Whither goest education?


Traditionally, in most of my lifetime, Memorial Day marked not just a day of remembrance but a celebration of the beginning of summer, and more importantly, the end of the school year.

Having been born a study nerd, I was still always happy when the school year ended. As much as I enjoyed school, which was next door to my house when I was in elementary school, I also looked forward to warm days, chasing lightening bugs, playing with my friends, picnics, and freedom to just enjoy myself.

This year the end of the school year in almost every location was bittersweet. Classes have not been held for months, graduations were forbidden in any regular manner and students had not seen their classmates and friends for quite a while.

On the plus side now that school is officially over in most places, parents can take off their teaching robes, I suspect most of them with great relief. I imagine teachers may find they are more valued than ever when schools get back to a normal schedule and operation. As the old folks used to say, “You never miss the water til the well runs dry.”

But what happens in late summer, early fall when it is time for the school kids and college students to go back to school? Of course, none of us know at the current time. Embryonic re-opening of businesses and other public gathering places is too recent. We do not know if the virus will spike and infect a lot, kill some, incapacitate others or whether it will fade, or if scientists will be able to develop a vaccine. But I am going to venture some guesses.

If there is no proven vaccine by late July there will be no normal school openings for K-12 or colleges. Communities that are crowded are going to have to be avoided for a while, particularly those where attendance is required. I presume, since I am no longer active in educational theory or design, that educators are working feverishly to figure out the what-ifs.

Students cannot, will not, maintain social distancing period. I cannot imagine trying to convince a recalcitrant first grader to keep a mask on, or a sophomore not to hug her best friend she has not seen for a while. The ratio of teachers to students does not provide for supervised frequent hand washing. As far as I can find out, scientists are not even sure how long the virus can actually linger on things like paper, pencils, crayons, textbooks, computer screens, computer mouses, drinking fountain spigots, and handles. The current information available says the virus can last “from hours to days” on surfaces, in other words we do not know.

People eager to get back to normal want to ignore the possible dangers, embracing a non-scientific, non-fact based, that basically advocates letting a certain number of people die so that the rest of the population can get back to normal. These are, needless to say, not humanists.

Part of their position seems to be based on the idea that only the already sick or old are the ones that are most at risk of dying. Evidently some people find those populations expendable. But, how many people are willing to risk their children in order to return to normalcy? Maybe they are ready to let grandma go join the choir invisible, but what about Susie and Jamal? And remember, not all teachers are spring chickens.

So, in my absolutely unscientific, but based on my experience guess, schools and colleges will not open for the fall semester in any recognizable way. I suspect we will have a model of of mainly distance learning combined with a few days on-site teaching and learning.

Should be interesting to see what educators come up with. Don’t store those teaching robes too far back in the closets parents.


Cookie Newsom

Cookie Newsom is a Greene County resident and guest columnist.

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