Election day is over, but the 2020 election — and the controversies surrounding it — are not. In cities and towns across the country, Americans are asking the same question: What’s next?
This question is especially pertinent to teachers, students, community leaders, and families who are everywhere faced with contentious decisions about schooling during the pandemic, racial injustices, and teaching in a politically divisive environment.
On Tuesday, HGSE’s Education Now broadcast series covered these issues and more during an action-oriented conversation hosted by Professor Martin West. Bringing together academic leaders from across Harvard University, the event sought to explore the election’s impact on young people, families, and communities.
“If there’s one word to describe the election — the campaign and its aftermath — that word would be divisive,” began West, setting the urgent tone for the discussion.
Throughout the webinar, panelists Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health; Desmond Ang, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School; Sherri Charleston, Harvard’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer; and HGSE Professor Meira Levinson shared their thoughts on the state of education in today’s political environment and their predictions about rocky path forward.
- Investing in our kids means investing in our buildings: “Before the pandemic, there was no political recognition that school buildings are influencing student health, thinking, and performance,” explained Allen. But in the wake of concern around coronavirus, this has started to change. More schools are thinking about things like ventilation systems and air quality — features of schools that are crucial not only for lowering transmission rates in times of pandemic, but also for improving student quality of life overall. The federal government needs to invest in school buildings now to sustain healthy educational spaces for the future.
- Continue the conversation: 2020 has brought immense challenges, but it has also opened space for conversation, explained Ang, acknowledging a silver lining to the current turmoil. “We are having discussions about problems with policing and racial discrimination, problems that have been plaguing the U.S. for decades,” he said. People are engaging in discussions and making an effort to become informed about these issues. Moving forward, we need to continue that habit.
- To build an inclusive environment, you need to call out — and call in: “In higher ed, we should also think about people who found themselves to be silenced in the Florida Man era,” explained Charleston. “In the process of calling people out, we were silencing some, rather than calling them in.” We need to focus on civil dialogue and civil discourse in order to close the divide – while also continuing to condemn racism and other systemic harms.
- Refashion civic education: “In the past five years, we’ve seen a refashioning of civic norms and principles and a remaking of what we expect our elected leaders to do and say,” explained Levinson. At the same time, there’s been an onslaught of disinformation and misinformation arising from social media. To improve national discourse, civic education needs to address these changes. “It needs to be more racially inclusive and transparent about the divisions, inequities, and injustices we face,” said Levinson. “We need to refashion civic education along modern lines.”
Meira Levinson's online course: Youth in Front: Understanding and Supporting Student-led Activism.
Joe Allen’s healthy schools report: Risk Reduction Strategies for Reopening Schools
Harvard’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging website