While parents across the country are lamenting going “back to school” at home today, I got the unbridled joy of spending the day in the office. It’s not the first time I’ve been back since the Great Plague kicked off. Over the course of the last six months I’m probably averaging a day a week actually sitting in cubicle hell. Frankly, I don’t recommend it.
The only saving grace of being in the office right now is that most of your colleagues won’t be there with you. Sure it’s not as conducive to peaceful reflection and deep thought as the quiet of your home office might be, but you aren’t being afflicted with 20 simultaneous and overlapping conversations like you were in the before time. Still, I envy little Bobby and Suzy for their new online existence.
Everyone is awaiting the moment when the world goes back to normal. When their little darlings are back to school and when cube farms are once again filled elbow to asshole. I can’t help but think it’s a case of being careful with your wishes. A school or office full of potential plague carriers, mouth breathers, and assorted oxygen thieves was our collective normal. I’d like to think our new normal could, and should, be something better.
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.