Harsh Your Mellow Monday: Miseducation Edition
Hope your holiday weekend was good, cause we will now celebrate our freedom by tending to some business. Let’s get right to it.
Back to School Tsunami, Three Feet High and Rising
The news media in some places are starting to pick up on the biggest story in the country, percolating among folks, that is now only weeks away from exploding.
A month into planning what fall might look like for the 2,700 students in his Gloucester County school district, Jim Lavender tore through 104 pages of guidance from the New Jersey Department of Education.
By Wednesday, Lavender had spent days, nights, and a weekend scouring every page three times, trying to figure out how he could safely meet social distancing, masking, and health requirements — to say nothing of teaching and learning.
“It’s almost an untenable task,” said Lavender, superintendent of the Kingsway Regional School District.
After an abrupt transition this spring to virtual learning that left many students and families struggling, schools are trying to craft plans to reopen while navigating a series of questions that don’t have clear answers.
Will kids keep masks on? Should temperatures be checked? And how much distance should schools maintain between students, from classrooms to bus seats, if those requirements mean some students will have to stay home?
Agencies, researchers, and advocacy groups have weighed in on returning to school during the coronavirus outbreak, but the guidance sometimes conflicts. Experts say children are less likely to be severely impacted by the virus, and also less likely to spread it.
Yet the evidence isn’t uniform, and schools are staffed by adults — many of whom are older, more at risk of illness, and not all comfortable with returning. Reopening schools involves evaluating those risks and balancing them against the pitfalls and child-care complications that emerged during months of remote instruction that widened achievement gaps and challenged families.
Education officials in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as in some other states, have called for at least some in-person instruction, but haven’t mandated a specific approach, leaving the reopening decisions to local school leaders.
“It’s a lose-lose situation,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “Superintendents know that whatever they do, people are going to be unhappy, kids and staff are going to get sick. It’s going to be an incredible year, unfortunately.”
There are over 50 million children in the public school system, scattered in almost 14 thousands school districts. That 14 thousand districts does not count private schools, charter schools, regional education service agencies and supervisory union administrative centers, state-operated agencies, federally operated agencies, DODDS schools attached to the DOD, and other types of local education agencies, and the list goes on. Serving that public school system are 2.3 million teachers in the elementary and middle school levels. Count everything from pre-school to post-secondary, you are talking 6.1 million teachers. They are overseen by 938,000 school administrators including 460,000 principals. Each of those 14K districts have at least one superintendent. Then there are the local and state boards of education. Then the federal Department of Education, with its 4K employees and $68 Billion budget.
Education in American is a leviathan. Come the first day of school, it will be a confused, scared, and very much under pressure beast blindly groping its way into the unknown.
All those levels of bureaucracy inside the education system is its own byzantine mess under the best of circumstances. From the outside, there’s pressure of health officials, politicians, and state and local boards changing plans as fast as they demand implementation. From the inside, the already nigh impossible task of appeasing parents will be cranked to 11. The tension between the ever-growing administrator levels and the in-classroom teachers will be exacerbated by the need to bring in even more admins just to try and control the track and trace of students, not to mention myriad new rules, regulations, and guidelines. Guidelines most of which are changing every five minutes.
Think I’m being hyperbolic and fearmongering here? Almost all school plans right now call for some hybrid learnin, either alternating days, online study, or some other variation from the usual Monday through Friday school schedule. Parents who are trying to hold onto the jobs they have will have fun explaining how they are supposed to cover child care two to three days a week, or longer. Of those 50 million school aged children, some 13 million of them live in single parent homes, parents who will have even more demands made upon them. Health officials that think a classroom of 20 some kindergartners are going to wear masks all day, follow hygiene, and socially distance under the watchful eye of one or at best two teachers operating in the most chaotic environment the school system has ever seen are fooling themselves.
Add to all that the experience of the school shutdowns in the spring. After several weeks they finally found a bit of a rhythm to the proceedings of online classes and packets worth of work. That experience tells us whatever the plan for the fall is will last till the end of the first day, when the cries will arise to fix all the problems reality meeting best laid plans reveals in the real world with real kids and real teachers.
Let us be blunt. American education has lived in this pseudo-real bubble where money pours in and not much is expected to show for it. Oh, folks gripe and complain on Facebook and make PTA meetings a living hell, but in the grand scheme of things very little changes. School boards operate with a mix of inertia and neglect until some problem arises, which they pray will be mitigated quickly and business can go back to usual.
That’s not going to be an option this fall. The American education system is about to have a stress test, one that strips all the buzzwords and preconceived notions away by the brutal reality of a virus that doesn’t play by the rules the carefully constructed leviathan of professional education in America operates on. Administrators that make far more than the actual teachers will suddenly be in the spotlight like never before. Add the amount of “pass the blame” and “cover your ass” when the initial plans in a fluid environment fall short, and politicians, teachers unions, and pick-your-choice-of-educational-groups will be playing musical chairs to not get the blame.
Meanwhile, the kids and the parents are left stuck. Nothing crosses ideological lines like messing with someone’s livelihood or their kids. The coming back-to-school apocalypse is going to uniquely do both at the same time for a huge chunk of Americans. You don’t think that is going to affect, local, state, and federal elections?
Oh, by the way, most of those kids haven’t had their regularly scheduled preventative care checkups since the spring, so on top of everything else expect a nice outbreak of the usual childhood diseases once a bunch of kids get together that happens every fall anyway.
But maybe all that is just worst case scenario. Maybe in the next 6 weeks or so the Covid crisis will pass and the parents who count on the school system first and foremost as daily childcare will go off without a hitch. Besides the good schools with good leadership will adapt, overcome, and do just fine.
But how many of those do you think we have?
Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Right now, we don’t even have a plan. God help us.
Masks, Masks, Masks
Back in May I wrote about the then-new “wear a mask” debate over at Arc Digital.
Though not specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights, some folks treasure the right to be epically offended by the minor inconveniences of life. Wielding the rhetoric of freedom like William Wallace’s great sword, they see themselves as hunting down liberty infringements. What is important is fiercely resisting any and all external impositions, no matter how beneficial they are to the collective good.
The opposing forces are equally committed, championing the doctrine of one-size-fits-all administered by the shoehorn of expert opinion. Far from subtle, these sledgehammers of sameness stand ready to chip away at anything that stands in the way of what is best for us all—according to them, of course.
Both have found their hill to die on: masks.
One hundred thousand deaths (so far) and a generation-defining economic catastrophe is tragedy enough. But force-feeding the nation’s trauma through the hot take wood-chipper devolves tragedy into humorless farce. A discussion that should be focused on serious economic and public health issues has been debased into a debate over whether you should call the police on someone for not wearing a mask. A discussion that should be focused on the status of civil liberties amidst a historic pandemic degrades, instead, into declarations that requiring basic hygiene measures basically means our rights are being Tiananmen’d.
The American public square is a squalid, ugly, and hyperbolic place in the best of the times. It’s just how we do things in a free society. I suspect, though, that those crying freedom the loudest have not paused to consider the rapidly-dwindling freedoms of those stricken with the coronavirus.
I had no idea that piece would be — by far — receive the most reaction, most hate mail, and the most reads and views of anything I’ve ever written. I’m even more amazed that here we are some 6 weeks later still having the exact same conversation. And by conversation, I mean lots and lots of people losing their ever-loving minds over masks:
The Ector County (Texas) Republican Party voted Saturday to censure Gov. Greg Abbott, accusing him of overstepping his authority in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, while state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, called for a special session so lawmakers could have a say in how Texas proceeds amid soaring caseloads.
The party executive committee in Ector County, home to Odessa, passed the censure resolution 10-1, with one abstention and three voting members who were not present, according to the chairperson, Tisha Crow. She said she was among those who supported the resolution, which accuses Abbott of violating five party principles related to his exercise of executive power during the pandemic.
While the resolution asks that delegates to the state convention later this month consider — and affirm — Ector County’s action, Crow said consideration is “not guaranteed,” and one precinct chair, Aubrey Mayberry, said the resolution “doesn’t have any teeth” for now — but that it was important to send a message about what they consider Abbott’s overreach.
Mayberry, who voted for the resolution, said he was working with precinct chairs in other Texas counties to get similar resolutions passed ahead of the convention.
Governor Abbott is easily one of the more conservative governors in the country. The convention mentioned there is the Texas Republican Convention slated to be held in Houston later this month. Having folks from all across a state with rising levels of the Covid virus descend on America’s third-largest city has set off a fight between the “reopen” crowd against folks who want precautions taken. The Texas GOP’s executive committee voted Thursday night to proceed with plans to hold the party’s in-person convention in Houston later this month.
On Tuesday, the party’s plans for an in-person convention looked increasingly uncertain, when the Texas Medical Association, the state’s largest medical group, called on the party to cancel the event, a reversal that came just one day after The Texas Tribune reported on TMA’s sponsorship of the convention.
After Thursday night’s vote, TMA announced it had withdrawn as an advertiser to the convention, arguing that face masks alone at such a large gathering were not enough.
“With or without masks, an indoor gathering of thousands of people from all around the state in a city with tens of thousands of active COVID-19 cases poses a significant health risk to conventiongoers, convention workers, health care workers, and the residents of Houston,” Diana Fite, the group’s president, said in a statement. “We are concerned not only for the City of Houston but also for the communities to which the delegates will return, giving the virus easy transportation to parts of Texas that have far fewer cases.”
Thursday’s roughly three-hour meeting included a vibrant discussion about what plans related to the convention, if any, should change. Members went back and forth, making their cases for why the convention should go virtual or remain as scheduled.
At one point, one member offered a motion that would have required delegates to test negative for the coronavirus before being allowed to attend the convention.
“What a load of horse shit,” one member could be heard saying on the livestream before the motion was ruled out of order.
But it isn’t just Texas. Already the national GOP moved their convention from Charlotte, NC after Gov Roy Cooper, running for reelection himself, publicly tangled with President Trump over many of the same issues Houston finds themselves dealing with. Every major gathering is going to have this drama, between those who want gatherings and those who want a full shutdown, and the negotiating of what constitutes safe. This will be repeated for school openings, political polling and voting, and business across the nation. Viral videos of folks going choo-choo for cocoa puffs over the new rules of masks are funny from a distance, but are becoming a reality for service workers and others trying to wedge businesses back open.
I sat in a church pew on Friday, suited and booted and masked, feeling like an idiot and having issues breathing. I hated every minute of it. But being there for my family and the memorial service was worth the inconvenience, so I sat down, shut up, and wore the mask. It cost me nothing but 90 minutes of my time.
All I’m saying here is, masks don’t care, Covid doesn’t care, and for the most part the government making the rules doesn’t care. But you should care about people, especially your loved ones, and no mask or rule is worth falling out with people over. Don’t do damage to people over a mask that you won’t need to wear again one of these days. Stay home or stay away from folks if you must. Otherwise, play nice with others, which right now means wear the damn mask.
And now…the rest of the story
As predicted by many, Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” speech was even more popular this year on social media than usual. It’s well worth your time to read the whole thing. But among the usage of the speech against the backdrop of our nation’s latest struggle with race, let us consider how the great man ended that speech in 1852:
I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from “the Declaration of Independence,” the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up, from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated.-Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic, are distinctly heard on the other.
The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen, in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.” In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it :
God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er!
When from their galling chains set free, Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee, And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign, To man his plundered rights again Restore.
God speed the day when human blood
Shall cease to flow!
In every clime be understood,
The claims of human brotherhood,
And each return for evil, good, Not blow for _blow;
That day will come all feuds to end,
And change into a faithful friend
God speed the hour, the glorious hour, When none on earth
Shall exercise a lordly power,
Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower; But all to manhood’s stature tower, By equal birth!
THAT HOUR WILL COME, to each, to all,
And from his prison-house, the thrall Go forth.
Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive, To break the rod, and rend the gyve, The spoiler of his prey deprive
So witness Heaven!
And never from my chosen post,
Whate’er the peril or the cost,