This week marks the final days of the 2019-2020 school year. The year has left a huge question mark hanging over the education community, and truly our society as a whole, asking the question “what does the future of education look like?”.
To start, we can all acknowledge that 2020 is the year that will redefine generations to come. It has presented us with an opportunity though. An opportunity to change. Change ourselves, change our communities and most importantly, change for the future generations inheriting this world.
The question marks surround the re-imagination of education and what quality learning can look like for all stakeholders after the so-called “Great Pause”. Administrators will face hard decisions with budget cuts and school safety. Teachers will face challenges no amount of schooling will have prepared them for. Parents will undoubtedly contemplate the pros and cons of keeping their child home. In fact, there has been rumblings of a 500% increase in homeschool for the upcoming school year. With all of that said, the ones who seem the most ready for the reboot of education are the students. Students have questioned “the system” for decades (count me in on that questioning dating back to the 90’s with my mushroom haircut and Five Star notebook), waiting for something to change and giving them an opportunity to make learning accessible, impactful and equitable.
So, what does this opportunity look like? Look no further than one simple word…Empathy.
It’s never been more apparent that empathy is the difference maker, not only in a students K-12 career, but something that stays with them throughout their entire time on this earth. It means being able to truly understand and share the feelings of another human. In so many words, “I see you. I hear you. I’m by your side”. This is the most important thing we can pass on to the next generation to prepare them for success regardless of race, religion, ideology, culture and economic status. Want proof?
This is 7-year old Wynta-Amor Rogers, marching at a Black Lives Matter protest in Long Island, NY. She is fierce, profound, inspiring, unstoppable and ready to put the world on her shoulders and say “I got you”. Wynta-Amor’s passion is contagious. But the most important thing is the understanding that Wynta-Amor has empathy pouring through her veins. I have never met the Roger’s family but applaud them beyond belief, not only for bringing Wynta-Amor to the protest that day, but also for instilling empathy in her since Day 1. She understands what is right and what is wrong, and knows no other way but to defend it for herself and those around her.
Let’s bring it back to the future of education now. Can we, or better yet, should we, return to the education system we previously knew? The education system we knew is riddled with metrics. Metrics that traditionally do not measure a child’s character or journey. One thing I can promise you, students are not remembering the scoreboard of education, but rather the experience. Can we create experiences for students that take them out of the traditional learning environment and put them into a position where their character is the first thing noted on a report card rather than a grade on their transcript? Think back on your own school days. Do you remember your test scores or rather the people who helped you study? Do you remember a prep-course measuring your interests for the “real-world” or rather the person who ignited your passion for learning. Do you remember your homework or that one community service project that got you out of the classroom and into the community? What students remember the most is how they made someone feel, how they felt in that moment and how that experience gave them the confidence, understanding and communication channel to grow, or better yet “I see you. I hear you. I’m by your side”
We can not forget 2020, no matter how painful that may be. By not forgetting, we give ourselves the ability as a global society to learn and grow. To do so, we need to acknowledge that empathy is the most important thing we can teach. This means opening up our classrooms to the world and diversifying learning experiences by giving students the opportunity to express their creativity and curiosity through programs and collaborations that eliminate traditional grading and testing. The best part? Empathy doesn’t cost a thing and is a natural pairing with education as long as our society prioritizes it.
When I look at Wynta-Amor, I immediately think of a famous quote by Nelson Mandela.
This is a from a man who spent over 27 years in prison defending what he believed in. Why? Because he knew no other way. This is what I see in Wynta-Amor Rogers. Over the past six months (more than ever before), this is what I have seen in medical professionals. This is what I have seen in peaceful protesters. This what I have seen in educators. And, if we play our cards right, this is what we will all see in the next generation of global citizens.