If this mess of a year has provided us anything, it is the time to question our perspective on everything.
Our preview of this year’s top headlines attempts to encapsulate a year in which normal has been redefined. Take the pictures from last December’s First Night. Uncovered faces with strangers standing side-by-side is now a jarring sight. Spying a smiling face as someone walks by is something of the past. But, that’s a superficial observation of a year that has demanded of us to rethink social behaviors, both for health and social justice.
The demand — the need — for social reform may have never been louder than it has been in 2020. This pandemic that has held a tight grip upon our everyday lives may provided some pressure to the cause. The need for equity has been voiced for generations, but not everyone has listened. With most of the nation responsibly sequestering themselves to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, seeing and reviewing the details involving George Floyd’s death in May sparked something substantial. It propelled a movement that was already in motion into something that resulted in 11,000 people demonstrating peacefully in Troy — and just as poignant, another 1,500 people taking a knee for 7 minutes and 46 seconds in Delmar’s Four Corners. It’s a national conversation that still needs to continue. More importantly, positive change needs to result from that conversation.
Those conversations happen right now in various communities as they are tasked with instituting change within their respective police departments. The norms of law enforcement, too, are questioned. Residents attend online forums to openly discuss their experiences and feelings as the group investigates the roots behind the practices of police officers. Come to find, the simple question as to why a school resource officer carries a weapon while on campus is not so easily answered. Watching the Town of Bethlehem host its police reform forums online is an impressive display of people partaking in civil discourse while remaining compassionate and sympathetic to one another.
The norms associated with our school children is also in flux. As we walk into January, many of our children have yet to physically meet their teachers. The quality of their class engagement is measured by their bandwidth and a functioning computer. Elementary children, as resilient and imaginative as they are, have been asked to navigate Zoom meeting platforms originally designed for the corporate world. They’ve done it — and have found ways to skirt their mandated schedule to virtually hang out with friends, too.
Teresa Snyder, former superintendent for Voorheesville Central School, still has her heart in education, though she is more apt to describe herself as “employed grandmother of five.” Her perspective is no longer skewed by the prism of the academic world. That’s also not to say that her insight ever was just one-sided. But, as she continues to speak with educators today, she has apparently fielded many concerns as to what pitfalls they will stumble upon once children return to school. What kind of divides will there be between those who excel and those who lack initiative. With stories of students not attending virtual learning — more than half were truant this spring, according to a New York Times article — how is anyone going to quantify the quality of our childrens’ education during this pandemic?
Snyder said you can’t. Don’t do it. You’re missing the boat in terms of the unique experience in which this generation of learners have gone through in 2020. It’s not so much that they may not meet academic thresholds established before COVID. They won’t.
“I sincerely plead with my colleagues, to surrender the artificial constructs that measure achievement and greet the children where they are, not where we think they ‘should be,’” wrote Snyder on Facebook. Her online essay has been shared more than 3,000 times since she wrote it on December 6. “Greet them with art supplies and writing materials, and music and dance and so many other avenues to help them express what has happened to them in their lives during this horrific year. Greet them with stories and books that will help them make sense of an upside-down world. They missed you. They did not miss the test prep. They did not miss the worksheets. They did not miss the reading groups. They did not miss the homework. They missed you.”
This year has been a time to chip away at the norms we’ve been so comfortable with. It’s not an easy process. But, what we often find is, you need to tear things down before you can build them back stronger. 2020 tore us all down. 2021 holds the promise of building ourselves back up, stronger. Do it with compassion, sympathy and an open mind.
— Michael Hallisey,