Wednesday, March 25, 2020

First, Then

As local children were returned to their homes from the school system for a period of self isolation, many parents began to worry. What were they to do? How could they make sure their children were “keeping up” academically? Where was the complete plan from HCPSS for daily instruction?

The worry, of course, was only human. The way different people responded to that worry was, shall we say, educational.

I’m not going to delve into the weeds here. I want to focus on a question that was asked in a Facebook group very early on in a discussion of the challenges ahead. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of it was:

Why is the school system focused on providing meals when their real mission is to educate?

Hmm. Why is that? Schools should be about teaching and learning, right? They’re not food service operations like restaurants or grocery stores. In a time of crisis, shouldn’t they be attending to education?

There’s plenty of very good academic work out there about the history of how schools got into the food providing business. Here is my question:

If not the schools, then who?

Right now schools are the most natural place where children and families are seen and known on a consistent basis. If we don’t have a better and more reliable way to feed hungry children in place and ready to go, then we are saying it’s okay to let them go hungry so my child can keep up with schoolwork.

I don’t think for one moment that the person who asked the question wanted anyone to go hungry. But they clearly did see the setting up and execution of Grab and Go food sites as something that stood between them and the goal they wanted to achieve: seamless and continuous at-home learning plans.

We can talk about how it is particularly beneficial for schools to be in the business of providing meals  and other support services to children in their care because it supports better educational outcomes. (See this basic explanation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.)  If children aren’t fed, healthy, safe, emotionally stable, they can’t learn. Period. And that’s a worthwhile discussion to have.

For me, though, the most basic commitment we have as a community is to address the needs of our neighbors. Hungry children need to be fed. Not because they will behave better, or need less medical care, or get better test scores.

Because they are hungry.

That’s enough.

Parents all over Columbia/HoCo are working hard to make this period of quarantine livable for their families. And that looks different in every home. It’s hard when we are all essentially locked down to keep the big picture of everyone’s needs solidly in our mind’s eye.

One more thing. We need to acknowledge that Covid-19  has brought about an enormous, life-changing, massively disrupting experience for all of us. That there was no “being prepared” for this. That we are all, in one way or another, “winging it” with whatever resources we are able to employ. It’s hard, it’s scary, it’s unknowable and overwhelming. But I absolutely believe that we have the capability to make at least this one commitment to eachother:

First, we feed the hungry children.

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