What are we doing? No, seriously, what the fuck are we doing? I saw this meme (not sure who made it, or I would ascribe credit), but it perfectly encapsulates the bind our country's anemic response to the pandemic and its fallout has put working families, parents, and teachers into this fall.
We are in the midst of a global pandemic that is many months--perhaps a year or more--from resolving in any meaningful way, by which I mean widespread testing and a vaccine. Scientists and researchers are working feverishly on both, and I think these solutions will eventually materialize. But until then, we are going to have to do better than simply tell parents, teachers, and working parents to just figure everything out on their own.
That is essentially what has happened.
Trump's edict to "reopen schools this fall!" is just another vacuous, self-serving directive from a clinical sociopath who has never cared for another human being--in any way--in his life. It's just like "build the wall," "make America great again," "law and order!" or any of his other meaningless, bumper sticker lies. And he's issuing it amid soaring cases in many states--including here in Alaska.
I personally witnessed this on a Zoom call for a school board meeting here in Juneau. It was apparent that district officials and teachers had put an enormous amount of work, thought, and effort into developing a re-opening plan, engaging parents in feedback, answering questions, and trying to offer solutions and comfort.
It was also obvious they had no idea what they were doing, and that's because they are not supposed to know. They are not supposed to be in the position of having to figure this out on their own, and our country has truly failed teachers and parents in asking them to.
I wish someone would just say out loud, "look, the United States is failing miserably to manage this pandemic. We are not prepared for it--not politically, not medically, not economically, and certainly not scholastically. It's obvious that teachers and parents are doing the best they can, but everyone is making it up as we go along and it's a total shit show."
This dilemma--and our government's neglect of it--is not a coincidence. It is the natural outgrowth of decades of a particular model of economics: one where parents--mostly mothers--are told to work eight or more hours a day, five or more days a week, send their kids to school for five or six of those hours, and figure out what to do with their kids the rest of the time.
Now, while Trump and his cronies siphon off federal corporate welfare for themselves, working parents and teachers are left to their own devices. What is more, we are being divided and conquered in precisely the manner described in this meme below:
"Teachers are underpaid and underfunded" (an intentional societal choice).
"Parents are not prepared to homeschool their children" (Why would they be? Teaching is a profession that not everyone has trained for).
"Parents need to work and can't be home all day" (another patriarchal choice to value a person's time at work over their home life).
"Children and teachers need to be safe" (which they can't be with a highly contagious virus no one fully understands, but who cares because "the economy" comes first. And for some kids, of course, school is the only safe place they can be).
"Teachers cannot teach online and in person simultaneously" (of course that is completely impractical, and not everyone has food or running water, much less internet access).
"Anyone in contact with COVID should be quarantined" (science suggests this is true, but what does that do to us, and how impractical is that, given the above demands on our time)?
"Kids won't be able to stay in masks and social distance all day" (not even for five minutes--anyone who has spent more than ten seconds with a child of any age knows that).
"Distance learning is difficult and socialization is important" (again, how are kids with working parents, food insecurity, no running water, no internet, and no ability to see their friends supposed to distance learn or socialize at all)?
"We don't know the long-term effects of COVID" (another troubling aspect of this disease is that, like polio, COVID may beget long-term physical and neurological impacts).
"It is not an educator's job to risk their lives for other people's children" (which goes back to the main conceit here that the Trump administration is more or less telling teachers to drop dead this fall).
It did not (and does not) have to be this way. We need to move the Overton window to a place where we value teachers and working families at least enough to provide them with the basic infrastructure and tools they need to get through this thing.
They deserve that, at a bare minimum, don't they?
Other countries are doing it; there are good ideas about ways to do it in the United States. But we don't feel like we can pull it off, because people can't even be trusted to put on a mask for ten minutes at Costco without dissolving into an insane temper tantrum, and the President of the United States thinks that's a beautiful thing.
Again, this is not a coincidence and it is not inevitable. It is a direct result of choices we have made as a society to elect sadistic leaders who value money over lives. Now, as a result, parents, teachers, and working families are being asked to figure out how to navigate something it is not their place to navigate, and made to fight amongst themselves to accomplish the impossible, all while the one percent abscond with the lion's share of federal resources that are supposed to be helping us.
Disregard for mothers in the workplace, for children and teachers at school, for a struggling workforce that can't pay its bills no matter how hard it works--has been woven into every policy choice our government has made since at least the 1980s. Leave aside, even, the mass shootings: COVID has exposed the indifference and the "fuck off and die" attitude toward school children and working parents that has long been the fulcrum of American public policy.
We need to keep voting and advocating to make sure we are never--ever--put in this position again.