps you can send them a quick note to tell them they need to listen to communities of color.

Watch the contentious board meeting here:

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Mother and son graduate from HBCU together

From the HBCU Connect:

For most parents, commencement is a time to watch proudly as their children walk across the stage to receive their degrees. For Lauren Salter, the experience will be quite different. As the mother of Courtney, she will actually walk across the stage to receive her diploma during the same graduation weekend ceremonies that her son receives his diploma.

The Salters will both be members of the Alabama State University class of 2020 with the mother graduating on Friday (Nov. 20) as a member of the fall class of 2020 and her son graduating on Sunday (Nov. 22) as a member of the spring class of 2020.

For Lauren, November 20, 2020, has added significance since it is the day that she will also celebrate her 55th birthday.

“I couldn’t have asked for a more incredible birthday gift than to graduate on the same weekend with my son Courtney from the greatest school ever,The Alabama State University,” Lauren said with excitement.

The mother and son are both natives of Montgomery. Lauren will graduate with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, while Courtney’s degree is in finance.


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If your presidential debate isn’t fit for kids, you’re not fit to be president

The sad presidential debate

In a time when concerns about public health are stealing precious learning time from America’s children, it’s sad that this week’s presidential debate was another dispiriting lesson in failed leadership.

As citizens, we should expect the contest for the American presidency a top civics learning opportunity, but instead, we got schoolyard rock-throwing on Tuesday that wasn’t worthy of our children’s eyes, ears, or seat time.

That’s a shameful sign of three-plus errant years of declining decorum and lost integrity at the top of the American leadership pile – mostly because a lout has led us into moral anarchy.

If a president is the nation’s exemplar of our values and virtues, a presidential debate is a test, then Donald J. Trump spells trouble. The president I saw on Tuesday was a peevish and sweating example of everything I teach my kids not to be. He was rude, accusatory, irresponsible, blame-shifting, dishonest, and, worst of all, a nasty bully.

Let’s be honest here, if Trump were a Black 6th-grader behaving this way in a Houston classroom, he might be suspended and not allowed to return until his parents met with school staff about his self-regulation challenges.

Now, this is where I’m supposed to dazzle you with my broadmindedness by pointing out ways in which Biden fell short too.

Hard pass.

That form of mindless bothsiderism is a shortcut to thinking and judgment. It’s not good for a responsible citizen and fails as an appropriate example for children.

Unlike the president, I don’t see value in teaching our children to equate white supremacists with the convenient ghost of Antifa or the political cartoon of Black Lives Matter. To overstate something moral and obvious: There are no “very fine people” who are so spitting mad about the existence of non-whites that they descend on communities with tiki torches chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

If I fault Biden for anything, it’s not being assertive enough about centering these mass-media opportunities on the nation’s children. In my view, his education plan is expensively inconsequential concerning the things that matter most, but are talked about least: quality teaching, learning to standards, evidence-based educational interventions, and academic outcomes that close gaps between the haves and have-nots.

I waited for his promise to move hell and Earth, unions and bureaucrats, publics and privates, lefties and right-wingers, to ensure every American child gets a practical education that prepares her for life in the economic mainstream (a promise that every president since Lyndon Johnson has made), but instead, the former Vice President mostly shadow-boxed the patently erratic orangish gentleman to his right.

My friends, please expect more. When these two private school parents who want to lead the free world take the stage next time to present competing visions for where we should go as a people, let’s hold them to two demands.

Trump v. Biden: who will stand for children in the next presidential debate?

First, they commit to being appropriate examples for our children of how great Americans behave, think, and debate. Or, let them disqualify themselves for failing on that point.

Second, they explicitly detail how their policies will prepare the next generation to be productive members of a free country. They must articulate a plan for systems and policies that allow children to learn in ways that best suit them.

We are so far from that now. Poor academic outcomes for racial minorities, students in poverty, and students with special needs are all too enduring. For example, in most states, less than a quarter of Black students read or perform math proficiently. Non-white students get the worst prepared teachers who – as research tells us – hold implicit biases against them. Further, students of color are more often identified for negative discipline consequences than for gifted programs (even when they don’t qualify for the former and do qualify for the latter).

At the same, education bureaucracies stifle the creativity of teachers through endless standardization. Their lobbying groups fight the emergence of innovative schools and programs that come from chartering laws. Their programs too often limit the most advanced students by gearing the system to a catch-all, mediocre middle.

On top of all that, legacy debts that were born of poor financial decisions compound over time and rob our students of their full per-pupil income by paying for yesterday’s obligations at the expense of tomorrow’s promise.

All the while, we lament the mythical cuts to education funding as the bill for public miseducation and its systemic failures escalates annually.

Hopefully, when they meet again, both candidates seeking our votes in the upcoming election will have something profound to say about how we change the game for students and families. 

The candidates need to can speak to raising the expectations for results in education. We need to know how colleges can prepare better teachers for the classroom and how schools can better support them once they are there. Above all, we need to hear how these candidates can provide more resources directly to families so they can determine how, when, where, and what their children learn. We need a moonshot for things like getting all cities, towns, and rural areas wired with broadband and how we expand the educational opportunities diverse families need.

I’ll be watching the next presidential debate for all that and hoping against hope that two candidates worthy of the nation they want to lead show up with all their best faculties on display. Above all else, I hope they remember the children.

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