What is Choice?
Wright Mills, American sociologist and professor of Sociology at Columbia University, once wrote “Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them — and then, the opportunity to choose.”
Without doubt, we should defend our civil right to choose. The liberty to choose, and freedom of choice, are fundamental pillars of any healthy society. I have, however, questioned if, during this time of COVID-19 and social isolation, parents have really been empowered with the right to choose.
Over recent weeks, I have watch with interest the debate over school closures. Parents and students alike are following with interest the conflicting views of health professionals and economists. How best to fight the war on COVID-19 will be a discussion that will continue well into the future. Patchwork responses across the globe reflect our differences in philosophy, resourcing, culture, governments and laws. I have stated in previous correspondence that my expertise is in education, not health. For this reason, I believe it prudent to follow the voice of health experts during a health crisis. I also stated that I believe that the actions of systems need to be coordinated and clear. World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stressed at a recent press conference “Not testing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not quarantine alone. Not social distancing alone. Do it all.”
Whilst Shenton College has enacted several measures, and followed all the directives around mass gatherings and events from the Department of Health and the Department of Education, many parents and many students are more interested in whether or not the school will close. School closings are not decisions made by a public school principal. The benefit of school closings has also become a hot topic for debate. Several countries have now resorted to an extreme measure: forcing almost their entire population to stay home. Here in Australia, COVID-19 and its impact on children, asymptomatic infections and transmission of the virus, curtailing human rights, the impact of closures on badly needed health care workers, children missing months of education, and crippling the economy have all been espoused as reasons why schools must stay open.
Many parents, however, have elected to keep their children home for just and responsible reasons. Many have respectfully explained the dilemma they face with looking after elderly relatives, or family members with comorbidities, whilst try to ensure their child can actively participate in learning. Several parents have expressed how they feel torn between making an ethical, social-health decision and a practical education decision; grappling with what is best for their child and what is best for society. I cannot resolve this dilemma for parents; I can assure you that we will support you in whatever decision you make.
Whilst a public school principal does not decide whether or not their school closes, they do decide on how they empower their community to be able to make choices. To this end Shenton College has been testing their readiness to adapt and deliver curricula, utilising existing systems, without face-to-face options over a three-week period until the end of Term 1. Our delivery platform, Compass, has been structured for sharing lesson plans and other lesson resources over the internet. Teachers have now placed on Compass, resources differentiated for each stage of learning, and for all learning areas, from Years 7-12. Teachers have tested individual student email access and have considered additional e-platforms to support remote home-based learning. They have been proactively testing student logins and our network technicians have been assessing the Compass platform for mass remote home delivery. Formal assessments have been modified, adjusted or removed to minimise disruption to student learning if they need to stay home over the next three weeks. Furthermore, teachers have developed alternative, paper-based resources for any children who do not have internet access at home. May I highlight that the Compass e-resources platform is not an alternative to face-to-face teaching. The resources we have developed are only a temporary solution to a complex time of uncertainty, anxiety and fear. We have not uploaded these resources to suggest students stay home. We have taken this action only to enable our parents a choice.
- Shenton College will remain open until we are informed by authorities to close.
- All learning resources are now available on-line in an electronic format covering the next three weeks of student learning for all year groups and all learning areas.
- All assessments have been modified, adjusted or removed for Weeks 8, 9 and 10 of Term 1.
- In circumstances where individual parents choose to temporarily withdraw their children from school, prior to a directive from government, there is no Education Department requirement for teachers to provide additional work/lessons for those children. Shenton staff are, however, well aware that some parents are responsibly keeping their child at home and have endeavoured to support all children through our Compass learning platform for the next three weeks only. This is a courtesy not a requirement.
- Shenton has no plans to extend remote delivery, nor immediate capacity to continue remote delivery, after Term 1.
As a parent how can I support my child during the remainder of Term 1?
- Remain objective, calm, supportive and informed.
- Ensure you have up-to-date records on Compass, as we will be using this platform to communicate.
- Keep all email communication to teachers and the school to a minimum and only if it is essential. This time has been equally stressful for Shenton College staff. Shenton College has establish a parent feedback email: email@example.com. This email will be monitored; please expect delays in response.
- Please be aware that we cannot run a dual timetable curriculum for students who elect to either stay at home or come to school; therefore, Compass resources will be our curriculum for the rest of this term.
- Parents who elect to keep their children home should do everything they can to ensure their children are not mixing socially in a way which can continue to spread the virus. They should observe the same social distancing principles as adults.
- Finally, learning activities, resources, and assessments have all be modified. However, students will need to take responsibility for completion of work and engagement.
My grandmother once said to me: “Michael, they say everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want a different result, make a different choice. However, firstly you have to be given a choice.”
I am grateful to be a Principal of a school with such a fine body of staff, inspirational students and supportive parents. The Shenton Community has always been objective, supportive and caring. The Shenton Difference embodies the uniqueness and connectedness of our community – that “something more”. I do not know what challenges will befall us in Term 2; I do know that if we address them together and in a collaborative, caring and ethical manner, we will feel justified when we say we are a proudly public, proudly excellent and proudly inclusive school.
In the words of Morgan Scott Peck, American psychiatrist and best-selling author in his book, The Different Drum: “Community is … like electricity, it is profoundly lawful. Yet there remains something about it that is inherently mysterious, miraculous, unfathomable. Thus there is no adequate one-sentence definition of genuine community. Community is something more than the sum of its parts, its individual members. What is this “something more?” Even to begin to answer that, we enter a realm that is not so much abstract as almost mystical. It is a realm where words are never fully suitable and language itself falls short.”
Thank you for being part of that mystical Shenton community.