EDIT: So I was wrong about this. Obviously. Hopefully that will be a lesson to me, because I was never so sure of anything in my life. But school reopenings have largely been safe.
“No, bro, going viral is easy,” said my little brother.
“Oh c’mon,” I scoffed. “If it were easy, companies would reliably go viral all the time.”
“You just gotta post on controversial stuff,” said my brother. “There’s guys who just post both sides of a controversial and shrug, and their stuff is crazy popular.”
Whatever. I was working on a fascinating follow-up to my post on the swords of Camelot, but if I’m honest that’s going nowhere fast. I’m unemployed and have applied to virtually every open position in my field in the area, so all I really can do at this point is push my online profile in hopes of advertising for my upcoming book (The Nephilim Protocol, the story about the teen Nephilim imprisoned in Alaska, which I talked about earlier).
So to be an even more annoyingly stereotypical internet personality, let’s talk about something controversial—reopening schools. Why anyone would care what a random stranger on the internet thinks about the subject is another question, but as it happens, I’ve been looking for an excuse to vent about this anyone, so I gots opinions and I’d like to share them.
Plus I am (or at least was last year) a teacher. So, y’know. Experience.
THE ARGUMENT FOR:
So I will be the first to admit that online learning is trash. My own district experience aside, the response from educators in my circles was overwhelmingly that students were learning significantly less. More, cheating was immensely easier for them. I’m talking about college lecturers felt that their kids were learning less and caught them copying answers from online sources.
Honestly I would say the best thing to do would to put everyone’s education on hold and open up again in April where we were. Kids need to learn the things we teach them, we can’t just pass them based on how old they are. At best they should be required two years of online schooling for every one of in-person schooling. But try telling that to the kids. Or the parents. Or the administrators. Or the politicians. Heck, try telling that to the educators who will have classes twice as big in some cases. There’s very real logistical problems with holding everyone back a grade.
Then there’s the social impact. Now granted, this is harder for me to appreciate. I was the kid who sat alone on the playground at school. (I drew pictures of castles for a dime apiece.) If you came up to me I’d tell you to go away. In March/April I barely saw a human being that wasn’t on a computer screen. It was perfectly awesome to me.
But I’m not everyone. Several of my family members have deteriorated badly from a lack of social connections. My grandfather, especially, loves getting out and doing things. And I know kids care deeply about their friends and cherish doing things with them. I can understand, on an intellectual level, that kids need to develop emotionally and meet with friends in a physical environment. A handshake can’t be replicated online. There’s actually emotional and psychological issues with having all your interaction online. Fair point.
But lets be real. The real reason everyone, governors and voters, Republicans and Democrats, are champing at the bit to reopen schools is because we need to get the economy humming again.
The economy is in shambles. There’s probably going to be real problems with it for a solid year after this is over. It’s undeniable. I’m having a hard time finding work right now, which makes me appreciate better than I did why people are so desperate to get back to their jobs, why politicians really really really need to find a safe way to get the economy back to full speed. And they can’t do that while they need to watch over their children at home.
Now it really irritates me how this whole affair has underlined every hackneyed criticism about schooling. Online learning demonstrated that we didn’t really care whether students had learned the necessary material, just that they’d put in the effort. Now the call to reopen schools is underlining the familiar complaint of teachers that they’re running just a glorified daycare. Maybe this whole calamity will cause schools to completely lose all dignity in the public eye, for the short term.
Or maybe it will cause people to seriously question the assumptions of the system and reform it. (Ha.)
But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s some real strength to this argument. People will starve without money and the government can’t write relief checks forever.
There’s a weird dichotomy going on when it comes to the dangers of reopening schools. Everyone knows the virus is going to be all over the place, but everyone also thinks that germs won’t actually do anything.
I haven’t yet argued with anyone who seriously doesn’t think the virus is going to run through schools like fire through dry grass. It’s patently absurd to think otherwise. Schools are packed full. Hallways have kids bumping shoulders everywhere. More relevantly from a respiratory standpoint, they have groups of the same people trapped in the same room for a solid hour, sitting quietly and breathing in each others’ air, full of droplets or otherwise.
Applying to jobs has also brought me into contact with a lot of different management plans, and every plan I’ve heard, I’ve thought “Yeah, that ain’t gonna last.” Because all of them depend, on some level, on student cooperation. And students don’t cooperate. Maybe 40% of kids will do what you tell them on a good day. We can’t get kids to obey dress codes or not have sex in the bathroom. Masks? Social distancing? It ain’t happening. One school I worked at had kids actively undermining security measures meant to cut down on the risk of school shooters. On days that there were threats.
The above is the main problem I have when people point to studies in South Korea, or Sweden or Israel (actually, Israel went badly). None of these kids are Americans. Americans have glorified disobeying orders in our movies, music, video games, and history. We still can’t quite admit that the traitors in the last civil war we had were wrong to rebel, and they revolted so they could keep owning people.
And anyway, the kids have no motive to obey in this circumstance. Everyone and their mother has told them over the past month that they can’t get the disease, that it won’t kill them, just Grandma. So why would kids listen to measures designed to protect the people responsible for corralling them and enforcing good behavior? Kids can’t get the virus, but teachers sure can. (And kids can spread it just fine) You’re going to get a lot of cases of kids intentionally coughing on teachers trying to enforce rules.
But then, people say, teachers should risk death. Lots of other people are. What’s up with these uppity teachers/daycare workers who are afraid of nearly dying from respiratory diseases that many of them are in the high-risk demographic for? Nurses risk death. Public transit workers risk death. We had a whole initiative about the heroic grocery store employees who have hundreds, nay thousands, of people moving through their store every day. (I note no one ever quotes figures about how many workers quit those jobs rather than face the germs, or what age group they were in).
But here’s the thing. Grocery stores cut down on the amount of people using the store and mandated that people stay a distance apart. They threw out people without masks. Public transit did much the same.
Is any school planning to cut down on the amount of people they’re teaching? Will they throw kids out for not distancing or not wearing their masks? I doubt it. And this also overlooks that people moving through a store is immensely different than people sitting in a much smaller room breathing all over each other.
(The comparison to nurses is just ridiculous. Give me scrubs, a N95 mask, and gloves in an environment where people are kept isolated in individual rooms and everything is sanitized, and then we’ll talk.)
Here’s the thing though. It doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter what I say, because this thing is happening. Governors of both parties want it, the voters want it, the president wants it. It’s a bipartisan, immensely popular movement. It’s happening. Maybe things will freeze if teachers quit en masse, but I doubt it. Schools are going to reopen. It’s inevitable.
Again, no one pretends that the virus isn’t going to spread like wildfire through the school, they just pretend like it’s only going to spread through the kids and that the teachers and the parents somehow won’t get the same virus. But any teacher will tell you that’s not going to happen. When I started teaching, the senior teachers assured me I was going to get sick as a dog as every single virus known to man at that time passed from the students to me. Every teacher has on their desks a bottle of hand sanitizer, and uses it at least once daily. Doesn’t stop the germs.
(Most) kids won’t get sick. (Though hospitals are seeing a 90% uptick in kids cases already) Teachers will get sick, and die, and administrators will struggle to find replacements. Parents will get sick, and die, and social workers will struggle to find replacements. And friends and family will get sick. And co-workers. It will be Phase 2 of the pandemic all over again. We should have a better death rate now that we know how to treat it better, but it. Will. Get. Bad.
And schools will, inevitably, close down.
I cannot overstate how much I believe this will happen like clockwork. How much it has already happened. Schools will reopen. Things will seem fine. Then in November, October, maybe even late September, infections will start racking up. Parents who can will pull their kids from school. Teachers who can will quit. Until finally, there are not enough students or enough teachers to functionally keep school going (assuming the death toll hasn’t already horrified people enough to shut things down.) And things will switch to online only, and the economy will shut down. Again.
Opening schools is not a “calculated risk”, it is a pipe dream, an earnest wish hundreds of people have which is just going to run up against reality. It’s not going to restart the economy, because it’s not going to work. And no amount of wishing will make it.