Jul 13, 2020
Loud voices declare, “Children need to be in school so their parents can go back to work.”
A swaggering Trump declares, “CDC rules for reopening the schools are too tough, will cost too much money, rewrite them.”
Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), staunchly declares, “The rules aren’t being rewritten”—but then explains they’re not rules set in stone, only guidelines.
Lost sight of in all this mad cacophony are the needs of the children.
Yes, children need to be back in school, physically back in school. If anyone didn’t understand that before last winter’s experiment with long-distance virtual “learning,” they should now. The shutdown shows the damage inflicted on children when schools are closed. No school system managed to complete the new material slated for this school year. In most big cities, a large part of the children was completely excluded from any instruction. The big Los Angeles Unified School District estimated that one-third of the children couldn’t participate. A number of systems, like the Washington, D.C. or Detroit systems, just gave up and shut down after a few weeks of “virtual learning.”
As bad as most school systems are, they satisfy needs that otherwise aren’t met, and first of all, time away from the family—which is as important for the children as for the parents. Children develop and deepen friendships; they discover the need and possibility to cooperate with a larger number of people than just their family. In discovering they are not the center of the universe, they also discover how to live in society with other people. At the same time, they gain confidence in their own real capacities. For the majority of children in big city schools, school is the place they get dependable meals and basic medical attention. For very many children, school is the only place that gives them access to books or to computers. And this doesn’t even take into account that children encounter subject matter brought to them by people trained in these fields. It doesn’t take into account the possibility for children to discuss with their peers new concepts, methods and ideas.
To the extent that schools fail in one or another of these fields, it’s because the schools today are cheated for money.
Money has been the schools’ overarching, basic issue for years. Money will be the issue if children are to come back to school safely in the midst of an epidemic.
Every school would need to separate the children from each other, maintain distance. In other words, more space will be needed. New structures need to be put up, older shut-down structures modernized and repurposed. Every school would need masks, shields and other equipment so children could be somewhat protected. Every school would need daily medical checks. And all of this means more teachers, and more support from trained medical personnel, so children can get the individual attention they need for learning, but also for being kept safe.
Where is the money to come from? The money schools need is today being pocketed by the big banks. It’s in the hands of big real-estate developers. It’s in the luxuries piled on top of luxuries purchased by that one percent, the people who live by consuming the wealth that other people’s labor produces.
Capitalism has always disproportionately rewarded those who own at the expense of those who work. But during the past fifty years, as the system itself founders, wealth has been hijacked from the basic functioning of society. Schools, among other necessities, have been cannibalized.
This system, such as it has become, will not provide the money needed so children can get the education they need and get it safely. Instead, there is only a steady drumbeat for sending children back to school—without any preparations being made so they can go.
In no way will the children be served.
The real abdication of all responsibility can be seen in politicians, liberal and conservative, who say they will leave the choice up to the parents, whether or not to send their children. What kind of choice is this? To keep their kids home, depriving them of what they need, possibly scarring them for life; or send them into schools that will not provide the needed protections from disease and from the chaos that will ensue when the disease develops and spreads.
We deserve better. With our labor, we have produced the wealth of this country, billions and trillions of dollars of wealth. A system that can’t provide a safe and secure way for our children to be educated should be thrown on the trash heap, like the garbage it is.