My Turn: On the current state of education

Published: 11/15/2021 1:13:34 PM

“Feral” is a word I’ve heard a lot lately. Were I an animal control officer, that might be par for the course, but it’s not a word that should be circulating in the field of education, and especially not as an adjective to describe the behavior of children. As one of the co-directors of Four Winds School in Gill, part of my job is to keep up with what’s going on in the larger, more traditional schools in our area. To be frank, things seem pretty bad right now.

“A group of students stole two computers from a classroom the other day. Walked right out the door with them,” one of my public school teacher friends told me at the beginning of the school year. “Apparently it’s a TikTok challenge. They even stole the metal stall dividers from one of the bathrooms!” Later, her union held a meeting to discuss the next viral trend: hitting teachers.

Similar reports have rolled in from grownups and kids all fall. Last week alone Four Winds received four inquiries from parents of Greenfield Middle Schoolers. “They’re not learning, and they feel emotionally and physically unsafe,” is what we’ve heard over and over again. While I’m really glad Four Winds has open spots and can offer a safe environment for students who need it, this is not exactly how we typically like to go about recruiting.

More recently, The Recorder reported that the Greenfield Police Department was called to respond to a “disruption” at Greenfield High School for the 14th time this school year. This event and others were openly discussed at last week’s emotional school committee meeting. I wasn’t able to attend, but by all accounts I’ve heard, everyone involved is feeling frustrated and stuck.

Of course, the cause of all this is no great mystery. The combination of trauma caused by the pandemic, and the lack of practice with socialization and academics due to remote and hybrid learning, is clearly the recipe for a tough school year. But it goes deeper than that, too.

A colleague recently shared a theory which seemed so obvious once she said it out loud: Kids, subconsciously at least, don’t want to like school right now. They don’t want to build connections with their teachers and peers, or get invested and engage with the curriculum, or even to enjoy being there at all, in case it all gets taken away again. Building an emotional wall is unfortunately a natural way for kids to deal with trauma.

It’s really hard, as a teacher and community member, to watch this all unfold and feel so … helpless.

So what’s to be done about it all? I remember a time, back in March and April of 2020, and teacher appreciation memes flooded my social media, when I actually, honestly thought, “wow, this might be the start of the massive education reform that our country needs!” Of course, nothing of the sort happened.

Short of trillion dollar legislation meant to overhaul the entire educational system in our country (which of course means creating, supporting or overhauling systems in the areas of disabilities, poverty, equity, equality, and so much more), we’re probably not going to see robust change any time soon.

What’s one teacher, one parent, or even a school committee or even a whole town to do? While I certainly don’t hold all the answers, here’s some advice I can offer, for now:

■Kids, parents, teachers, and school administrators all need extra TLC right now. It might feel hard when we’re all already so burnt out, but a little kindness can go a long way.

■We all want what’s best for the children, and should remind ourselves often that we’re all on the same team.

■Students with disabilities and learning differences have rights! Recently, a parent of a neurodivergent fifth-grader expressed feeling stuck in the public school system because her child’s needs ‘wouldn’t be met if they switched to a different school.’ This is simply not true, and I was surprised that the district hadn’t informed her that public schools are legally obligated to provide IEP services to students, even if the student transfers to a private institution. (You can read more about that here and here.)

■It will get better. It will take time, patience, resilience, and compassion, but we will all make it through this. Together.

Becca Danielsen is co-director of Four Winds School in Gill, where she also teaches English, Humanities, and math. She lives in Greenfield with her husband Kris and their cat, Chloe. You can reach her at


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