As school districts across the nation announce that their buildings will remain closed in the fall, parents are quickly organizing “learning pods” or “pandemic pods” — small groupings of children who gather every day and learn in a shared space, often participating in the online instruction provided by their schools. Pods are supervised either by a hired private teacher or other adult, or with parents taking turns.
At face value, learning pods seem a necessary solution to the current crisis. But in practice, they will exacerbate inequities, racial segregation and the opportunity gap within schools. Children whose parents have the means to participate in learning pods will most likely return to school academically ahead, while many low-income children will struggle at home without computers or reliable internet for online learning.
As a social emotional learning specialist, I know how important connection, community and socialization are for children and adults. I also know that parents are being crushed under the weight of having to simultaneously parent, work, and teach their children. Nowhere is the anxiety, fear and devastation that is gripping our country more evident than in our education system. The appeal of learning pods is immense. For parents who need to work and can’t supervise their children’s learning, joining a pod may feel like the only way they can educate their kids and keep their jobs.
Based on what I’ve seen online, the learning pod movement appears to be led by families with means, a large portion of whom are white. Paradoxically, at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted a national reckoning with white supremacy, white parents are again ignoring racial and class inequality when it comes to educating their children. As a result, they are actively replicating the systems that many of them say they want to dismantle.
Take the school where I work, a racially and economically diverse public elementary school in the heart of Atlanta. It’s a gentrifying school within a gentrifying neighborhood. The building is bordered by half-a-million-dollar homes on one side, and low-income apartments on the other, where a large portion of our Black students live.