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The “Great” Reopening

August 21, 2020

Belle Chesler, a Portland OR teacher, eviscerates the arguments for reopening and, in so doing, identifies many of the conflicting feelings of progessive-minded teacher-parents and offers an ominous but plausible future for public education.

Several paragraphs jumped out as I read this article. These describe the underlying rationale behind opening schools and why it is misguided:

Pushing students back into school buildings right now simply telegraphs an even larger desire in this society to return to business as usual. We want our schools to open because we want a sense of normalcy in a time of the deepest uncertainty. We want to pretend that schools (like bars) will deliver us from the stresses created by a massive public health crisis. We want to believe that if we simply put our children back in their classrooms, the economy will recover and life as we used to know it will resume…

So let’s just call the situation what it is: a misguided attempt to prop up an economy failing at near Great Depression levels because federal, state, and local governments have been remarkably unwilling to make public policy grounded in evidence-based science. In other words, we’re living in a nation struggling to come to terms with the deadly repercussions of a social safety net gutted even before the virus reached our shores and decisions guided by the most self-interested kind of politics rather than the public good.

Later in the article, Ms. Chesler points out the hypocrisy at play as politicians bemoan the impact of remote learning on the widening learning gap between children raised in affluence and those raised in poverty:

As refreshing as it should be to hear politicians across the political spectrum communicating their worries about a widening achievement gap and the ways in which the most vulnerable American children will fall behind if they don’t experience in-person schooling, their concerns ring hollow. Our most vulnerable children are historically the least served by our schools and the most likely to get sick if they go back. Having never prioritized the needs of those very students, their families, and the communities they live in, those politicians have the audacity to demand that schools open now.

Truly caring for the health and well-being of such students during the pandemic would mean extending unemployment benefits, providing rental assistance, and enacting universal health care. The answer is hardly sending vulnerable kids into a building where they could possibly become infected and carry the virus back to communities that have already been disproportionately affected by Covid-19.

Ms. Chesler then notes that those same politicians who now want schools to open have been unwilling to raise the taxes needed to make those schools safe without a contagion. Here’s her description of the school where she teaches:

Take the example of my school, which has an air ventilation system that’s been on the fritz for more than a decade, insufficient soap or even places to wash your hands, and windows that don’t open. In other words, perfect conditions for spreading a virus. Even if I were given a face shield and ample hand sanitizer, I’d still be stuck in classrooms with far too many students and inadequate air flow. And those are just the physical concerns.

The real conundrum for her, though, is how to guiltlessly provide HER child with a better opportunity than her students will get. As an individual who supports Black Lives Matter it strikes her as ironic that she might withdraw her child from public school to offer homeschooling thus contributing to the flight of middle class parents from public education and, thus, playing into the lads of those who see to privatize public education.

She concludes her essay with these penultimate paragraphs:

Needed today are creative solutions that put the focus on the most vulnerable of our children. Perhaps enlisting our nation’s retirees, many of whom are currently isolated at home, to help small groups of students, or launching a civilian corps of the currently unemployed, paid to step in to rebuild critical public school infrastructure or provide supplementary support and tutoring for kids who might otherwise be left behind, would help. I know there are creative solutions out there that don’t just benefit the most privileged among us, that could, in fact, focus on the most marginalized students. Now is the time to be creative, not to withdraw from the system. Now is the time to pool resources, while amplifying the voices of students, parents, and families historically not invited into such conversations.

Long-term divestment in public education has brought America’s schools to a dangerous crossroads, where mistrust of science and expert advice is threatening the very fabric of this nation. The only way out of this mess is to reverse the tide. Do we really want to be governed by fear and self-imposed scarcity? Do we really want the gears of institutional racism to grind on, whether virtually or in person? It’s time to act more collectively, to truly put the “public” back in public schools. It’s time to set partisanship aside to protect all our children as we navigate the unknown and unknowable.

This article appeared in the Nation with the title “Will Public Schools Survive Covid-19?”  That question is not an overstatement of what COULD happen in the months ahead, especially if the voters choose to keep President Trump in office and the GOP in charge of either the House or the Senate. The wheels are coming off of public schools… but the vehicle CAN be saved if we decide to restore the “…social safety net (we) gutted even before the virus reached our shores” and begin moving away from “…decisions guided by the most self-interested kind of politics rather than the public good. and decisions guided by the most self-interested kind of politics rather than the public good.” There IS a group of voters who are willing to have their taxes raised to help unknown neighbors in distant states and poor neighborhoods… we need to tap into their good will instead of tapping into their anger.





Source: The “Great” Reopening

Categories: Uncategorized
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