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.