50 minutes | Mar 25, 2021

Back to School

The public schools that are reopening this spring are not the same ones that shut down in the COVID cloud a year ago. “Learning in person” is back, yes, in the close company of teachers and other kids. But remote screen teaching, virtual education that ZOOMed in COVID time may be more entrenched than ever. Perhaps never again will you know an American school kid without a computer connection, with anything less than full Google access. Which is to say that Silicon Valley is on virtually every school board from Alaska to Florida, invited or not. Will we get to see public schools again as engines of freedom and upward mobility—and as community treasures, all at the same time? Noliwe Rooks, Jennifer Berkshire, and Linda Nathan. This hour it’s a parent-teacher conference around kids in schools coming back from a pandemic shutdown, out of their COVID eclipse. What have we learned or failed to learn about education in a blighted year? Is it true that American classrooms will be more segregated by race, class, income, and effectiveness than they were a year ago, or 10 years ago? What is the Joe Biden agenda, or our assignment for the new president? Can a divided country agree ever again that public schools are the core social project, the American Road to freedom, equality, middle class mobility? We have three angles of up-close experience in this conversation. Jennifer Berkshire is our journalist with a new book on the Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door. Noliwe Rooks is the W.E.B. Du Bois professor at Cornell who covers a wide swath of race, gender, culture of all kinds, including fashion and beauty. Her new book is titled Cutting School. Linda Nathan has done the impossible for decades: she has been a school builder and rule breaker inside the hidebound Boston public school system, and her book is called When Grit Isn’t Enough.
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