In not even a week, Donald Trump has gone from attacking schools for indoctrinating students to requesting that they open.
This is in light of some of the worst numbers yet for positive cases of COVID-19.
The issue is not “opening or closing” but in what way to open.
I remember back in March when we were debating the closing of schools. Back then, with far less cases, we closed down, because we had all read the previous research done on school closures during the Spanish Flu. Schools who closed proactively had far less spread of cases than those who closed reactively, or after school had been in session.
Nicholas Christakis was among many who trumpeted the idea. We closed, we kept the cases down, and we made many podcasts and YouTube videos about the quarantine experiment.
Then many states opened back up too early, and we took all that great work and turned it into a wet fart.
Now, with more cases than ever, suddenly we are being convinced to have full 8 hour a day school, considering what Betsy DeVos said about distance learning being “no choice at all.”
This comes just after over 200 scientists signed a letter remarking on the perils of indoor environments and their ease of spreading the coronavirus was sent to the World Health Organization. It seems the virus travels easily between people having conversations in a place with poor air circulation.
Our response: to leave the WHO.
Our state, the Texas Education Agency, released a statement that “students should be able to go back to schools.” Meanwhile each school district has prepared their own blended or hybrid environment.
I have more interviews with schools this week, and each time I intend to ask them about their plans, if any. One school has no information on their website, and they have photographs of their graduation on June 12th where few masks were worn. Another school has a dual plan for either full 8-hour a day school in class or distance learning. Yet another charter school system is giving students a choice whether to stay home or come back. While lip service has been paid higher up, down below the real work is getting done.
The leadership of this country has failed. This virus could have been a blip in American history if we had taken the time to quarantine, to develop sound measures for testing and contact tracing. Instead, the danger of the virus is not its primary damage to the body, but in the poor human behavior that arose from it.
What is needed more than ever in certain states in the Sun Belt is to go back into lockdown, but that seems, given our poor scientific literacy and our impoverished safety nets, to be out of the question. People have to work, so the most vulnerable are the most threatened.
Schools are, based on all the research we have done up to this point, the epicenter for spread. It contains young people, who are most likely to be “silent spreaders.” It contains them in close quarters. Despite what the CDC recommends, whether we find our schools can manage desk placement and the amount of students coming in is anybody’s guess.
It will contain young people with poor emotional intelligence, poor understanding of epidemiology, and most prone to risky behavior. It contains vain teenagers who may not like wearing masks. In other dress code violations, this resulted in detention. In coronavirus world, it could lead to hospitalizations and death.
Schools have been left to rot in many urban centers, places where the codes for air quality have been long abandoned.
And although we should be considering all options, like having classes outside, it will be the hottest time of the year.
It seems unlikely that parents will isolate their children each and every day in their home to limit the spread of this virus.
Schools contain employees who are very essential to making sure the work gets done. If an assistant principal goes out, no worse for wear. But if a teacher tests positive, you have an entire classroom to babysit with hardly a replacement.
It seems that, in order for school to happen at all this year, we have to start thinking about leaving the school entirely. It was a place that, as Ken Robinson and Seth Godin and John Taylor Gatto have mentioned, were stymied places of industrial labor. Little worker factories with cameras and long hallways and cells. Occasionally the children could go out and play in the yard. What we need is a paradigm shift in what school actually is, and what it is for. As far as I can tell, the rhetoric around getting kids into schools has been labeled with socioemotional needs, but this is shrink wrap to hide the fact that we need a safe place for kids to stay while the adults go to work.
This is not what education should be. Leaving the physical structure of the school could be the first start in a new direction. Even at the very least, schools need to bring out tents, fans, slacken the rigorous dress code, so that we can dampen the spread. At the very least, consider the AM sessions to be early, and the PM sessions to be late, until better weather kicks in.
But for God’s sake, don’t have school for three weeks just to shift to distance learning after a teacher dies.
And each day that draws us closer to school opening, I debate the prospect of going back.
What geometry proof is worth getting put on a ventilator? Is $270 a day worth the ICU?
Sorry for the rant.