I first learned about pods in 1956 in the classic sci-fi film, the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I thought that movie covered it all—pods from outer space took over your body while you were a sleep—but then came the coronavirus and everything changed, including pods.
And now, just as we learned "distancing," we can add podding to the vernacular, and leave room for microschools too. All this, like virtually every other hoop we have jumped through since March, evolves from government incompetence manifesting itself in the unwillingness to provide leadership and direction.
Now it's schools on the victim list. The president wanted them open but provided no clear direction on how that could happen with the virus still raging in many states. Under ordinary circumstances and with leadership at the top, the Education Secretary would gather some experts and come up with a strategy, decide what kind of finances would be required, maybe even devise some alternative plans.
But our Secretary of Education is Betsy DeVos, she of the avowed disdain for public education. We can expect nothing from her other than a feeble echo of the president's sentiments, leaving a void to be filled only by those with a real stake in the children's success—parents and teachers.
Parents are desperate—they don’t want another spring of wasted educational opportunities while they are required to stay home and monitor their kids. Teachers are desperate—they know that distance learning is less effective for a greater number of students than classroom instruction. The only people who are relaxed here are the ones issuing the directives and then standing back to observe.
In that environment, the pods have arrived. Pods—learning collectives organized by parents, sometimes with the help of teachers or tutors. Sometimes they're just newly formed businesses to meet the perceived needs of the time. Nobody knows for sure how this is going to work out, but most people know one thing for certain: the more financially solvent parents are, the more formal education their kids will receive, especially if, as many believe, for many there will be a cost factor involved.
Even though antipodal means diametrically opposed, but I'm not antipodal to pods. Nevertheless, the whole point of our public education system was the democratization of America—the opportunity for all young people to have an equal opportunity to get ahead. Now I know that's always been more theory than practice—there have always been good schools and poor schools and unbalanced or skewed financial support, put this newest idea is fraught with the risk of creating a nation with even a greater disparity between rich and poor than we have. And we have a big one.
In a time like this, the pods may be the answer—keeping students physically separated while maintaining learning environments and preserving the health of their older teachers. But without the equal opportunity on which public education is based, it's just another step toward the philosophy of a banana republic—where some few people have tremendous wealth and opportunity, but most have neither, nor do they have the prospects of achieving anything more.
The last line of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, screamed by the frenzied protagonist who knows pods, is "They're here already! You're next!"
Well, the new pods may be here already. Are we buying? Are we next?