Opportunity within all this deep disruption

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 6/16/20

John Adams once said that every problem is an opportunity in disguise. I think he might have said that shortly after discovering that grapes don’t grow so well in the northeast, and thus, we have …

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Opportunity within all this deep disruption


John Adams once said that every problem is an opportunity in disguise. I think he might have said that shortly after discovering that grapes don’t grow so well in the northeast, and thus, we have that problem to thank for a line of beers bearing his family’s name.

Is it possible that we are missing out on a huge opportunity of our own right now?

The problem at hand is, of course, the coronavirus pandemic. I know, I know, there are a lot of other things rather starkly in the news these days dominating our attention. But, in reality, the problem that effects more of us at this moment is the pandemic. And not because we’re sick, and not because we’ve lost loved ones, though that can’t be said for everyone, sadly.

And not just because the billionaires in charge of Major League Baseball can’t get their act together long enough to make a deal with the millionaires who play for them to get a stinking season underway! But that’s a rant for another day.

No, the pandemic is effecting us because it has literally changed our lives. Baseball, for one thing. Schools talking about a variety of crazy scenarios to re-open in the Fall. Sporting events with no crowds; no youth sporting events. Our major entertainments not in production at all. More people working from home than ever before, emptying office buildings. And nobody taking vacations.

These are problems. All of the things that give structure, in whatever way, to our civic life had been ripped from our lives overnight. And if you don’t think that had something to do with the size and virulence of the protests and riots over the last three weeks (where, mysteriously, the virus apparently can’t survive), then I don’t think you’ve been paying attention.

But, come to think of it, is that really how we would have designed our civic life to look if we had had the chance design it with intentionality 100 years ago?

I’ve long felt that the American education system is a creature of inertia—it exists on the momentum created for it 125 years ago. If we were to design the system from scratch right now, we would never follow an agrarian calendar; we would never build in an eleven-week break from learning, when memory bleed begins at five weeks; we would never base the entire system around the social advancement model we now use; and, I submit, we would never design anything with the same factory-spec, cookie-cutter outcomes agenda that we’re in the midst of recovering from these days.

Well … Wouldn’t now be a decent time to take a serious look at how we do things and design something smarter? A four-day week, where the fifth day is devoted to teacher training and student enrichment? That’s only something we’re doing now because we were forced to in March. But, it’s Brilliant! Let’s keep doing it! Online learning—not so great for socio-emotional outcomes, which we all feel are critical for child growth, but it is pretty solid for both development and evaluation of skills-based outcomes. Can we adopt it into the new environment to make schools more efficient and effective?

And, beyond schools, wouldn’t we rather find a way to divert some of our entertainment dollars away from petulant celebrities who, it turns out, we can live without, and, instead, pay nurses and paramedics and (whispers in fear) police what they deserve?

And as to the intersection of the moment and the education system: if we could do it all over again, would we ever create the linkage between school funding and property values? It wasn’t “racism,” that is, it wasn’t designed maliciously to destroy inner-city schools, but is any one policy more detrimental to minority advancement than horribly-funded schools?

Yeah, we have problems. BOY do we have problems. But if that’s all we see, then maybe we’re missing the chance to fix things.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at Amazon.com, on Kindle, or through MichaelJAlcorn.com.” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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