Updated: Jul 15
Schools around the country have been closed since mid-March due to the pandemic. Millions of parents struggled with home-schooling while thousands of teachers juggled their schedules to create on-line lesson plans. Parents were forced to remain home to take care of their children as day care shut down.
Now, in the midst of a pandemic, schools are being asked, indeed ordered, to reopen in the same chaotic style that many states that are experiencing tremendous surges in coronavirus cases, reopened, defying CDC guidelines.
The political motivation behind reopening schools is obvious. With children in schools, parents are free to return to work. This could spur on the struggling economy, which would in turn, presumably bolster Trump’s re-election chances.
While the CDC guidelines recommend a phased reopening, much like the plan for reopening the states, Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are pushing for an immediate “return to normal”, even as states are seeing dramatic spikes in COVID-19 cases.
DeVos took to the airwaves to defend Trump’s position but, despite being asked by the interviewer numerous times refused to offer any further clarification on their position, instead repeatedly answered any question being presented with the pat reply that “children need to be back in school.” She called the dramatic increase in cases as “little flare ups,” further demonstrating the administration’s lack of compassion with the plight of schoolchildren, and instead pushing their own headlong-into-chaos agenda.
The rationale behind reopening schools has zero to do with children, and everything to do with the political benefits of getting parents back to work. The administration is pushing the narrative that children appear to be less susceptible to the virus, yet Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been effectively muzzled by Trump, indicates that children are the least tested segment of the population.
Another argument is that face-to-face learning is far more beneficial and so Trump and DeVos are demanding schools return to a five-day schedule, flying in the face of CDC recommendations. In fact, Trump is threatening to withhold federal aid to schools that do not reopen.
In an additional effort to shape the narrative of what is being taught in colleges and universities, Trump is also threatening the tax-exempt status of schools he says are “indoctrinating students with left wing propaganda”.
This blatant effort to force only the kinds of teaching they approve is similar to the edict passed by China’s Communist government, which is enforcing what can be taught in the once independent Hong Kong schools. It also smacks in the face of reality when the administration’s own press briefings have been nothing more than campaign-style propaganda.
As an educator with over 30 years in the classroom, there are some realities that are not being taken into account. The stages of development in children is something that is not being considered in the plans to force schools to reopen. Simply forcing social distancing by keeping desks apart will not limit the social interaction that is inherent in children, whose natural curiosity makes such plans as illogical as they are unworkable.
For years, the trend in education has been to promote cooperative learning and collaborative projects. Teaching children to work together has been the hallmark of education for the past 20 years. Problem solving and critical thinking skills have been the backbone of multiple educational approaches.
Any teacher with experience knows that there are trends in education, and therefore, techniques used one year are thrown out the next without giving time to test the efficacy of the previous approach.
We get it. Change is inevitable. Teachers have long since gotten used to non-educators’ attempts to force policies on their classrooms. But such radical changes with no effort to investigate the impact on students is educational malpractice.
In elementary school you have the natural curiosity of “what’s this button do?”. Children are innately tactile and want to know what things feel and taste like. That’s why you will find them eating paste, touching a hot stove and exploring other areas that are new to them. Forcing them to remain apart is in direct opposition to this natural curiosity.
Play is also a natural part of childhood; yet being on the playground is unrealistic because of the inherent lack of social distancing and the communal use of playground equipment.
In middle school there is the issue of raging hormones. I was a middle school teacher for over 25 years so I can relate first-hand the wide range of emotions of these “kindergarteners on hormones”, as I call them. They demand to be treated like adults, but still want to play like children. It’s a delicate balancing act to teach this population, and not for the meek of heart.
Middle schoolers are struggling for an identity. It is also a time to assert social dominance and yes, begin to explore their sexuality. Yet teachers are supposed to enforce social distancing by discouraging hand-holding and other forms of physical contact. How can classes that normally have larger class sizes, such as physical education, survive under these restrictions?
In high school, there are even more issues as young adults become more competitive and yes, sexually active. There are more issues of social dominance and this is when the first signs of mental illness appear. Teachers are educated to notice these signs.
So, in addition to being teachers, we are also social workers and psychologists. Yet, we are being told we cannot comfort a child who is suffering from the heartbreak of young romance. And what about the inevitable physical altercations that take place?
And those are just the educational aspects. What about the non-educational settings? The school bus? The cafeteria? The hallways?
And then there are the non-school issues like the parents who refuse to wear a mask and threaten their children if they “cave in” to the “leftist propaganda”. There are the bullies who will pull off masks, putting others at risk and those who are already socially isolated who will withdraw even further.
The implications of dramatically reopening schools are many. The example of states reopening too quickly should be a cautionary tale. Yet this administration is ignoring this in favor of political expediency.
As for me, I will be back in the classroom this fall, albeit in a limited fashion. Unlike my public school colleagues, I am being given the option of choosing what kind of classes I choose to conduct. I will be teaching both on-line sessions and hybrid classrooms, with both on-line and limited face-to-face classes.
Yet, I worry about my public school colleagues. I worry about those who are older, yet continue to teach in public schools, endangering themselves and family members. These people are not being taken into account in the reopening plans.
Only the future will determine what will happen when schools reopen. Given what’s happening in the rest of the country, I’m not optimistic.