I started my professional educational life in 1972, prior to the advent of personal computers, which first appeared around 1975. Cell phones didn’t become wildly popular with the populace until around 25 years later. Social media, the curse and joy of so many, didn’t get a great start until early in the 2000s. What makes this progression so interesting is that it happens exponentially, which can be described as ever faster and bigger (with apologies to all the mathematicians, scientists, engineers and other smart people for oversimplification of exponential). This progress has resulted in the pocket computer, disguised as a “smart phone,” which is ubiquitous.
All of the above technological advances are related to the subject of school and education and provide a glimpse of one of the causes of the divides that plague our country. The digital divide, or the unequal distribution of access to information and communication technologies, is especially relevant as we try to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis in education. Many rural and economically disadvantaged people do not have equal access, and currently we are relying on technology to allow online and remote education at all grade levels in many schools.
Another major divide is the lack of belief or trust in science and research. Combine these two divides and we have the making of a mess. For the people who have ready access to information technologies and who believe in science and medical research, having to navigate the opening of schools may be a slightly less daunting task.
For those who don’t trust science or the government and view the press as an enemy of the people, trying to figure out what to do might actually be simpler. If the president says schools should open, then it must be OK. If the president says that the pandemic is “under control,” then they don’t need to worry about their children returning to school. If the mainstream press says that it may not be safe to open school, it is just fake news, so nothing to worry about.
Most teachers and school personnel are devoted to providing the best education they can to their students as well as maintaining transparent communication with families and the community at large. Also, I expect that parents who were thrust into the role of “teacher” have probably developed some sort of appreciation for the work that is involved in teaching students of any grade and ability. That experience might lend greater credence to what teachers have to say about the opening of school, either completely online, a hybrid plan, or totally in school every day. It is important to add that teachers want to be in the classroom in constant contact with their students, just as much as students want to be back and parents want to have time to support their family. Every school person I have talked to tells me how much they miss the kids and miss doing what they love to do.
It has been instructive for me to observe the signs that parents and teachers present to express their concerns about school and their children. Some state the painful reality and choices they all face: “Open our schools fully;” “Open our schools. No masks;” “I can teach from a distance, but not from a casket;” “My body, my risk, my choice;” “We can make up for lost learning, but not lost lives;” “Masks are disposable. Teachers aren’t;” “Social distancing won’t work in crowded schools;” “Fake news. Fake science. Fake problems. Fake solutions.”
In my calculation, any child or staff member is not worth sacrificing to ignorance and conspiracy theories. As far as that goes, no teacher or school employee should have to be a martyr because people are upset about the rigors of staying home, distance learning and all the other unfair results of a bungled handling of the pandemic. Let me be clear, I grew up on a valley farm, and life was OK, but I know that others are really struggling to pay rent, buy food, pay bills and just make it from one day to the next. If there were not so many divides between the haves and have-nots, believers in facts and science and those who trust more in conspiracy theories, and if people were able to talk rationally and calmly with each other, we could work together to figure out how to get through this mess and eventually return to “normal.” I also hope we can learn how important working together really is. No matter what, make sure you vote in November.
Kevin Wychopen is a semi-retired school counselor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.