As many have written, including me, the growing gap between the SUPER-haves and the not-haves is only growing in the midst of the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and civil injustices. Families are invariably concerned about what is going to happen in a few short weeks: will their kids fall behind if everything goes online? “Fall behind” in academics, athletics, social development, and so on and so forth. Some families have the very real dilemma of prioritizing online schooling, childcare, rent, healthcare, personal health, and the list goes on and on. Others have the access to small classes and access to outdoor spaces with multiple teachers per class as the standard. Still others have the opportunity to create “pandemic school pods” with private tutors and sports coaches to continue learning. Rather than trying to shame or judge family decisions, let’s try to agree that in general, families are doing what they believe to the best for their children.
No doubt that the decisions made in a few short weeks whether we hold soccer camps or in-person classes for all students or care for the wellbeing of educator, family, and child are critical. Yet, how many of us have really considered that our choices know have vast ripple effects down the line?
Even before COVID-19, children from families making less than $25,000 are far less likely to play sports than those from families making over $100,000. Now, with access to athletic training even more limited to those who can afford it, what impact might that have not only on the student who was hoping to help finance their college tuition with an athletic scholarship, but also for sports at large? If only a select group of young people have access to athletic training and development now, what does that mean for professional sports and the Olympics in 2024? 2028? 2032? (Will there even be an Olympics?) If only some students have access to engineering-maker kits now, what does that mean for who gets to design the way we live and move in 2030? 2050? If only some students now continue learning new materials on environmental concerns, while others are limited to worksheets covering what was already covered months ago, what does that mean for whose voices are included to protect polar bears and other vulnerable populations (humans included) in 2100?
Decisions made now have broader impact now and even bigger, unintentional, unknown consequences in the generations ahead. As humans, we are wired to respond to immediate threat and change. It’s far harder to act now for a result we may not even be alive to see. It’s why it’s hard to change habits to address climate change, or giving ourselves a better chance at aging more gracefully. We may intellectually understand that the choices we make now in what we eat and what we drive will likely impact whether our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be able to walk outside or know what a polar bear is. But if we’re not going to be alive to see that or the result is not immediate, it’s hard to motivate people to connect the now-behavior to the future-reality. So, where to start?
- Invite the “Other”
It is far easier and can appear more logical to keep decisions small and local. While there is an absolutely need to understand the localized contexts and nuances, it is also important to seek perspectives outside our immediate environs and those we usually “Other” to check our own blindspots as we craft different ways of educating and learning.
- Ask “what might happen if…”
Making decisions to address the moment is critical, and so is making decisions that take into consider “what if….” And not just “what if” now, but also “what if” way down the line. We will never have the full answers, but at least we can then invite and incorporate the consideration. What might happen if the majority of low-income students can’t progress in their learning for the next 9 months? In 2021? In 2032? In 2121?
- Give to get
As humans, we do everything we can to avoid pain and discomfort. For some of us, for many of us, we sit with discomfort and sacrifice daily. When change threatens us and our family’s wellbeing, it is completely understandable to buckle down, armor, walls up. We saw this with the peculiar raid on toilet paper. How might giving a bit – sacrificing some comfort now – allow us to gain more in the long run?
The answers are unclear. But if we don’t pay attention to the longer-term impact as we are trying to bandage the current crises, these answers will be determined by only a few now and in the future. This can be incredibly costly for us as a society if systems and policies continue to be determined by a slice of society, rather than take into account the multiple perspectives and voices that exist and need to be heard. As a civilization, we may be missing out on the next great inventor or doctor or artist who can help us move forward. As individuals, we will be stymying the potential of thousands. We cannot not afford to take into consideration the longer-term implications.
If not for us, for you grandchildren’s grandchildren.