The pandemic and the rise of virtual learning was one of three topics of the year in the eyes of TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers. Back in March, local parents and guardians were weighing virtual learning and going back to school. “We have been enjoying virtual learning at home,” said Ernestine Wilkins, a grandmother raising her two grandchildren, Sasha Anderson, 12, and Alexander Austin, 9. (right) Tiphne Hurd said isolation was getting to her son, Jermier, who was “so happy returning to school" on March 1. (Courtesy photo)

by Curtis Weathers —

TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers: “When partisan politics become more important than what is in the best interest of our children and their education, then we are in real trouble.”

Looking through my education lens, three topics with historic implications captured my attention more so than any others – the pandemic and the rise of virtual learning, critical race theory and the violence and senseless killing of so many of our school-age children.

Let’s take a look at each: 

COVID-19 and the rise of virtual learning

COVID-19 and its variants, Delta and Omicron, is clearly the number-one topic of 2021. 

This pandemic has been one of the most tumultuous and disruptive phenomena we have ever witnessed or experienced during our lifetime. 

The virus has disrupted our economy, touched every aspect of our healthcare system and fundamentally altered our school systems’ approach to education. 

While I will never wholly understand the mind-altering politics of this pandemic, it has nevertheless shown me just how gullible people can be even when the implications of their actions or inactions are matters of life and death. 

While things have not been perfect, I am proud of how our education community has responded to the COVID crisis. Educators are called upon, with only a moment’s notice, to make significant adjustments to how they manage and execute the teaching and learning process in our schools. 

Virtual learning has added an entirely new dimension to the instructional process. Before COVID-19, there was already rapid growth and adoption in education technology, with global investments reaching almost $20 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education projected to reach $350 billion by 2025. 

Teachers and students alike have done an excellent job of mastering and managing the new demands of virtual learning.

My hope is that we will build upon the new knowledge and skills we have acquired to help improve instruction and increase learning outcomes in our schools. 

I look forward to what the future holds for virtual and online learning. It is exciting!

 Critical race theory (CRT)

A group called Moms for Liberty filed an 11-page complaint in Tennessee alleging that the book “Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington” is “anti-American.”

In Kingsport, Tennessee, a white teacher was fired for teaching his white students about white privilege and Critical Race Theory. 

The first Black principal of a mostly white Texas high school was forced to resign because a white parent claimed, without evidence, that he was using CRT to promote racially charged conspiracy theories in his school.

Teachers across the U.S. are altering their curriculum to avoid topics that might promote CRT content.

The battle over critical race theory is fully underway in Tennessee and around the country, and the casualties are beginning to mount. 

Critical race theory is a controversial academic framework for examining systemic racism and how it operates in our laws and institutions. It was one of the most interesting and hotly debated topics of 2021. 

State legislatures across the country, including Tennessee, have passed laws banning CRT from being discussed in classrooms. Unfortunately, their actions have had a muzzling effect on teaching basic topics of history, especially black history, in our schools. 

This topic will continue to gain momentum and will continue to be one of the most controversial educational topics of 2022.

Violence takes its toll 

Wooddale High School cheerleader Breuna Woods (left) and her friend, Phillexus Buchanan, were killed while sitting in a car with another teen, who was shot but did not die. (Photo: Facebook)

The Memphis community continues to lose its school-age children to gun violence.

Just last week (Christmas Eve), a 12-year-old boy was killed in a drive-by shooting. Three more individuals as well lost their lives in separate incidents during that same period. 

The young boy was the 26th school-aged child to fall victim to gun violence in the streets of Memphis this year. 

Among major metropolitan areas, Memphis has the second-highest homicide rate in the U.S., and our beloved city, according to a 24/7 Wall St. study, is ranked, sadly, as the most dangerous city in the United States.

My heart aches, and my temper flares every time I hear or read about the death of one of our children. 

School leaders hate nothing more than having to announce and then console a school full of children, teachers and staff about the violent death of one of their children. 

It is a gut-wrenching experience. 

We are struggling as a community to find an answer to these problems. The year 2021 will be a memorable year for so many reasons. The collective impact of the past year has carved a scar in our hearts that will never heal.

But if we fail to learn from our experiences and refuse to work together to improve our community and schools, then the trauma of 2021 will be for naught. What a shame that would be! 

I am looking forward to 2022 and our progress as a community. Let us come together, Memphis, and be a role model for other communities to emulate.

(Follow TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers on Twitter (@curtisweathers); email: [email protected].)