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Covid Didn’t Break The Public Education System. It Was Already Failing

By Hayley Lewis·· 8 min read
COVID Didn’t Break The Public Education System. It Was Already Failing

As the school year begins, most American students are still participating in some form of virtual distance learning. The outcry from teachers, politicians, and the mainstream media has convinced many that returning to schools is utterly unsafe.

Is this decision really based on scientific fact and truth, or is it a convenient talking point that doesn’t account for basic logic and reason?

Before I get criticized for being critical of teachers, know that I AM a teacher. After working in public schools for seven years, distance learning was the final nail in the coffin for me. Quitting was a painfully difficult decision, but I couldn’t in good conscience continue perpetuating a system I truly believed wasn’t helping children. I know some outstanding educators who are dying to go back with their students, and I know and respect the teachers who fear for the safety of themselves and their families. 

Quitting was a difficult decision, but I couldn’t continue perpetuating a system I believed wasn’t helping children.

It’s an unbelievably complex situation, and there really are only bad and worse answers to the problems we’re currently facing. None of this is easy, but decisions should ultimately be rooted in truth and what’s in the best interests of students — something American public schools have long forgotten.

We Made Our (Education System) Bed, and Now We Have To Lie in It

Teachers have just been declared essential workers by the White House, and an uproar of course followed. I’m pretty astounded when the same people who have advocated for the necessity of the expansion of the school system for so long are suddenly denying that teachers are essential. Of course, their health and that of their families should be given just as much consideration as that of the students, but to suddenly argue that they shouldn’t be classified as “essential” goes against everything public school advocates have been pushing for years. 

John Dewey changed American education.

John Dewey’s philosophies greatly impacted American education at the turn of the 19th century, shifting the aims of education from moral, disciplinary, and informational to the immediate and proximate, adapting to the ever-changing needs of the current environments. In other words, American education began shifting from the morally objective to the subjectively relative. 

Dewey wanted to move moral and practical education from the home to the schools and government. 

Furthermore, Dewey advocated for the schools to begin meeting the psychological needs of students, saying that “the ideal school should be like the ideal home.” While this seems good on a surface level, Dewey’s true aim here was to move moral and practical education and training from the home and family to the schools and government. The popularization of Dewey’s philosophies led to the moving away from small, localized school systems to broader, and inherently less individualized, forms of education. 

This philosophy eventually translated into educational policies pushed at the federal level, beginning with FDR’s educational aspects of the New Deal and culminating in LBJ’s social programs embodied in the ideas of the Great Society. The legislation and policies that came out of the Great Society in 1965 truly federalized educational legislation, setting the standards for education nationwide. 

Schools began to provide more than just education.

The social programs bled into education, making schools responsible for much more than education, but for virtually all human needs of students down to the meals they ate. Many are shocked to learn the Department of Education has only been operating since 1980, arguably when the programs became so large that they needed formal federal oversight.

Over time, the arms of education have reached into every sector of a family's life. Schools provide so much more than education, giving students food, psychological services, medical care, and special needs services just to name a few. Teachers are the first to admit they wear a thousand different hats. I’m not arguing for the necessity or effectiveness of any of these programs or legislation; I’m simply stating that they exist and millions of students depend on them. 

Schools give students food, psychological services, medical care, and special needs services.

We’ve forced society to be dependent on the schools and the myriad of programs and services they offer, and now we’re reaping the consequences. People have argued for years that these social programs are essential, but we can’t have the cake and eat it too. Either school, these programs, and teachers are all essential, or none of them are essential. 

What the Science Says about Children and COVID

Beyond the essential needs that schools fulfill, the facts of the situation have been steadily showing that the way COVID affects children, particularly young ones, is entirely different than it does adults. Although these days it’s to find unbiased information, a simple Google search brings up pages full of studies and articles showing that COVID is far less dangerous and less transmissible in children.

Institut Pasteur in France found no significant transmission from children to either their teachers or parents, concluding that it was actually infected parents passing the infection to their children, not the other way around. The study also found that the symptoms of the infection were much more mild, taking into account that only 2 of the 139 children needed to be hospitalized and that both of those children recovered. 

COVID is far less dangerous and less transmissible in children.

Ireland found no evidence of secondary transmission from children, and a study cited only three reported cases in children that were all connected to travel. U.S. doctors published a study in the journal Pediatrics quoted by Science Daily, stating that “children infrequently transmit COVID-19 to each other or to adults and that many schools, provided they follow appropriate social distancing guidelines and take into account rates of transmission in their community, can and should reopen in the fall.” 

Many studies have found that “overall, people under age 18 are between one-third and one-half as likely as adults to contract the virus, and the risk appears lowest for the youngest children.” There’s also confirmation that “younger age reduces risk of infection—and transmission.”

Other schools around the world have reopened safely.

Beyond the science that shows incredibly low rates of transmission and evidence for less severe symptoms in children, there are many studies and commentaries on safe practices for reopening schools. Washington Post cites schools that reopened in Europe and Asia that have avoided outbreaks of COVID-19, showing how these countries can “provide hopeful guidance to societies still weighing how to get students and teachers back into primary and secondary classrooms.” 

Schools that reopened in Europe and Asia have avoided outbreaks of COVID-19.

Science Mag looked at countries all over the world that reopened, including some that never closed, quoting Finnish pediatric infectious disease specialist Otto Helve, who said that there’s good news and that “so far, with some changes to schools’ daily routines...the benefits of attending school seem to outweigh the risks—at least where community infection rates are low and officials are standing by to identify and isolate cases and close contacts.” 

There’s evidence coming from literally all over the world, showing safe ways to mitigate the risk of returning to classrooms.

Ulterior Motives and Current Politics

Life is fraught with risk. Unfortunately, most decisions aren’t black and white, and we live in the gray area of things. No one wants teachers or students to die, but an honest evaluation of the true risk, especially if the risk is higher than that of average, everyday living, is essential to the wellbeing of children and society at large. While there are certainly plenty of great teachers out there, the sad reality is that those outside of the classroom are driving the narrative of what takes place inside them. 

Those outside of the classroom are driving the narrative of what takes place inside them. 

The LA Teachers Union demanded that in order to reopen schools “privately operated publicly funded charter schools are shut down, police are defunded, Medicare-for-All government-run health care is passed, a statewide wealth tax is implemented, housing for homeless is fully funded.” They also want “financial Support for Undocumented Students and Families” and a federal bailout because “the CARES and HEROES Acts [that] provided funding for K-12...fell far short of what would be needed to rescue districts and state and local governments.” 

Regardless of what you believe about most of these policies, they in no way relate to a child’s education, let alone what’s in their best interest. 

Closing Thoughts

There is much more going on here than the prioritization of the needs of children, and it’s time we have a truthful and fact-based conversation about the real risks, or lack thereof, regarding returning to school.

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