The Journal Gazette
 
 
Friday, March 20, 2020 1:00 am

Coping in the time of COVID

Crisis helps reaffirm the central role teachers, schools play in our public life

Stu Bloom

Naomi Klein, in her book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” described how natural and man-made disasters open the door to privatization. During the COVID-19 disaster, we must ensure that doesn't happen to public education.

Schools have been starved over the past few decades. The underfunding of public education has opened up schools to vulnerability under the Shock Doctrine.

“When it comes to paying contractors, the sky is the limit; when it comes to financing the basic functions of the state, the coffers are empty,” Klein writes.

The education technology industry is ready to dump its items on schools (for a price, of course), especially now that many schools have closed and are using technology to connect with their students. Teachers, students and parents should all remember, however, that computers, phones, iPads and similar digital devices are tools, not ends in themselves. No digital tool can replace the human-to-human interaction of a teacher-student relationship.

“(It's) an assertion that rests on the assumption that ed-tech is good, that it can replicate at home what happens in the classroom,” writes Audrey Watters in her Hack Education Weekly Newsletter. “ 'This may be our moment,' ed-tech folks exclaim, giddily sharing lists of their favorite digital learning tools (with little concern, it seems for questions of accessibility, privacy, or security) and tips for quickly moving 'to the cloud.' Of course, education technology – as a field, an industry, a discipline, a solution, what have you – has had decades and decades and decades to get this right. It still hasn't.”

As of this writing, schools are closed for more than half of America's children. But public schools, and public schoolteachers, are about more than academics.

Teachers care about their students. Friends of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos may think teachers are only in it for the money, but public schoolteachers care about the whole child. Teachers are first responders when it comes to taking care of the nation's children.

Schools feed and house (and sometimes clothe) students every day. Those students who have little or no home resources will suffer most from the lack of open school buildings.

“The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare something that educators have always known,” writes Glenda Cohen at “We Are Teachers.” “Schools, side by side with hospitals, are the most important institutions in our country's social safety net. Of course, we've said this since the era of school shootings, where teachers have placed their bodies (literally) in front of students to keep them safe.

“But the coronavirus pandemic has put this into even sharper focus, as we grapple with the domino effects of closing entire school districts for prolonged periods at a time. Some public schools will be closed anywhere from a day to a month.”

Cohen writes that coronavirus has highlighted four important things about our nation's schools:

• Schools are key to keeping the economy running.

• Schools provide respite housing for homeless students during daytime hours.

• Schools help to prevent large-scale child hunger every day.

• Schools are the primary source of public health information for many families.

Nancy Flanagan, who blogs at “Teacher in a Strange Land,” notes schools and teachers have stepped up.

“Teachers are like those firefighters in Kirkland, Washington, who came to transport extremely ill nursing home residents to the hospital, without gloves and masks. Just doing our jobs, just following directions,” Flanagan writes.

“Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of teachers who organized take-home packets and figured out how to get coursework online, even if they didn't have a clue about how to do it before last week. And thank you to those who pointed out, with considerable asperity, how incredibly inequitable virtual instruction will be, but went ahead and made plans to do it anyway. Thanks to all who sent home food or arranged for food pickup – or even made a single call to a single household, to make sure an adult was home.

“Nobody knows how to do this well. Nobody. But schools and teachers are still trying.”

Stu Bloom is a retired teacher and a member of Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education. 


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