Each year about this time, I hobble together a list of classic, reliable back to school clothes and accessories that can benefit the high school senior or college freshman.
This year, not so much.
Parents, teachers, students, and administrators find themselves at a crossroads right now. The pandemic presents plenty of problems and no clear answers when it comes to how and when students return to school. My close friends who are teachers in the US have shared their concerns. They worry for the mental and emotional health of their students as much as they fear for their physical health.
The impact on education is also very real. Engagement and participation in the classroom is an essential element to understanding a subject. The ability to learn from and share with fellow students is invaluable. This rarely happens online.
And as learning shifts to online platforms, other issues arise. Parents sending their children to college don’t want to pay full price for tuition while their sons and daughters sit at their kitchen table and log on to take classes. College administrators are reluctant to discount tuition simply because students are attending class remotely. The college diploma, they might argue, will still have the same value when the student receives it, online or on campus.
Debates continue on these issues, and others relating to education in the time of Covid-19. To me, only one thing is certain: it is reckless and wrong to send children and young people back into classrooms at this time. It is indefensible.
Why any public official or education professional would advocate for a massive, nationwide gathering of people into enclosed spaces, for extended periods of time, with a snowball’s chance in hell of social distancing is beyond me. That’s not a desire to educate and ‘get back to normal’. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Some school districts in the US have already announced that their classes will resume exclusively online this fall. That is a sane approach. Those districts that bring students back, I suspect, will see results not unlike those at the University of Alabama, where classes resumed on campus, and one week later 500 cases of the virus were reported.
More than one teacher has told me that if schools open for in-person classes in September, those same schools will be closed by Thanksgiving due to spikes in infection rates. We’ll see if that plays out.
What we must certainly remember is that none of this is happening in a vacuum. Changes in the political landscape after the November elections and the discovery of virus treatments or vaccines at any point in time could alter the global landscape greatly, if not immediately. Classes, the homecoming game, and the prom might be back on the calendar.
Personally, I’d love that. Realistically, public servants won’t be sworn in until January. Clinical trials take time. And there’s still a virus out there.
So I’m find myself auditioning for the role of Captain Obvious when I say the following:
To think that teachers should risk their lives like the firefighters, paramedics, nurses, and doctors who are fighting this pandemic in hospitals around the country is unfair. They didn’t sign up for this and should not be expected to work in life-threatening conditions. And:
To think that this virus isn’t dangerous to young people–in the short term and the long term–is irrational, immature, foolish, and stupid.
It is, in short, all the things that education is supposed to eradicate.
The irony is palpable.