Starting a couple of weeks ago, suddenly all that parents wanted to talk about were pods, hopeful that here was the solution to their problems. They have been hearing about private, parent-curated learning pods on the radio. In newspapers. In their local Facebook group. In much of the media coverage, pods are presented as the answer rich people have found to the dilemma of sending kids to school without actually sending kids to school. Some parents I speak with are in the 0.1 percent. But most are not. Lately I’ve spoken with speech pathologists, dental hygienists, and architects, as well as a good number of parents who are themselves teachers. They’re all searching for a way to support their kids academically, or at least to make what’s been intolerable a little bit less so. Thus, they ask me how pods work, and whether my company can help set one up.
Pod has become a magic word, even though its meaning is not always clear. Some public schools are “podding” their students into smaller groups. Private companies are popping up with “microschools.” But for the most part, the word pod refers to unofficial learning collectives organized by parents, sometimes with the help of a professional teacher or tutor.
Read: What teachers need to make remote schooling work
This is far easier said than done. Scheduling a pod is all but impossible. Parents might want to alternate pod days with school days, if their district is at least partially educating in person. If their district is on an alternating-week schedule, they might want daily pod meetings every other week. They might prefer mornings, or afternoons. And then there’s the parents’ work schedules to consider, as well as those of the teachers or tutors they may be hiring to run lessons. And, of course, the pod needs to be safe. But what is safe enough? Outside learning, in a yard or on an apartment rooftop, is less risky than inside, but what if it rains? If teachers are spending some time in a classroom and potentially using public transportation, does that count as safe?
Then there’s the question of which families can afford or access a pod structure. It’s expensive to employ an experienced educator for multiple hours, multiple days a week. In my local Bedford-Stuyvesant Facebook group, parents put out calls for “equitable pods.” The idea is that when organizing a pod, parents should reach out to members of different races and economic classes, with the goal of providing access to individualized education for children from various backgrounds, and establishing lasting relationships among the families in the pods.
But the social-justice educator and writer Shayla Griffin has written that she doesn’t expect many equitable pods to come to fruition. Once white, middle-class parents ask themselves, Am I willing to let my child spend the day at the home of a person I do not know well who is in a lower-class position than my family? or Am I willing to let my child spend the day at the home of a person who is an essential worker being exposed to COVID-19 at much higher levels than me?, she argues that the answer is likely to be “no,” and that even when parents are willing to give it a try, a scattering of equitable pods does nothing to fix the underlying structural inequities.