We’re world historians. By definition we aim for a broad reach and embrace lofty goals. We claim—with some confidence and good evidence—that we’re singularly equipped to make sense of the first truly global pandemic of the jet age. But with the exception of a few stalwart explorers like David Christian, we’re not futurists.
That doesn’t mean, though, that we shouldn’t be spending some of our sheltering-in-place time thinking about our post-pandemic professional aspirations, the institutions where we work, and the societies where we live.
Many of us are experiencing the most decisive, dramatic historical process of our lifetimes. My grandmother, born in 1900, lived through the 1918-19 flu pandemic, both world wars, the Great Depression, the entire Cold War, and the moon landing. She left her daughter and granddaughter to puzzle over the 9-11 attacks, asking as she had for more than 90 years: what does this international news mean for one California family trying to make its way in the world?
Now my mother and I, along with about seven and half billion other people in the world, continue to troop along, day by day reckoning with disaster and trying to reconcile the global to the individual. All the members of the WHA are doing likewise as we continue to try to work: teaching and learning, reading and writing—the tasks that occupy most members of the WHA for a good portion of their “old normal” workdays.
In the current normal, completed in isolation, these tasks frankly suck. We miss our students and colleagues. Our students miss their classmates. We miss libraries and lunch meetings. We certainly miss the comfort of familiar routines and expectations. Among the many analogies to war-time disruptions and sacrifice currently circulating in the press and on social media, the mental state of longing for an end, for a return to normalcy, is especially prevalent.
Let’s be honest, though: there was a lot about the “old normal” that wasn’t working well for lots of people. inequality was ugly before SARS-CoV-2 mutated and started making humans sick. What’s more, aspects of that “old world” didn’t work for all teachers, students, and scholars. In both the US and globally, there’s abundant evidence of resource inequality, differential spending per pupil, different goals for different school systems, unequal opportunities based on race, gender, religion, and the problem of the one-size-fits-all “factory model” approach to education.
So what is it again about the pre-pandemic status quo that we’re longing to return to?
Even 9-11, horrible as it was, was not as disordering, either globally or to so many individual households, as the spread of Covid-19. The devastation wrought by this disease doesn’t exactly produce a clean slate, but it is a big enough disruption to cause us to ask: what could the education landscape look like when we’re allowed to re-open, in this, the best of all possible worlds?
With this question, Pandem-Mondus invites contributions from members to imagine aspects of an improved, even utopian, post-pandemic education. To propose a post or submit a draft, please contact the WHA HQ.
by Laura J. MitchellWHA President