Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 45 seconds

Care Is Not a Fad: Care Beyond COVID-19

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 45 seconds

I’ve been thinking recently about how some people who don’t normally focus on care are taking actions that show care. This is great. If you never thought about care in education, but these circumstances make you realize how important it is, to focus on it at least for now, that’s good.

Rebecca Solnit was recently interviewed and said this:

Disasters shake us up. I’ve called them a crash course in Buddhism. You’re suddenly aware of ephemerality and interdependence, the fleetingness of all things, and the connection of all things. Often that connection is a deep empathic, emotional connection that people don’t necessarily feel for their neighbors and people undergoing the same experience. We often experience everyone around us primarily in terms of their differences rather than the commonalities. A disaster changes that in an instant.

Rebecca Solnit interviewed on

I am seeing academic institutions taking actions of care and at the same time, paradoxical actions of neoliberalism- for example, insisting on business as usual but offering students Pass/Fail options in case this won’t work well for them. Encouraging faculty to reduce stress and workload on students while offering online proctoring systems and insisting on rigor.

I am concerned with people thinking that next time we do this, if we have to stay online that we will do it better because now we know how to deal with it, how to be online. I don’t know if that is true.

These are not “normal” conditions for anything, people’s psyches are not normal and our cognitive capacities are not normal. We will all be responding differently to this crisis. And I don’t know that if we get used to this as a “new normal”, if we will be able to relax and go back to doing things with less care. I want to believe that we can learn a lesson about the importance of care UNDER ANY AND ALL CIRCUMSTANCES. Because you never know what someone else is going through.

Even if things calmed down everywhere and back to a relatively familiar normal where we can be together, physically close, interacting normally, I think even that will take time.

But the most important lesson for me is a reminder of what education is ABOUT and what education is FOR and it is about helping young people BE IN THE WORLD. It is not about the academic knowledge, which, yes of course they can learn online with some help. There is so much they need go learn offline if only schools would leave then to discover their interests and allow teachers to support them as individuals, rather than focus on unified learning outcomes over certain timeframes

Can we please please please make room in K-12 and higher education to talk openly with students about wellbeing and care in these times, and what it means to BE IN THE WORLD during a global crisis. What they can do to take care for themselves and their families and their communities… to recognize that they are like civilians in a war, where they are indeed making sacrifices and this should be recognized and not sort of blurred over with talk of “keep calm and carry on”. We need to acknowledge the impact of these times on wellbeing and on cognitive capacity of all of us, students, teachers, those of us who support teachers.

And one day when we are all back to life as we used to know it, how can we continue to show care and recognize the individual needs we have, and the priorities of focusing education on values and ways of being in the world rather than measurable outcomes? That is what I would like to see most.

I recently came across an article that highlights “three different enactments of care as critical maternal care, calculated care and neoliberal care”. It reminded me of the importance of centering care on social justice and not as a wishy washy concept. A lot of times when U want to advocate for care of those farthest from justice, I encounter people who see these as the “exceptions” and let’s deal with them when needed. Whereas I think we need to design with them in mind so that they do not have to be reminded regularly that they are less, have less, must be “accommodated”. That cannot possibly feel good. That is patronizing care. And it burdens those who are farther from justice with having to out themselves as needing accommodation.

I am also thinking about teachers and how they need to feel cared for by their institutions so that they may feel empowered enough to care for their students. Sometimes teachers tell me we ask THEM to care ofr their students in this crisis, but administrators are asking a lot ofTHEM, and they themselves are suffering anxiety and feeling burdens of childcare and more.

How do we deal with stress of maintaining rigor and high expectations of learners when teachers and learners alike have cognitive overload influencing their ability to function at their best? Shouldn’t our priorities shift, and then we will learn that we should center our values ANYWAY, not just in times of crisis? Aren’t our relationships with each other the most valuable thing we can offer, when we know that so much other stuff can be learned without human contact? And in relationships, isn’t listening to another person’s needs an important expression of care? Can a critical maternal approach to care also factor in a mother’s role in nurturing autonomy and agency, rather than overprotective care? Can institutions as a whole focus their practices on promoting autonomy and agency rather than making paternalistic decisions on their behalf? Can that

4 thoughts on “Care Is Not a Fad: Care Beyond COVID-19

  1. I want to respond to Maha Bali’s title by saying “yes it is.” I’ve been watching the concept of care over the years move through the disciplines. I remember Jenny Mackness raising the concept in the context of our MOOCs five years ago, I remember it coming up at a public affairs conference I attended in 2017, I even presented on it last year in Brazil. But it’s a fad only in the sense that everything is a fad – utilitarianism came in and out of fashion, so did pragmatism, so did egoism. And I think there’s a lot to be drawn from the concept of care that is valuable. But history doesn’t end at this point, and what we have to learn about ethics in openness will no doubt continue.

  2. Maha, I really like your point about not getting lost in the ‘new normal’ and using this time to discuss the world we want beyond the crisis. In some ways it reminds me of something Gary Stager wrote:

    So, there is reason to celebrate (briefly), but then you must act! Use this time to remake schooling in a way that’s more humane, creative, meaningful, and learner-centered. This is your moment!
    In the absence of compelling models of what’s possible, the forces of darkness will fill the void. Each of us needs to create models of possibility.

    Care needs to be central.

  3. Thank you for this post! I like your point that education is about being in the world. How to be, but also why and what. We are learning so much right now, about care, but also about being more careful with our resources, finding little and larger things to keep us balanced, connecting with others attentively, and so on. My fear is that the context is so traumatizing to most of us, that afterwards people will simply want to forget about the ‘ronatimes and will try to avoid anything that’s associated with it. I can already hear people say things like, “cooking at home reminds me of COVID; I won’t ever do it again.” Same with online learning, not driving, working from home, … We need to learn how to be in this world.

    1. I can totally totally see that happening. Ppl associating certain things with these traumatic times.

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