Elementary teacher explains why we can't keep using schools as band-aids for society's ills

Right now, the U.S. is engaged in deep debates about how to handle school re-openings in the fall in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. It's a question with no good answers, unfortunately. But the question itself is shining a spotlight on the various functions schools serve and what we've come to expect out of teachers and schools beyond just teaching kids—expectations that, when you see them all written out, actually seem quite absurd.

An award-winning teacher from Iowa, Alison Hoeman, has beautifully explained how society has dumped most of its failings onto the shoulders of schools and teachers, and now expects them to offer themselves up as tribute during a literal pandemic.



Hoeman wrote on Facebook:

"Society: In the richest country in the world, between 11 and 13 million children live in food insecure homes.

Schools: We can help..... Kids can eat breakfast and lunch at school, and in many places, teachers will spend their own money on snacks. For the most needy, we will send food home for dinner and weekends.

Society: Over 4 million children in the US do not have health insurance or adequate healthcare.

Schools: We can help..... we will bring doctors to do free physicals, eye exams, and dental treatments right at school. In many places, school nurses will spend their own money on sanitary supplies for girls.

Society: Over 17% of US children live without basic necessities.

Schools: We can help.... we will install washers and dryers in schools. We will hand out clothes, school supplies, shoes, and winter coats for free. Many of these items are purchased by school nurses and teachers.

Society: There are 5.5 million reports annually of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect of minors.

Schools: We can help.... schools will be safe places and teachers will be safe people. We will have some counselors, but not enough.... some therapists, but not enough, right in the schools. Teachers with minimal training in trauma will come to school early and stay late to mentor these children. Teachers will spend more time with their students than with their own children. Teachers will cry and sometimes crumble at the thought of not being able to do more for the innocent children in their care.

Society: Almost 25% of US children have parents that work past school hours.

Schools: We can help.... we will install before and after school programs in thousands of schools where kids can get another meal, get help with their homework, and participate in organized activities.

Society: Almost 14 million children in the US are obese.

Schools: we can help... Physical Education classes will be mandatory and we will incorporate lessons about healthy food choices.

Society: The US averages one school shooting every 77 days.

School: We can help... we will do lock down drills and train our students to hide and be quiet. And if need be, teachers will literally die for their students.

Society: We are in the midst of a global pandemic which our government has failed to control. Almost 130,000 Americans are dead and the numbers are rising, not declining, in many places. Because we have chosen to ignore, for decades, the racism, inequality, and discrimination that is at the root of all the aforementioned problems, we now need schools to reopen so that kids can eat, get healthcare, get clothes, shoes, and school supplies, be safe, be healthy, and be supervised. Oh, and so that they can get an education. It appears that COVID doesn't affect children, so let's go back to school.

Teachers: We can help.... of course we will help, that's what we do. We miss our students and want to be back at school with them.... but what about the 25-30% of us that are over the age of 50? What about those of us who are immunocompromised or live with someone who is? What about those of us who are pregnant... we still have very limited data on what COVID does to unborn children. Will you have PPE for us? Will you have hand sanitizer for us? What if we get sick, and don't have enough sick days to cover the time that we are out? What if a family member gets sick and we need to care for them?

Society: Wow, why are you suddenly being a bunch of crybabies? Before you were always willing to sacrifice your time, your money, your mental health.... and now when we need you, you aren't willing to sacrifice your health and possibly your life? But 75% of you are women.... and that's what we, as a society, expect women to do... sacrifice yourself for others.

* For decades, schools and teachers have been the band-aid on society's failings, because we care about children.... because we know that in society's failings, it is almost always the children that suffer the most. Schools and teachers are not responsible for, or capable of, the repair of our broken America. Make no mistake that going back to school has very little to do with education and much more to do with the other social services that schools provide... we need children's to return to school so that they are fed, cared for, and supervised... so that their parents can go back to work and participate in the economy. While it literally breaks the heart of every teacher in America to think of all of the children that they know who are not eating enough, not being well cared for, and not safe in their home, teachers will not be the lambs sent to slaughter because no one else cared enough to actually address the racism, discrimination, and inequality that is at the root of our problems, while schools and teachers were picking up all the slack and holding it all together with a band-aid that is growing very thin."

Since everything is already turned upside down anyway, perhaps now would be a good opportunity for us to reexamine how we as a society—one with a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people"—handles issues like hunger, poverty, child abuse, health and healthcare, working parents balancing childcare, etc. The fact that we've tacitly decided to address these problems through underfunded school systems with overworked teachers and school personnel is rather ridiculous. It's not fair to teachers, parents, or kids to expect schools to fix everything. It's high time to tackle our ills head on, with resources and experience and expertise that makes sense, and stop treating gaping holes with bandaids that weren't designed for such a purpose in the first place.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.