Well, here we are. Or here some of us are. The rest of us are also here, but they are struggling mightily to pretend otherwise. And in my better moments, it’s hard to blame them. Ok, no, that’s not true, it’s easy to blame them. In fact, as we roll into the heart of summer it’s harder and harder not to blame them for the tidal wave of COVID-19 that is about to smother the nation and render pointless the sacrifices many of us have been making for months. Their hypocrisy, willful ignorance, towering stupidity, and bone deep selfishness is going to be hard to forgive, especially among all the corpses.
But I do get it. A little denial is natural. No one wanted to suddenly give up the lives we were living in February. And yeah, New York in March looked pretty bad on TV, but that was New York, they probably deserved that, right? Look, we’re all human, and most of the people reading this are of the American variety, so it’s only natural we deny bad news and then double down on that denial by blaming the victim. And that was easy when it was New York. But now it’s Florida, Texas, Arizona, and in the next few weeks several other places. When we’re all victims, who will be left to blame?
Teachers, that’s who. Everyone wants to get “back to normal,” and after a long summer of intubations and refrigerating corpses too many Americans will be entering stage two of their denial and will decide they’re tired of parenting their children and will insist they return to school, even if a bunch of teachers need to die to make that happen. And too many teachers, whose sense of devotion to their students is already often used as leverage to screw them out of being reasonably compensated, will reflexively put their capes on and declare their unflinching desire to serve their students. But if ever there were a time to flinch, that time is now.
As educators, we’re supposed to be paragons of wisdom. Or at least practitioners of good judgement and common sense. Part of common sense is accepting reality. And the reality is the spread of COVID-19 is worse now than when we were all sent home from school in March. So does going back to school make sense? Or course not. And this isn’t to say we’re turning out backs on our students. Can we take a moment right now to acknowledge the immense asset the internet is in these times? Countless people are able to work from home, and students are able to engage in their education from home. Was it difficult in spring to do this? Obviously. Will it be better in the fall? It has to be. In spring we were all figuring out how to do this on the fly, so of course it was clumsy and awkward and much less effective than in-person learning. But I’m not prepared to die, or even to get ill, because everyone wants to go “back to normal.” Normal is over, accept it and adapt.
One of the messages COVID-19 is sending is that the United States needs to take better care of the less fortunate and disadvantaged. Make sure everyone has reliable and affordable (how about free?) internet access. Make sure every student has a computer or tablet so they have full access to remote learning. This is the 21st century, there’s no reason everyone shouldn’t have these things, even if it has to come at taxpayer expense. The benefits we as a society will reap from this down the road will far outweigh the costs.
School districts and government officials need to stop trying to slap together a plan for in-person school this fall (they’ll just have to shut down again inside of three weeks) and focus on improving remote learning. Teachers need to coordinate with students and parents to come up with a daily schedule of assignments and online resources that kids can access with a minimum of supervision so parents can work from home or go to work. And for those at the bottom of the socio-economic scale who must go to work and have children too young to be left at home on their own, employers and/or government needs to provide them with childcare, either via vouchers or direct payments. Every other civilized nation on Earth makes some provision for child care, either through the parents employer or the government. We always speak of ourselves as, “The greatest nation on Earth,” but are we really that great if we can’t provide basic necessities to our neediest citizens?
We’re all grieving the loss of the lives we lived before COVID-19. I miss my friends. I miss sports. I miss eating in restaurants. I miss going to live music concerts. I miss going on dates. I miss all that stuff. I would love to have that all back. But simply pretending COVID-19 is a hoax or is overblown or is a conspiracy to undermine the President is stupid. It’s time to move past the first stage of grief, which is denial, and into acceptance, or at least bargaining. The people who think everyone should just go about their lives like before and who have tantrums over having to wear a mask in a store… wake the fuck up. Or at least shut the fuck up. All of you in those videos yelling at store clerks about your “rights,” and “freedom,” will one day be regarded in the same way as all those people who screamed at Ruby Bridges and all the other brave children who integrated schools in the 1950s. Do you really want to be memorialized that way?