A significant part of the educational experience

Now about this business of Trump and Pence and DeVos working to kill off teachers

As coronavirus case numbers soar across the country, continuing to reach record highs in many states, the nation has begun to confront the uncomfortable questions of if and how schools should open in the fall. While there is near universal agreement on the need for the education system across America to provide classes to students, the question is how?  Should schools open up physically, risking the spread of the highly communicable virus among students, teachers, and ultimately to those who they live with? Or should there be a greater emphasis on virtual and distance learning, which sacrifices a significant part of the educational experience, but has a better chance of keeping students, teachers and families safe?

To spell it out even further: is retaining the significant part of the educational experience that is being in a classroom with a teacher and fellow students worth killing a lot of people? Or are we faced with a situation in which we have to give up (temporarily, we hope) many significant goods in the effort to avoid killing a lot of people?

For their part, both President Trump and Vice President Pence have been adamant that schools plan on physically opening. Both men have been openly advocating for an in-person start to the school year and have been dismissive of the strict guidelines the Centers for Disease Control has issued to help school leaders make decisions. On Wednesday, President Trump tweeted that the CDC guidelines, intended to protect students and teachers from the deadly virus, are “very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools.” The President also threatened to cut off federal aid to schools that don’t reopen.

See this is where they go off the rails. Trump calls the guidelines “tough” – tough in a bad way, which is unusual for him. He loves bullies and bullying if they’re on his team, but not if they’re on anyone else’s. At any rate he calls the guidelines tough, when the point of them is not being tough but avoiding killing people. He’s confused. He’s too ignorant and too selfish to grasp that rules intended to get control of a pandemic are not attacks on him, and are not punitive or belligerent or violent.

During a White House coronavirus task force press briefing last week following the President’s tweet, Vice President Pence similarly addressed the CDC guidelines. “The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence said. “That’s the reason why, next week, CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward.”

There again, that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. There’s no such thing as “too tough” in this situation; toughness is irrelevant. The virus doesn’t care how tough we are, nor does it care how weak we are. The urgent need is to avoid letting the pandemic get completely out of control, because the results of that would be much much worse than any “too tough” guidance on how to slow the spread. It’s just stupid to call the necessary measures “too tough.” That’s like saying it’s “too tough” to tell people they can’t try to have a picnic on the freeway.

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