By Katherine Miranda
Over the past three years, natural disasters and human (in)action have inflicted staggering blows to infrastructure, essential services from education to healthcare, and socioeconomic stability in Puerto Rico. Our recent history has compounded the effects of more than a century of US colonial rule that directly and indirectly created the conditions for structural inequities, corruption, and political hierarchies to flourish. Meanwhile, close to half the population lives in poverty.
I hear lots of talk about Puerto Rican resilience, and praise for the strength and solidarity demonstrated in crisis after crisis – Hurricanes Maria and Irma, the public protests that successfully ousted corrupt former Governor Rosselló, the ongoing earthquakes that began in January and now, the COVID-19 pandemic, under which our fragile health care system may collapse. Resilience, quite honestly, is getting old.
What about our children? The magnitude of this pandemic and its disproportionate effects on our youngest and most vulnerable learners demand radically rethinking about how we approach their educational opportunities. We know too well that early academic success – critically linked to socioemotional wellbeing – is a key foundation for the future. In Puerto Rico, 85 percent of public school students in kindergarten through third grade live below the poverty line and do not have equitable access to high-quality instruction, resources, and academic supports. The crises of recent years have not only been socioemotionally devastating to them, but have also drastically interrupted their instructional time and academic development. For these students, resilience has already become too big a burden to bear.
It is time to move toward truly equitable responses for our children, as Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician in Flint, Michigan demands for her community: “To expect resilience without justice is simply to indifferently accept the status quo.” Our educational responses to the pandemic must go beyond stretching our current playbook to the conditions of physical distancing and distance learning; working toward a return to “normal” must not be our goal. It’s time to think about what educational justice would really look like for our children, and how we will make it a reality.
COVID-19 has already dramatically changed our world and laid bare treacherous inequities in access to basic services within and across nations. It also gives us the opportunity to re-evaluate the very foundations on which our societies have been laid, and if we act, to change them. The quality and accessibility of public education is the lifeblood of a truly equitable society. As parents, as family members, as educators, as concerned citizens, it is time to demand drastic shifts in the prioritization of our children’s public education. Our children deserve our very best, and educational justice is our only option.
Katherine Miranda is Managing Director of Education Programs at Flamboyan Foundation.