“Pandemic Pods” are just Business as Usual in U.S. Education
There has been a lot of discussion in recent days about emergence of “Pandemic Pods” – spaces where wealthy families pool their resources to create exclusive educational spaces for their children in response to COVID-19 and its implications for traditional, in-person schools. A recent article discussed a $25,000 pods in Manhattan and the implications of such spaces for educational inequality. While these pods are blatant examples of parents leveraging their privilege to gain educational advantages for their children, they are not entirely unique to this moment. Rather, they are the latest manifestation of opportunity hoarding in education.
Opportunity hoarding in education is the process through which social groups (e.g. whites, the middle- and upper-classes) leverage their positions of relative power to try to monopolize educational resources and exclude others from full access to them. Education in the United States has always been designed to reproduce economic and racial advantages mostly for middle and upper-income whites while reinforcing relationships of domination and subordination.
Historically, opportunity hoarding is exemplified through processes like race and class-based residential and school segregation and the creation of suburbs and suburban education supported by government policies, the banking and real estate industries, the courts, restrictive housing covenants, and rigid urban suburban district boundaries that created exclusive educational spaces for those with the means and the “right” skin color. Coupled with local funding of schools and the unequal distribution of education resources across districts, middle and upper class whites have been disproportionate beneficiaries of these processes. As suburban spaces have become increasingly diverse in recent decades, whites have moved further out to exclusive suburban enclaves, created fragmented districts, and taken over city schools as part of broader patterns of gentrification.
Even in integrated schools and districts, opportunity hoarding continues through the creation of exclusive honors, advanced placement, and International Baccalaureate classes where white and upper-income students are overrepresented. In these spaces, middle-class parents often police the boundaries of these courses and fight ferociously to maintain their exclusivity. Similar patterns exist in elite high schools in large cities, where middle- and upper-class parents (across racial categories) seek to perpetuate their educational and generational economic advantages by reserving the most highly resourced educational contexts for their children. In fact, the piling on of educational resources to the most advantaged students is the driving force that seems to perpetuates race and class disparities in educational outcomes.
To be sure, all parents try to do what is best for their children. But when doing what is best builds on unearned legacies of race and class oppression, and further exacerbates long-standing patterns of stratification, we need to reexamine who we claim to be and what we value. Generations of opportunity hoarding, have contributed to staggering race and class disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes and a widening gap between the rich and the poor on a host of indicators of life chances.
At this moment, when our failures to effectively respond to Covid-19 and its unprecedented economic reverberations have combined with a long-delayed reckoning with systemic white supremacy brought on by the Black Lives Matter Movement, we need to embark on a new path rooted and racial and economic justice not opportunity hoarding and exploitation.
John B. Diamond is the Kellner Family Distinguished Chair in Urban Education at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and the co-author (with Amanda E. Lewis) of Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools (Oxford University Press, 2015).