This is what has to stop in 2022: using American schools and students as a prop for hysterical posturing. We’ve distanced ourselves, masked ourselves and vaccinated ourselves. We’ve all done what was asked of us. We cannot be conditioned or acculturated to a new ethic of constant crisis. It’s not a crisis. It’s a radicalism of ruin. We need an exit ramp and then we need to exit — soon.
My 19-year-old daughter attends a public university which shall remain nameless. She is double vaccinated, boosted and has had COVID. And yet to re-enter her dorm room following Christmas Break she was required to take a rapid test, then a PCR test, and even then, won’t have any in-person classes for at least two weeks.
What are we doing? Enough! Stop scaring the children!
So many of my colleagues and I are constantly haunted by the same question: what will these students sitting in our classrooms say about these COVID-19 years when they get older?
Surely, they will remember the masks and the mandates, the perpetual specter of variants and the omniscience of contact tracing, social distancing and diktats from governors, public health experts and school board trustees. They will remember that school boards became epicenters of the nation’s quarrels, that the pandemic accelerated political feuds and intensified an already balkanized political landscape. They will remember that they bore witness to a mephitic emphasis on protecting a student population that didn’t particularly need protection and that “public safety” became an amorphous term used to justify policies that never seemed to make their education or lives any better.
But what they will probably remember most of all was just how long it took the adults to realize how ruinous COVID policies were to their young lives.
On every score — psychologically, academically, romantically, relationally—for almost two years American adults have required young Americans to traumatically upend their formative years so that their homes became enclaves of loneliness. Schools transformed into furtive laboratories for performative safety measures, online platforms morphed into unhealthy citadels of faux human connection and the horizons of hope that once defined the process of getting older in America — graduations, dances, ceremonies — were either reflexively canceled or made the occasion of yet another Zoom meeting.
And yet the crackup over COVID continues.
A pair of statistics were reported last month that might well represent nothing less than an epochal warning sign about the apocalyptic state of the teaching profession.
An EducationWeek poll reported that 54% of teachers said they were either “somewhat” or “very likely” to leave the profession in the next two years. Yes, you read that right — a majority of American teachers are so disheartened, exhausted and disenchanted they want to leave their chosen profession. One cannot help but link this to the other extraordinary statistic being reported by the LA Unified School District. Despite being flush with COVID funding, the district is having trouble filling some 3,450 positions.
And yet, we continue to double down on practices that students, parents and, yes, scientists tell us are harmful or unnecessary. We need to quickly discard utopian rhetoric about “re-inventing our schools” or using the COVID-19 crisis as a gelatinous generational opportunity to “re-imagine” or modernize our schools.
Sorry, online learning, for most students, most of the time, is no replacement for a traditional classroom setting. It’s junk food education and everybody knows it. Students from a variety of metropolitan areas are demanding a return to online instruction even though their risk from Omicron is incalculably miniscule. Virtually every teacher I know interprets this “activism” as nothing more than an attempt to return to pajama learning and pass-fail grading. Moreover, Ivy League colleges, University of California campuses and numerous K-12 school districts seemed more than eager to return to distance learning protocols at the first mention of the word “omicron.” The Chicago Teachers Union might go down as the most tone deaf organization in the history of public employees, and that’s saying something.
Moreover, the four-day school week might be nice for the mental health of teachers, but it will surely result in even more learning loss for American students. Reports of public schools openly discussing four days a week of traditional instruction or switching to a more limited class schedule are increasingly common. Just last month, more than 1,000 schools or districts moved away from traditional school days because of surging COVID cases. A district in Oregon went virtual because of the bad behavior of its students.
In my home state of California, progressive politicians love school mask mandates because it requires virtually no funding, enforcement is left to classroom teachers, and they can always claim to be protecting children and their families. The problem is the misery they perpetuate in the classroom. Teachers are tired of yelling all day. They are tired of not really knowing what their students look like. They are tired of policing young human beings who simply want to breathe, talk and engage one another as humans are meant to interact.
Already there is a palpable fatalism in the ranks of teachers who are deeply worried that in places like California masking might just become a permanent fixture of the profession, or at least seasonal. Not only will legions of teachers find other work, but who in their right mind would decide to become a teacher in this humdrum future? Increasingly there are developmental concerns beginning to arise — students who can’t speak correctly because they can’t see how sounds are made, students whose glasses are perpetually fogged up, students who feel like they have to yell to be heard in a classroom.
Learning loss is real and significant, especially in the areas of reading and math, especially for poor and minority students, and especially for younger children for whom online learning makes absolutely zero sense. As high school teacher Auguste Meyrat eloquently noted recently, “They cannot write as well; their vocabulary is lower than usual; they lose focus easily when reading; they struggle remembering what’s read or discussed in class.”
Avoid these pitfalls at all costs.
Stop making students, teachers and parents miserable.
Otherwise, we will be having the same conversation next year.
Jeremy S. Adams is the author of the recently released book Hollowed Out: A Warning About America’s Next Generation. He has taught high school and college civics for 24 years in Bakersfield, California.