Distance Learning, Disrupted Learning & Social Eruptions

16. If the role of the policing in America can be understood as one of maintaining a line of an invisible border between whites and blacks, patrolling a line that continues to exist long after enslavement, and that is naturalized in the projection of criminality and suspicion on African American communities, this is no more evident than in the apparent devaluation and sacrifice of black lives. And if a single chart demands inclusion in the dot map of “protests” against police violence, it is the rapid and pronounced growth of support that Civiqs found for Black Lives Matter across different demographics. It registers a massive shifts that underlay the spread of protests, and the hope to remake community, undergirding broad intersectionality of protests not about defunding but about changing the nature of police work and the racial boundary that is policed.

The timeline of changing levels of support arrived recently reveal a reaffilliation not limited by location, generation, or political party–a shift beginning from increasing awareness of heightened vulnerability among minorities to infection that led the CDC to start to tabulate data on infections, hospitalization and mortality by death. The shift in awareness that increased support for Black Lives Matter movement before George Floyd’s murder, according to the below trends, in data circulated via the New York Times and grassroots efforts from the Women’s March, shows a decline of opposition, decline of lack of opinion, and rapid rise of support– and a sharp decline in opposition since the march of White Supremacists in Charlottesville–

Civiqs; Support for Black Live Mater, July 2019-June 2020

–that informed the clustering of protests in the nation. A shift was evident in individual states, as if overlaying a division of red and blue states is by trends of net support save in two states out of fifty; support is particularly sharp in sites of protesting on the west coast, in Washington DC, and Chicago, where barricades rose to sectorize mobility between ghettoes and downtown, and a rising support in southern states in Georgia and Florida.

CIVIQS: Support for Black Lives Mater (June 15, 2020)

–an image whose distillation of an apparent realignment in attitudes to the group whose organic growth from urban experience of Los Angeles, Oakland, and New York City emerged in 2013 as a broad-based rethinking of the role of impact of state violence on black communities across America.

The graph of support for Black Lives Matter and its relevance to policing excesses offers a civic lesson of the day on the broad expansion of resistance to ugly illustrations of police violence in the last weeks: if the distribution curves differ across ages, suggesting generational divides, age coteries up to fifty have swung to 50% supporting and with favorable opinions of Black Lives Matter (35 to 49 notching 55% support, and eighteen to thirty-four a stunning 65%), a fact difficult to dismiss as awareness grew of the disproprtionate hospitalization and infection levels minorities suffered, leading to CDC tabulation of COVID-19 data by race. Far less of a dramatic shift in opinion existed among non-college graduates. But the change was still sufficiently pronounced to present deep questions of an undeniable political change: one even saw a decline in opposition to BLM among Republicans below 50%, as opposition among independents declined below 25%. The net support for Black Lives Matter movement that steady rose over two years of increased racial tensions exploded.

Civiqs poll of Registers Voters, All Ages

What may be the graph of the year is embodied in the protests. The ascent of a new consensus tracks not only support, but reminds us how much no map embodies information without a graph, as if the privileged place of points in GPS derived from a logic of datapoints is most legible when accompanied by the graphs that provide its legends: and may be inseparable form the disjoined floating signifiers of a map’s symbology, form, and , after the demoting of the textual legends in many graphs. The absence of data on police violations that are suppressed by departments and public review may have prevented clear tracking and amassing of instances of violence, but the spate of murders, inexorably growing as more media attention is directed to the terrifyingly inexorable images of violence on black bodies, now captured on video tapes, policing cameras, and by bystanders, far more than they were in the era of the beating of Rodney King. If we have only the grainiest happenstance images of the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, or Malcolm X, whose murders were conundrums without clear visual evidence, the proliferation of filmed tapes provide evidence of the continuity of a predominant show of force, contrasting to the absence of hidden data on police violations.

This shift in public attitudes that may be more important is evident in the above graph of attitudes toward the Black Lives Matter movement–begun after the vigilante killing of Trayvon Martin revealed the discounting of Black life, and the proliferation across America in a wonderful new media, far outdistancing the catcalls of social media. For the samizdat of the sidewalks, art displays, and hand-made posters that provide a grounded concrete communication of the urgency, articulation, and organic agenda for families, domestic workers, youth, unemployed, workers, and students of color as if affirming that underneath the sidewalk lay not the sea, but organic wellsprings of resistance to the continued policing of communities, the absence of uniform use-of-force standards, and lack of review for behavior or even data on past policing offenses. Police had been invested with their own objective judgement of applying force constricting vital signs in chokeholds, only sanctioned for meeting violently resisting offenders, but made so concrete in the eight minutes of forty six seconds we watched George Floyd be slowly and intently strangled.

The sanctioning of such violence was encouraged in a departmental culture without review, where police officers’ own objective standards was illustrated by the violence at the nation’s borders used by Customs and Border Patrol, and the broad deterioration of departmental review or community policing. The new national landscape of policing was notably navigated in new ways. The broad new uses of mapping applications to track the presence of police and criminal incidents in cities, often scraped from police scanners, has provided a useful way that peaceable protests can occur, not based on Twitter, Facebook, or social media forms of “crowd-sourcing” actual bodies, but the surging use of police-scanner apps, that provide a means for allowing protestors to track and pin their locations on city maps to avoid the emergency situations that the new app, Citizen, which spOn, Inc. owned before the murder of George Floyd, but has since been bought by Apple, in parallel to a rise in activity of NextDoor and other community-based apps, allow Citizen users to benefit from scraped scanner communication among first responders, including uploaded videos which Citizen can match with locations, so that they can navigate the potential dangers protestors might face in virtual city maps, allowing a local 911-style screen, used in New York in an app marked was Vigilante to create an emergency-response environment on personal screens of their own neighborhoods, to which the New York City Police Dept. had widely objected, but now allows four million users to orient their protests to local urban geographies in strategic terms.

The app offering tools to avoid the attempts to disrupt protests by deploying Anti-riot tools of tear gas, pepper spray, and concussion grenades form March 26, to provide a pretext to invite more police to arrive, and to affirm a line between disruptive and law abiding worlds, helped shift the geography of the protest, and perhaps to remove it from being channeled into a form of disorder and social unrest, navigating beneath surveillance by drones circulating overhead by putting tools of mapping to good use.

Media sources, amplified by feeds of police administrators and officers like Bernard Kerik, circulated maps whose legibility seemed designed to sew doubts about protestors’ spontaneity or authenticity of protest demonstrations by unmasking the source of such disruptive events as if bankrolled by another group, or of potential terrorist affiliation, more than a protest against inequalities urgent in need of rederess. It was hard to reject the coherent nature of the rejection not only of police violence but the radicalization of state policies in the protests. Kerik had explained to his followers how protests were organized by “a group called The United States of America and we’re fed up with police violence,” as if to conceal how much Black Lives Matter has done to reject the politics of disenfranchisement and criminalization of protest through the racialization of crime as a category. In ways that echoed how the images of police violence and calls for public action across social media helped to facilitate the construction of a new networks of information, becoming triggers as they were inserted among the new networks of social circulation.

Patricia Spear Jones had in 2018 tied to the new forms of circulation of meaning and power that social media allowed, if it was here modulated for outrage and cultural production. If Spear Jones noted an urgent need to “find new way to collaborate, circulate, and create in our social production,” the outpouring of indignation, rage and redress to which protests gave voice were “advancing a different and more humane vision of a world where the struggles involve choices for the songs we want or need to sing, instead of self-annihiliation or the destruction of our children,” outside of white privilege, with knowledge that one “cannot replace real-life community.” And if the terms were similar, the practices of a struggle against privilege and racism they expressed had long brewed.

17. As the role of police along our southwestern border and violence against immigrants growth, state violence has increasingly accelerated in the Trump administration; law enforcement officers provided increased funds to persecute minorities, immigrant communities, and disenfranchised, and to accelerate efforts of disenfranchisement as if in anticipation of the 2020 Presidential election. And the increasingly strategic ways that protests have developed to avoid police intervention and police strategies of confrontation suggest the increased safety, by monitoring protests, and getting the earliest alerts possible about police intervention in demonstrations that, if predominantly urban in early June, have diffused to multiple sites across the nation by avoiding increased police presence, as many jurisdictions have forbidden confrontational policing tactics.

Even as we continue to be presented distorting chorographies of the nation tied to border defense and wall-building, the alternative view of community that these collective protests in the streets were not only a Durkheimian celebration of the collective: they were rooted in the geography of social abandonment that the Trump administration has accelerated, a collective mapping from below truly crowd sourced in proportions and scale. For if we have been provided with distorting maps from above since the 2016 Presidential election, the circulation on social media of increased protests has fed a widespread rejection of dissatisfaction with the direction of the nation and the intensity of policing from the border to the interior. Donald Trump’s most astounding victories of remapping is to increase the proximity of much of the nation to the border wall, distorting the emergency conditions of the need to halt “illegal” immigration–magnified from a marginal issue to a central place in national agenda–that has finally been displaced by the true emergency of COVID-19, a cascading emergency that has stripped bear the inequalities obscured bynarrow-minded focus on the border to the exclusion of deep fault lines within the nation, from homelessness to income inequality to gun control: the mismanagement of coronavirus demands to be examined as a reflection of the distorted priorities the administration, and the narrow agenda it has followed that have left most of the population exposed to far more serious risks.

Meanwhile, as if inhabiting another world, as if to conceal the absent framework of health care adequate to the spread of the novel coronavirus, and the uncertain place of public health disparities in the nation that go increasingly and painfully unaddressed, we closed schools as a primary preventive measure. It made one wonder if in a nation where black lives mattered, would the closure of schools–one of the last reserves of socio-economic mingling in many cities, if schools are also suffering from deep tacit segregation, and one of the only visible illustrations affirming hopes of social opportunity and advancement–be so readily slated to be closed? Would the support for school closure as the first response to pandemics be so uniform if we had encouraged and promoted community-based schools?

Although DeVos threw in the towel on uniform testing for the 2019-20 schooler in the face of the pandemic on March 20, granting schools a waver in the face of a national emergency, as Secretary of Education she offered scarily little guidance to the role of instruction in public schools–nor did she see fit to do so. Doing so neglected the uneven topography of a policy was nowhere more in evidence than in the place of school closures. Alghough much of America seemed to believe that the arrival of an infectious virus to be overblown, and did not warrant a uniform response, the uncertainty of closures led to hastily produced maps based on local policy announcements, from the first alert for closures of schools in early March–before a national emergency was declared–in states deemed close to outbreaks where fears of infection ran high: the map of school closures are as close to one of panic and uncertainty as one gets.

Did the lack of any sense of a uniform response increase the danger of future spread? This early map–perhaps the one of the only maps to account for the size of students affected by the closures, which were to become blanket policy–registered the urban awareness of COVID-19’s spread, and a scrambling for a change in policy to reflect the local level of choices as Trump moved forward to declare a State of Emergency–which few understood what it meant, if the World Health Organization had already declared a pandemic and infections confirmed in forty-seven states.

March 3, 2020
March 13, 2020

This seemed slow, but it was even more disruptive than has been acknowledged, as it suddenly left many not only without work, but without a sense of their children’s schedules, loosing a weird sort of anarchy or libertarian dream.

Even if the declaration was a move allowing the Food and Drug Administration to grant emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 diagnostic produced by Roche, no roll-out of diagnostic tools or testing had emerged for the next two, three, and perhaps four months.

April 23, 2020

As peaceful protesting was systematically demonized on social media, the institution of the public school that long embodied a hope and promise of educational equity was a quick sacrificial lamb that, almost across the political divides that afflict the United States, seem adopted–turn to the fourth page of this post for more maps!–as in-person instruction was widely needed to contain the virus by mid-March, leading most all schools to be closed or scheduled to close by April 3, as from March 13, in response to the spread of the coronavirus, the public authorities that were reacting to the emergency situation elected to close public schools and, while not immediately stating so, to shutter all in-class instruction for the 2019-2020 school year until further notice. We await a sense of what the reopening will entail, but are unsure if instruction can resume as it once was–or what the place of schools in America will be.

National School Closure Uniformity, March 18 2020
National School Closure Profile in 43 States, April 3 2020

By April, over fifty million students faced suspended in-person instruction. With no national policy in place, states adopted policies of  “Safer At Home,” issued by Gov. Tony Evers and the state Department of Health Services in Wisconsin, or, in California, where cases of infection early came to attention of Public Health Authorities, by March 19, affecting over 6.3 million students, as schools were also closed in Colorado, on March 18, and the governors of Arizona, Doug Ducey and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas announced on March 15, affecting 1.2 million and half a million students, as had Florida’s Dept. of Education by March 13, and Governor Ron DeSantis extended by March 17, for almost three million kids: the creation of gaps of unequal access to education or local impact on families was calculated and calibrated locally, as no government policy had been enacted; recommendations of school closure in pandemics were on the books since 2003, when advisors of George W. Bush scrambled for recommendations for curtailing the spread of viruses along social networks in the aftermath of SARS. Such uniform consensus was perhaps only less striking than the absence of plans to think them through, even as deferred national action left local initiatives both compelling and unable to be ignored.


Interactive School Closures Map
Ballotopedia, interactive map updated May 15, 2020

The map of closures might well be read as an artifact surviving from the Bush administration,–and the time when the post-SARS post-9/11 administration of George W. Bush mulled over emergency responses to the fears of a pandemic. The policy adopted in circa 2003 tellingly papers over the deep divides across the educational landscape that has been engraved in the nation for some time. Without any review for almost twenty years of what would replace instruction in the eventuality of a pandemic, public school federal funding has declined as school needs have grown. The data on the inequalities of education was there, as well as the severe nature of losses of future productivity and GDP, even if our economy has become used to incorporated and including the many to whom education is out of reach with a range of low-wage jobs, that seem the result of the acceptance and encouragement of rampant inequalities.

Was it a coincidence that the Bush administration hardly made public schooling a priority beyond primary school reading programs? No Child Left Behind encouraged privately developed literacy programs in schools, we recall, that promoted recitation and demoted instructional creativity, oddly akin to if not seamless with remote learning tools: Bush himself was famously preserved on celluloid promoting the new literacy program his administration promoted, while reading The Pet Goat in Reading Mastery 2 to Florida students in that famous scene of Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11, a story whose fame was gained as part of the No Child Left Behind literacy program, as planes crashed into the Twin Towers, and he sloughed on with reading the story to its end. The Bush administration adopted the option of closing schools as a way to reduce the social network of disease transmission made sense: few imagined that viral contagion would be as prolonged as a national crisis and not localized outbreak, to be sure.

Re-investment became a spectacularly unpopular idea and hard sell in the United States, since the Reagan Revolution, however, as rumbles against tax grew. Investment on schooling since the Great Society were questioned as profitable, lead to increased earnest questioning of the value of government in The West Wing. The mission of Josiah bartlett’s idealist team contrast to the absence of investment in public schools in the Bush Presidency: the image of a President whose commitment to values as envying rates of literacy in other countries, more than GDP, and had difficulty prioritizing the military budget, seemed a romanticization of the Clinton Presidency in the Era of Bush I, and has assumed, in reruns, a sense of nostalgia for good government in the Trump Era: Bartlett championed a “true revolution in educational reform” that would provide free college to those committing to a role in public instruction, openly countering promotion of school “choice” agendas. Partisan opposition to funding public education as a “lifeboat” for low income kids as a source of budget shorfalls–“four trillion dollars . . . [concealed over multiple years] a steady and inexorable decline in every measurable standard of student performance, to say nothing of health and safety,” by draining budgets without results, magnified the costs of public schooling in ways that conceal the rising military budget.

The history of questioning of the value of investment in education extended back to George H. W. Bush’s administration reduced funds designated for public schools, a promise to be “the education president” that let private education corporations to set criteria of meeting tests of competency, rather than reducing student-teacher ratios or investing in public schools. As an education reformer, Bush disdained the “lifeboat” function of “underperforming” public schools laid ground for the very charter movement DeVos advocated–advancing NCLB metrics for “performance” that discount the roles schools play in communities, and protecting how “school choice” based on an elite free market notion of education that would come to dismantle public education embodied in de Vox’ embrace of rote learning tools.

The fictional President Bartlett’s vision of good governance was emblematized by the call to hire “100,000 teachers” as a vision of good governance nostalgically offered a sense of restoring faith in education by brooding access to higher education increasingly removed from many communities, as an alternate future that many members of the Clinton administration promoted. The long-term failure to invest in public schools in the Bush Administration had led Bartlett to promote with nostalgia a vision of good governance that ran against advocacy of vouchers and school choice in the Bush administration: an upbeat and optimistic Democratic President nurtured a pet program highlighting “100,000 teachers” that engaged legislation George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Education, Margaret Spelling, whose policy prefigured the current Education Secretary, school choice advocate Betsy DeVos.

When Sam Seaborn was faced with an argument championing vouchers and school choice, the daughter of Bartlett’s own Chief of Staff–a public school teacher–summoned moral high ground: “Tax dollars should go to fixing public schools, not aiding the shipment of students to private schools, many of which are religious. By the way, I don’t know how you’re getting around the separation of church and state on that one . . .” Whereas Secretary Spellings encouraged increased advocacy of entrepreneurial activity of education de Vos championed restored the outreach to private educational strategies and corporations to remedy American students’ lagging scores, revealed in A Nation at Risk, beyond vouchers alone; seeking to energize the nation to a new vision of comprehensive educational reform, Sam Seaborn pilfered phrases from Chairman Mao’s Red Book to help Bartlett convince Congress of the need for comprehensive educational reform as Mao had urged to extend education to women: Seaborn urged, “Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes…. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yetin the The West Wing‘s first season (2000), baked into its plot, as core to his ideal promotion of advancement.

Broad agreement on school closures may have only encourage a sense of the widespread social abandonment across many communities, at a time of increased anxiety in the face of a pandemic that had suspended work, income, and threatened to sink the aspirations as well as it disrupted networks of social dependence that were part of many communities lives. While the Black Lives Matter protests turned on police violence that appeared sanctioned by the state which had insisted on increased policing powers, the abandonment of school closures remained a prominent policy change to mitigate infection as fears of infection form the coronavirus grew.

Even as we used old mapping tools to try to come to terms with fears of rapid contraction of COVID-19, there was a surprisingly clear consensus in closing schools. But it may be an under-appreciated irony in this dark time that the importance of school closures reducing the social network of the spread of endemic diseases began as a realization of a high school student, as such closures have produced increasing inequities in education, as much as exposed them.  Will we look back to the spread of school closures with a wistful sense of the dramatic spread of consensus that led to a departed world where access to education seemed a goal once in sight?

Mapping a different outcome form a society where nine out of ten kids is out of school can only proceed by a focus on equity-based needs, if only to lessen the inequities technology seems designed to accentuate in cruel terms., nowhere more evident than in the distinct consequences of school closure across American cities and populations, both in terms of the limitations of distance learning and the deeply unequal levels of community support–in a spectacularly delayed if uniform reaction to meet a mandate for social distancing. School closures heightened narratives of social abandonment, in many cities, augmented by fears of vulnerability in COVID-19, a generalized social abandonment Ruth Wilson Gilmore aptly calls the radicalized violence of the state. If the absence of healthcare or what was long derogatorily cast as “social safety nets” and that has paralleled the relentless expansion of policing and prisons across the state.

18. While we scrambled to map the spread of the zoonotic virus which had been ignored even as it had arrived in the country from late December, mapping its expansion from mid-March, compelled to seek a way to position ourselves in relation to global events. There was an almost uniform push to announce school closures, in an attempt to reduce any crowding, and of course not only in California. But the social disruption that school closures created across the country, however, accentuated the many ways that the ravages of the virus have revealed disparities and inequalities across America, if more urgently pressing problems of the lack of access to health care and social assistance had made them recede.

Although social distancing is the sole effective means of containing viral spread, the absence of consideration of the ramification of these disruptions might be traced back to the rather precocious adoption of school closure as a script of official policy of pandemic response devised in a post-9/11 world to respond to fears of a SARS-type outbreak in the Presidency of George W. Bush: while President Trump played down threats of the COVID-19 outbreak, the playbook designed by the CDC gave little care to the impact on families, children who would be taken out of school, or the need to provide educational options and alternatives–and trusted all to socially distance and isolate. The lack of the role schools play were somehow discounted. The near-total shutdown of all public and private K-12 school campuses in the Spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak created an unprecedented map for the 55.1 million students and their families who had to face new questions of preparation for the 2020-21 school year, and the interruption of nutritious breakfast, after school care, preschool, and all the services of K-12 education that form one of the few surviving threads of communities in a time of increased public distrust of institutions and government. And if the previous decades have seen an attack on investment in public schools, pegged to local property taxes, but without aggressive federal aid, the failure to invest in necessary ways in the reopening and infrastructural needs of schools could set both the nation far back in ways public schools and students–and especially minority students–will long feel, if the extent of its impact on students and the economy may not be anticipated.

Indeed, while summer programs ensuring continuous lunch options for K-12 students and summer food programs kicked into place, the precarity of the dependence of often distinct demographics on free and reduced lunches and breakfasts provided an illustration of one of the other unequal divisions in American society that were suddenly foregrounded and revealed with paralleled the spiking of unemployment insurance by the millions in March, rising to above ten million by the end of the first week of April, and expansion of unemployment insurance lines. The role of school lunches is not only meting a large part of nutritious needs but offered a possibility for regularly subsidized lunches–often redistributing wealth, if they are subsidized by other school parents–that create an important expression of community, as well as healthy meals.

Georgia Dept. of Education
Cincinnati Public School Services
Millcreek, Ohio

Absence of national guidelines to respond to the novel coronavirus that had arrived in America as early as December, if not in January, long before the February closure of travel from China, albeit without testing or quarantine that would have allowed its containment, the closures pulled a rug out from under an America that still relies, LeBron James reminds us, on getting all three of its meals from schools: an on March 25, after reaching out to an Akron Ohio restaurant after the Ohio Governor Mike De Wise closed all public schools in the state, he arranged to provide enough tortillas, and chicken and beef tacos on a massive Taco Tuesday for those families with kids at the school he has founded in Akron. Other states and educators were far slower in making up the slack, perhaps as the federal government had done so little planning, and had cut state funds, or they had less flexibility or foresight to do so in a global pandemic. But the critical role that schools afforded in many domestic economies–and indeed in many hopes for future economic betterment–were called into question by the uncertain calls for their suspension, with little encouraging signs of reopening, and unemployment numbers increasing, pressing citizens in an economic scissors of fewer jobs, fewer funds, and less support.

The need for school closures for infectious viral outbreaks were important. But the identification of such closures as a necessity was an artifact of an earlier era, and one whose implications were not clearly envisioned or thought out: as much as the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented in its cascading effects and imposition of social distancing, the near-global policy of school closures fails to address the long under siege if durable role of public schools as the sole community lifelines for many families. While the policy of school closures as a reaction to this infectious spread of a pandemic is global, the local history of ending instruction emerged as an early reaction to what became a pandemic preparation, a new playbook with policies that predate Trump, but were poorly thought out. And if the role of school lunches and breakfasts for so many families has led school boards to scramble for volunteers and options for continuing to provide needed nutrition, the sense of continuity that school offered as a community is far more frayed.

As alarming problems in a landscape of radically unemployment insurance benefits of clear limits emerged that suggested how unready the nation was for unemployment benefits, the tenuous thread of subsidized meal programs demanded a vital network for many families that diminished public safety benefits existed. The reduction of windows of unemployment and social services in much of the country provided but a year of benefits in many states in the south–and only twenty in Michigan and twenty-one in Idaho–before the CARES Act that was adopted in response to COVID-19, but left many states from California to Texas to Illinois to New York to Ohio to West Virginia, all with over a tenth of employment in now shuttered leisure or hospitality services,, unequipped to meet an unemployment surge, if not creating a ticking time bomb for a potentially even hotter summer of 2020.

Weeks of Unemployment Insurance Available by State, as of January 2020/ Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution

19. The impact of school closures demands to be situated in such maps of the stark inequalities of education that long existed and which earlier Secretaries of Education had tried to address, even as the cry for school reform and educational choice grew, and schools had gained an increasingly important if difficult foothold in urban communities, whose sudden subtraction among the exigencies imposed by a pandemic which had never been encountered on such scale.

The data was there on the inequalities of educational opportunities, of course. Yet far more attention was directed to the redefinition of public schools has focussed on “education”–by that, the standards and choice in education reform–schools are increasingly dependent on state and local funding alone–despite an increased crisis in the failure of young Americans to complete their high school degree in a timely manner–upwards of or close to a third in six states, Oregon (32%), New Mexico (37%), Louisiana (29%), Florida (29%), and Georgia (33%) a decade later, creating steep inequalities and creating significant future income loss across the nation.

United States Dept. of Education, 2013

The sene of lagging behind in school networks through the county reflects a lack of federal investment in education opportunities, and a tightening of budgetary priorities, as an increased number of Americans are indeed schooling too low to enter the military on its entrance exam alone, a pool that is predominantly minority in many states, but traces a similar failure of educational priorities in many of the same states, including Mississippi and South Carolina, that suggests a lack of readiness which the prospect of school closures might well have triggered a red light–given the lack of preparation for high school graduates, a group represented by minorities, who seek to enter the U.S. Army after they graduate by an entrance exam. The failure of the schools in many states meeting that low bar–and one can also guess with great likelihood that this is graduates of public schools most often feeders to the Army, was a red flag that suggested the increased danger of suspending schools in the face of a pandemic threat–as had been made standard operating procedure without any debate on preparedness.

The recent degradation of public health continues hides behind jobs reports and a need to grow the economy, or stock market, conceals the erosion of any safety nets to reduce hardships that are falling in increasingly unequal ways across society, where COVID-19 infection rates break along ZIP codes, and make us realize the disproportionate inequalities long concealed in the surfaces of many maps. Yet global economic development is poised to undergo a decline in global human development–spanning education, health and living standards, and work equity, for the first time since a Human Development Index was measured, the world is slated to plunge the world into a recession that will magnify inequalities, the “effective out of school rate” that magnifies both tension between increasingly uneven access to technologies, but opens a divide in the different ways that schools meet needs among different communities and neighborhoods.

And as we may see further job losses and increased hospitalizations in a rush to “re-open” states, we seem to trust the sloping decline of confirmed infections will continue, as if the slope predicts subsiding of a threat that already increased inequalities across the nation, as if it was a fever that was subsiding, without any second or third wave returning, and demanding to be understood as a far more protracted event, global in scale, with hopes of containment long ago passed.

Yet if graphs are an important part of any map, trending is a poor guide to the manifold array of problems continued cases of COVID-19 brought, or the possible resurgence of new waves as social distancing is receding, without guidelines for future testing practices or tools for contact tracing in place. For all the harping on the border-protection as an effective tool for containment of the novel coronavirus, the difference attitudes toward “reopening” and health are painfully evident on the US-Canada border, near Niagara Falls, where the Canadian hotels are keeping their doors closed, as the closed US-Canadian border leaves many sitting empty in the pandemic, wary that Americans may arrive with cavalier attitudes to social distancing, or wearing the newly marketed PPE face guard branded as “The Canadian Shield” to be donned by employees over their face-masks, even as the patios and cafes around Niagara Falls expanded from Friday, June 12–after having long kept select empty rooms of the hotel illuminated in a spacious semaphore of possible future hospitality and cross-border friendship.

Niagara Falls Sheraton, March 22, 2020

The wariness of regarding a nation whose protestors were long ago demanded to be “liberated” from lockdown constraints and objected to donning face masks may suggest deep national differences to public health needs or prioritizing well-being as part of a public role of government and a base-line of an economy: while investing in healthcare has never been prioritized south of the border in the United States, the quite different picture of well-being that was triggered by COVID-19 was painfully evident in the inadequate healthcare facilities, protective equipment, or public health response. The difficulty in creating a centralized infrastructure of testing has proven not only difficult, but far less of a priority: Trump officials cast the “reopening” of our economy is a priority even without a testing infrastructure in place, as if they could build a luxury hotel in a malarial swamp without addressing the need for responding to the danger of parasitical infection. The absence of health policy or public health authority in the United States has led to increased prominence of sixty appointed Public Health Officers who develop health policy in California in setting a standard for the reaction of the nation to the coronavirus, as seven public health officers seem to have first adopted public policies of sheltering in place in mid-March.

Alarming shortages of swabs, reagents, and testing sites able to process at full volume as well as of contact tracing necessary to judge the scale of a new wave of infection or the scope of the proportion of the population carrying the novel coronavirus would create an unknown landscape of infected populations that would make the process of “opening” the nation’s economy difficult–without capacity to perform the millions of tests that are a baseline for removing distancing guidelines of sheltering in place. We present the economy as paramount to restore happiness, but neglect the erosion of any infrastructure in the society we are poised to “re-open” and the sad divide between the drive to “re-open” and public health.

Perhaps it was just too downright scary to think otherwise, or to invite the prospect of a lack of containmen: the arrival of SARS and the fears that it laid led some game designers, like Matt Leacock, to find urgent need for thinking through in a game he thought useful and profitable, as well as profiting from the fears of an apocalyptic scenario, even when it was marketed in 2008: a pandemic had the right ingredients as a story; tools of controlling a global virus seemed the perfect subject seems the perfect compelling board game in a globalized world, boasting as it did the problem, “Can You Save Humanity?” It sold then, if I found one lying, discarded, outside a house in my North Oakland neighborhood, while venturing out in a time of social distancing. I left it on the grass.

While Matt Leacock hoped that his board game would give a new sense of importance to his career, the cooperative indeed met a large audience, and won several awards as best family game, spawning mobile versions, and gaining much admiration as a favored game where you need to cure the world of four viruses that are poised to become pandemics: “isolation” and “government shutdown” were options for two to four players who are challenged to stop four diseases to save humanity, putting disease cubes and outbreak icons where cards reveal what cities disease cubes designating viruses on a map, prompting players to travel from CDC headquarters in Atlanta to cures sites viruses endanger as more infectious regularly emerge, in a world threatened by unexpected outbreaks.

The scenario for outbreaks of disease in the light of SARS prompted fears of vigilance more than centralization of health care. In 2003, serious insurance and health disequilibria left low-income adults particularly high-rise–and, in 2003, four times as likely to be uninsured compared to those twice above the poverty level: the lack of interest in investing in the nation’s schools or health care in George W. Bush’s administration, even if twenty-six million were uninsured.

Bush’s medical advisors convened to consider the eventuality that an infectious disease might need to be stopped, akin to a forest fire, by containing its spread, if not its perimeter, even as settings that worsen the fire’s intense spread go unaddressed: were school closures not easy targets to break up infectious transmission by social networks to reduce potential infections? As the post-9/11 world searched for new paradigms of preparedeness, the new fears of SARS and H1N1 changed the question of America’s position in relation to the world, as their consequences were inadequately mapped.

The current lack of a plan for the pandemic increasingly made it seem like the Trump administration was rather engaged in a form of Russian roulette, with no standard operating procedure other than school closures on file, preoccupied by an inability to even articulate measures for social distancing out of fear of an economic slowdown; if such a slowdown was compelled by the virus, there was a sense that preemptively invoking one was a script that had no tangible benefit, and perhaps no exigence, as the market would perform by its own buoyancy to keep us all afloat, as the virus had rapidly dispersed from centers of confirmed cases in early March across most all of the populated areas of the nation–before it was identified as a pandemic, or before we had words to grasp its proportion.

The word “pandemic” was rarely searched on Google in the United States for most of February, 2020, and not until March 9, 2020–when the WHO hesitated with validating the status of the coronavirus as a pandemic–did the fear the virus was not contained lead to denials of the danger of COVID-19 to the United States that led searches to spike. Denials however had to be reconciled with the cases of infection from the novel coronavirus surpassing 110,000 worldwide, and over 600 in the United States, the World Health Organization, short of declaring a pandemic, cautioned that the world entering “uncharted territory” where “the threat of a pandemic was very real,” leading many to search for what exactly that meant for them–presumably as they hadn’t played or won Leacock’s game.

Google Trends, “Pandemic” (United States)

The World Health Organization didn’t endorse the adoption of the term pandemic. Germany’s Health Minister warned that the coronavirus outbreak had turned into a pandemic, but WHO resisted the term until the number of those confirmed to be infected would arrive at between ten and twenty percept of populations in both hemispheres–the criteria for announcing a global pandemic. They weighed the seriousness of the term in triggering pandemic preparedness, while wanting to preserve hope it could be contained, but the threat emerged with minimal contingency plans, save those in place the last time a pandemic had occurred.

Back in 2003, in the wake of SARS, worries ran high, at the prospect of the fear of a new sort of global war. The image of global war was not far removed from George W. Bush’s nightstand: Bush claims to have been reading John M. Barry’s Great Influenza, which he claims kept him awake at night: in the book of the spread of the virus after World War I, which raised questions of why the massive mortality rates that had afflicted the United States were forgotten from history, Barry persuasively cast the threat of the emergency of an especially virulent virus in preoccupying terms that the President was committed to resolve: even as the SARS virus was contained, Barry foregrounded the threat of virus mutation toward virulence in striking metaphors. Reading the book today, one is struck by how it evoked the terms of a global war. For the military terms he invited readers to come to terms with the adeptness of a virus that adeptly “inserts its own genes into the cell’s genome, and the viral genes seize control over the cell’s own genes” evoked an invasion that commanded the attention of the commander in chief: as a virus slips in to “enter entirely within the cell,” to “penetrate the cell membrane” allowing the “genes of the virus spill into the cell, then penetrate the cell’s nucleus, insert themselves into the cell’s genome, and being issuing orders,” the premium placed on limiting infection before the virus would become milder as it mutated, in Barry’s account, was clear. Barry mapped the threat of viral spread to increased virulence that impressed the logic of containment on Bush to prevent virulence by targeting sites of contagion.

Yet Barry’s presuppositions of such a waning of virulence over time or even of mutation misconstrued virology for a large audience, and presented a timetable for containment whose logic was not so uniform. Perhaas the militaristic terms of such an invasion appeaedl to a DOD eager to coordinate with health agencies on the possibility of prevention against any invasion by containing it by any means necessary. Yet if social distancing remains the only way of decreasing the spread of COVID-119, tactical school closures were adopted without much review of pedagogic implications.

By mid-March of 2020, with infections on the rise, a growing sense of vulnerability, insecurity, and lack of safety set in motion a fight-or-flight response although there simply was nowhere to flee or go across the United States. The abstraction of the urgency with which outbreaks were addressed is difficult to imagine if easy to forget. If school lunches and breakfasts on which many depend were the most immediately important needs to fill that were addressed in some states, the broader issues of the psychological disturbances and intervention: the dark awareness of an inability to process a world without any familiar reference points of a sense of security, abandoned by justice at a point of heightened vulnerability.

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Filed under Coronavirus, COVID-19, education policies, remote learning, school closures

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