The American way: making it seem like you’re doing something when you’re not really
The pandemic once again reveals one of the truisms of American life: political power is what matters
So once again our lives are thrown into chaos with my grandson’s school closing again. He is now expected to do his kindergarten schoolwork online, a tall order for a five-year old. Where he once was excited to learn, couldn’t wait to go to school, now he dreads the online meetings he has to attend.
If it seems that he’s a little young to be getting burned out, you’re right. But online schooling is no substitute for young children, for whom playing with other kids is their primary means to learn. Depriving them of that interaction is seriously harmful, and we will be dealing with the ramifications of these lost years far into the future. My grandson, like his peers, will never be five years old again, and so the opportunities for learning that come at that age will never return.
Young children are not the only ones harmed by closing down schools, however. Teenagers are also harmed by social isolation. While they may be better able to manage online learning than young children, the isolation we are imposing upon teens can lead to long-term mental and physical health issues.
To be fair, my daughter is quite a fortunate single mother. She has two parents nearby who are healthy, one of whom works a job that provides him with substantial flexibility, and the other who is retired. As a result, we have an availability to help that many single mothers don’t have.
Seeing what we have to go through with our grandson, though, only makes me sympathetic to single mothers — and even married mothers — who do not have such advantages. Indeed, the burdens resulting from the lockdowns of schools have disproportionately hurt women, and for many, their careers may never recover. The result has been an even higher level of depression among women than among men.
Given the negative impact closing schools has among America’s most vulnerable populations, it seems like this action should be only taken under the most dire circumstances. Well, this pandemic certainly qualifies, doesn’t it?
No doubt, the pandemic is a crisis. But does closing schools even help? Although the evidence is split, most research indicates that schools, especially those educating young children, are not hotbeds of coronavirus transmission. I can certainly attest to this fact based upon our own experience. Unlike many schools, our grandson’s school opened more or less on schedule this year. They were careful, requiring constant temperature checks and masks at all times. The children, who at that age want to be good, generally comply. As a result, the entire fall has resulted in only one coronavirus case, at which time they closed the school for two weeks to ensure no further spread.
Indeed, there are steps schools can take to reduce the risk of transmission that might not be so readily available in other forums. Unfortunately, many of these steps require money, and states and school districts are strapped for cash. Who does have money? The federal government. But we can thank Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell for their stinginess with people in need during this crisis. Quite a contrast with their generousness to the very rich.
Anyway, there are steps that can be taken that don’t require money. Those steps include masking up, social distancing, and having children eat lunch in classrooms rather than cafeterias. When such steps are implemented, schools tend to be a relatively low risk transmission environment.
But yet, we are closing schools. Perhaps this step is a reflection of the shared sacrifice we all must make to control the pandemic? Much like rationing during World War II?
But in fact, the pain is not widely spread. Set aside the fact that the wealthy are able to flee the cities, set up their own private learning pods, and are better able to work from home, but recent policy has made it clear that we care more about any number of activities than school.
Some of the things we do care about include going to church, which the Supreme Court recently held cannot be closed by states in an effort to control the pandemic. Apparently young children can learn online, but adults can’t pray unless in church. In Michigan, the legislature and Supreme Court have stood in the way of our Governor closing virus hotspots like bars and restaurants.
So we as Americans have taken the position that drinking at the bar is far more important than our children’s well-being, despite the fact that bars are tied with prisons as the riskiest places for coronavirus transmission. I suppose these priorities make sense given the fact that we also subsidize today’s economy with borrowing that our children will have to pay back and that we don’t want to give up large SUVs so our children have a healthy world.
How did we get here? As a teacher myself, and as the son and son-in-law of teachers, I sympathize with the situation teachers find themselves in. But I think we need to acknowledge that teaching is every bit as much an essential service as is shopping. We should pay teachers more, perhaps reward them the way Kroger or Amazon did with their short-lived hazard pay, but we need to prioritize keeping schools open.
Teachers unions do have political power, as they should. As a result, they have a voice through which to express their concerns to policy-makers. If we don’t have the money to better protect them, they prefer to teach from home and thus protect their own safety. Similarly, small-business-people have a voice in policy-making, resulting in the negative reaction to business closures.
Who don’t have political power? Children and single mothers. As usual, we have decided that the burdens of society as a whole will be borne by those with the least political power, instead prioritizing the immediate gratification of those with a voice in the capital.
I hope our children will forgive us for our selfishness. This should be a time of shared sacrifice to protect society as a whole. But it should also be a time to protect those least able to take care of themselves, including children. Our mothers already carry enough of society’s burden without support. We should not be loading this burden on them as well.
Society includes all of us. As such, when society faces a crisis, we need to come together to address this crisis and bear the burdens together. We have done so in other crises. It is time for us to show the world what America is really made of.