The last time I set foot in a classroom was December 2002 as I departed to begin what promised to be a far more remunerative career as a small cog in my uncle’s vast war machine. I’m sure I’ve repressed plenty of the memories of those two and a half years attempting to educate the youth of America. One thing I remember quite clearly, though, is that the place was a petri dish. I’ve never been sick as often as I was during those 30 months.
The idea that a month from now most schools can open for business as usual strikes me as absolutely farcical. Even if we accept the premise, which I don’t, that “kids don’t get it,” I’m trying to understand what the plan will be when teachers start falling out. Even under average conditions twenty years ago we couldn’t hire enough substitute teachers on a day to day basis. What they’re going to do when some significant percentage of the staff starts falling out for weeks or months at a time isn’t something I’ve seen anyone address.
I suppose if all we’re collectively interested in doing is attempting to keep up the illusion that education is happening, it might just be possible to open schools as usual. I suspect at the very best, some districts will be able to warehouse students for six or seven hours a day – at least for a little while, until the reality of jamming large numbers of people into a confined, poorly ventilated space set in.
I won’t pretend that I have a good alternative. Distance learning, tele-education, whatever you want to call it, has obvious limitations and drawbacks – particularly in the early grade levels. I’m pretty sure I could have still done an AP US History lecture via Zoom, but I have no earthly idea what the average first grade teacher would be up against. All of that is before we even account for the subset of people who need schools open so they can go to jobs that don’t lend themselves to working remotely. I won’t pretend to understand that particular pressure, but I certainly acknowledge it’s there.
Admittedly, my interest here is largely an academic one… or maybe it’s the same kind of interest with which we look on the six-car pileup on the interstate. Watching a bunch of grown adults grapple with mass psychosis and intent on their goals in defiance of all medical and scientific realities, is really something to see.
1. Air conditioning. If reports out of central Maryland are to be believed, we are now living in the midst of the worst rash of human rights violations in the history of the state. I wish I’d have known back in the 80s and 90s that air conditioning in schools was a civil right. It turns out mine were violated regularly between about 1989 and 1996 when I and my classmates were forced to endure education without the benefit of air conditioning with only the comforting whir of dozens of box fans stirring the broiling air inside our classrooms. Since these long-dormant childhood injuries have now been pulled to the surface by an insensitive media establishment, I’m left wondering which state office we need to file with to receive our settlement for emotional trauma and discomfort?
2. Cowardice. Courage isn’t hiding behind a brick wall of anonymity saying mean things for fun and profit while trying to make sure you don’t lose your job. If you’re a member of the administration, outraged by it’s behavior and feel that you have no recourse but to speak out against it, the only legitimate option available to you is to resign your position. Then you are free to speak out and avail yourself of every other opportunity afforded to you. When I have an opinion, unpopular or not, I post it here and make sure my name is one it. To make your stand anonymously from a position of safety protected from public scrutiny isn’t an act of bravery, but a self-serving act of personal cowardice.
3. Thursday dinner. I loath and dispise needing to cook a full meal when I get home from work. Mostly I solve that problem by over-making Sunday dinner and crock-potting something on Monday. Juicy leftover goodness is the dispensed for lunch and dinner for the next three days. By Thursday, though, the options box starts looking a little bare… and by a little bare, I mean selecting between frozen burritos, Spaghettio’s, or a tasty bowl of Corn Flakes. Sure, I could order up something for delivery, but that involves someone coming to the house, so it’s a less desirable option. I could, of course, give in, and prepare an actual meal. That option, too, feels unlikely. If it’s Thursday and you’re reading this, chances are Corn Flakes has ended up being what’s for dinner.
One of the aspects of life in memphis you learn to respect (or at least expect) is that the tension between city and county government is going to, at the very least, be entertaining. Last week, the city’s elected school board gave up in disgust and handed in their charter to operate to the city. In theory, that means that the responsibility to educate the former city school student should fall to the Shelby County Board of Education. Of course dumping 150K+ urban students into the happily suburban school board’s lap was something they wanted no part of. Enter the State of Tennessee in the form of the legislature that swiftly passed a law postponing any actual changes. The assembled wise men of the legislature were followed by the lawyers – which almost guarantees that the issue could continue to provide almost limitless opportunities for entertainment for the foreseeable future.
I bust on Memphis alot, which as a taxpayer I consider both a right and a duty, but I suspect the issues at work here are less about Memphis as itself and more about the urban/suburban/exurban dynamic at play in cities across the country. I won’t even pretend at knowing the answer to those issues, but I think recognizing them is at least a starting point. Memphis is the classic city that still thinks of itself as a small town on the edge of the river, the cycles of agricultural boom and bust gave way to industrialization, which is sliding sideways into the post-industrial era without much of a plan or even a sense of itself as a city. This is going to get ugly, but it should be fun to watch. Memphis is reliable like that.