Saturday, July 18, 2020

Wow. It's Just Like the Athenian Plague

As the disaster passed all bounds, men, not knowing what was to become of them, became utterly careless of everything, whether sacred or profane. 

— Thucydides

I've read through the many articles and tweets from reporters, politicians and teachers alike about reopening schools in the Fall here in New York City. As the nation-wide discussion about reopening heats up, we are all being drowned in an almost binary discussion: "Is is safe to open?"

You can see this question materialize in many different ways. Some people ask "How is it safe to open?". Others ask "Can the NYCDOE make it safe to open" or "Can they keep them open?". Other folks point to any one of the many necessary effects of opening. They will point to childcare as being an essential issue around opening safely (I.E. with students attending only two to three days per week) or feel impelled to discuss the painful logistics around opening safely or ask whether they, as teachers, qualify for a medical accommodation. (One teacher, famous for defending teachers and convinced that there is no safe way to open given the circumstances, has told his colleagues that he would put in for a medical accommodation if he had a hangnail if he thought it would qualify him for it.)

These side discussions are gripping and are interesting to follow but they are all related to the one and only over-riding question that is being asked: Is it safe to open?

There is another issue -long ignored by people who devote copious amounts of time and energy to any form of media discourse. This question is just as urgent and as important as this issue of safety and the people who are discussing safety are performing linguistic feats of amazement in order to avoid discussing it.

These folks -the ones who continue to ignore this other issue-  treat it as a mere secondary matter (trivial to their own concerns around safety).  According to the track record of these folks, this other issue is worth addressing only because someone has forced them to address it.  The mayor says schools "..will have enough time prepare" and then moves on. The governor says we will ".. will have time to thoughtfully plan" and then changes the subject. The school's chancellor shifts into uniquely long winded platitudes and then, only after being pressured, provides a link. Concerned teachers -mistrustful that the city got many of us got sick during March (so many, in fact, that the city still refuses to release the data or give a full account) want their questions around safety answered -and don't trust those "damned idiots from Tweed" to address this other issue anyway.

Taken together, these folks are all slowly -but clearly- becoming just as anti-teaching as anyone from the Bloomberg days ever were.

And those folks dont just include city-wide political leaders and teachers. They include the press,  including leading reporters from the New York Times and community-driven reporting websites like Chalkbeat. They include building and district educational leaders and even many teachers.

That other issue is this: What, exactly, do you expect us to accomplish with this time when we go back?

This time we spend with children in the Fall can  be a true moment in our history where we repair damage and set the tone for the next page in this chapter. With careful planning we can set our children back on the right path toward a happy fulfilled and well-prepared life as adults, making this time in their childhood just blip.

Or we could f*ck it all up and turn it into a complete waste of everybody's time.

To the folks who don't really care about this issue (or aren't prepared, because of incompetnce, to raise it), I have a few questions. Do you expect us to teach along the curriculum as though students have not suffered enormous emotional damage from the Spring's pandemic? Did you expect us to engage in Trauma-Informed-Teaching, pretending, whenever you open your mouths, that teachers know how to do this?Did you expect us to take another three-day training on hybrid learning in our respective school buildings? Did you want us to click a link and then "PRESTO" thorough magic, it happens?

Or do you expect this challenge around planning for hybrid learning will simply vanish in the turmoil that is bound to occur in six weeks and then expect the classroom teacher -professionally alone in these very public discussions- to just work it all out on their own?

This last possibility is probably what these people hope for and is very probably what they will get. But it doesn't make them any less culpable for the damage that is about to caused to children throughout the city. That damage will be caused because these folks -on all levels- failed to carefully plan and prepare teachers for the extreme challenges we are all about to face in our classrooms under the hybrid model.

I blame them. And I will go on blaming them as this other disaster -the one that will have occured because they failed to prepare (or failed to advocate for the preparation of) teachers and school communities to thoughtfully plan for hybrid learning this Fall.

Would we want cops patrolling the protests who had not been trained in latest policing techniques? Would we want doctors and nurses working in our hospitals who had not been trained in the latest techniques to fight COVID-19? Would we want EMT workers and firefighters who had been prepared for the tasks they face?

Then why is it somehow OK to not prepare teachers?

Why is acceptable to not A) Thoughtfully plan for a brand new hybrid model and B) Be prepared to address at least some of the extreme Social-Emotional challenges students are facing (to the precise extent that state Board of Regents has required school districts to do)? Why is that OK? Is it because safety? Because the mayor sucks? Because the governor hasn't said so?

The answers I hear to these questions would add up if we weren't teachers. We are, however, teachers andso the answers do not add up.

It is a very rare moment indeed where the press and politicians, the most damaging incompetent education leaders as well as the most vocal unionists and pedagogues are all united in the same cause: Not preparing school staff for school. Yet this is exactly what has happened. Virtually every education stakeholder in New York City has allowed April and May and June, and now July, to drift on by as though the challenges we are about to face do not exist and should not be addressed. This -presenting ourselves useless and unprepared in front of children who are in dire need- is what has become of us.

It was Rumi who first wrote that "A fish rots from head down". And he was right. Our president, our governor and our mayor have all demonstrated (quite perfectly, if you ask me) that they could care less about the finer points of pedagogy and Social-Emotional Learning. But that rot has now reached the body and it doesn't seem as though there is anything that will stop it from progressing, like a cancerous plague, through the classrooms. This breakdown of work based morality (otherwise known as professional ethics) has separated us all from who we were once were and from what we once did.

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