Inequity, Distance Learning, Disrupted Learning Communities & Social Eruptions

22. And while the closures of schools may seem an odd metric to link to the riots, the rapidity of the subtraction of a public school system that had performed many community functions before the Age of Covid-19 placed many populations on edge and heightened a sense of stark abandonment and disinterest: with unemployment rising, jobs paused, and public spaces shuttered, the sense of abandonment of shared purpose cascaded from lack of clear direction on COVID-19 readiness, as states and cities improvised solutions to problems that opened difficult wholes, that so clearly divided the sense of disruption that was felt across the nation in the wake of the public mismanagement of COVID-19–that started from inequalities in our helath care system, as Barack Obama noted, but extended into the networks of instruction of public education that provide an infrastructure of assurance and community life among minority groups–and the hopes that inappropriate policing seemed to deny.

Even as we saw maps global media promoted of the spate of riots and violence across the United States that seemed designed to trigger images of a national inferno whose flames referenced 1968, as if the simplicity of the characterization of a War on COVID in which doctors, nurses, and health care practitioners are cast as akin to soldiers had triggered national unrest, the comparison not only obscures the distinct ethical obligations of physicians and nurses which are so unlike the consent asked of soldiers to place their lives in the service of their nation, and the health care crisis that has augmented the coronavirus pandemic and the unequal and disproportionate deaths of minorities.

The “map” of closures in the U.S. so far has affected 55.8 million student that will remain an asterisked school year, but puts many in a state of heightened insecurity in the era of COVID-19, the range of covid closures has thrown up the deep inequalities in education, educational involvement, and preparation that has shifted many to exclusively online education–“orange” states–for private and public schools alike, or the blues of mixed instruction, which often, while being classified as “hybrid,” will in fact often translate into online distance learning, with the schools’ functions in communities maintained, more than offering embodied education–a shift of such almost complete adherence would have been impossible without the shift to high-speed internet among increased populations of households with school-aged children.

While the graphs indicated broad access to wifi was not complete, the assumption of such high percentages since 2004encouraged the ability to enact a dramatically conclusive collective shift of learning platforms, the existence of a substantial share of about 3.1 million households without broadband connection left ove 14.1% of students with insufficient platforms for continued or sustained online learning in 2017, revealing a fault line that the interruption of schooling would only magnify in both rural and urban areas, but left a transition to digital learning platforms specially stood to compromise both lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

Households of School-Aged Children with High-Speed Internet Access at Home 2017 /National Telecommunicatsion Information administration/

Nuances of defining online learning in a national map are difficult to register or suggest, and included much variation, but the apparently broad changes to different learning platforms was sudden and unexpected. The quick transformation of statewide school closures, however, if they remained entirely regional by March 13, revealed a fracturing of the nation, based both on fears of viral outbreaks in part, and a local scrambling of response that would balance local needs against the role of school systems–with no national guidance. Despite a predictable persistence of red-state resistance toward school closures, as hampering choice or liberty, a measured limitation of state-wide edicts in California and the southwest, with large rural populations–led to a scrambling of cartographic rendering variations in a piecemeal project whose lack of continuity largely reflects the lack of a national policy, even during what was declared as a national emergency and in the face of a global pandemic.

There was less of a clear break-down to the transition to online education, as it was not based only partly on the early divides in mid-March, but the division is difficult to map, since most of the closures or switches to online learning were argued to be temporary, and a shutdown of schools ws not conclusively established, as the nation awaited possibilities of pandemic containment. The visualization was useful but it seemed to show to many a proactive stance on March 13, 2020, when the scope or scale of infection was not understood. But in just five days, the scale of school closures had grown across the nation as in an apparent consensus, although variations existed in states whose public school systems were closed or scheduled to close, and the partial closures in states afraid to deprive rural constituents of schooling. on to digital learning will be especially challenging within lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color

Leslie Maxwell (Chronicle of Higher Education) & Karin Fischer (Education Week)/ (EdWeek)

The assembly of a map tracing a shift to online education and distance learning was less evident in any official form, but as assembled March 13 local journalists in an old-fashioned way of aggregating news sources and devising a new visualization of local and state-wide policies by March 13 had already shown early states that broke for online platforms, from Michigan and Ohio to many cities on the eastern seaboard as well as Bay Area and Los Angeles, shifting to new educational platforms for which no clear roadmap existed. The gradations of mixed formats of distance learning create a better picture of the range of strategies as districts scrambled to maintain continuity by March 13, as the White House tried to encourage a sense of stability but the nation panicked and states adopted different measures of mitigation with the lack of national consensus.

As the picture changed quickly by late March, we saw a growing consensus of a division between online learning platforms and mixed ones, with a surprising numbers of states of lower incomes opting to shift online–Oklahoma; Missippi; Louisiana; Virginia–as well as states with large presences of minorities, from New York to Minneapolis to New Mexico, as the new horizons of online learning seemed to open that placed an asterisk on the learning year, and from which our familiarity with education practices–from a President who is no fan of education or instruction.

Shift to Exclusively Online Education (Orange) and Hybrid (Blue) Distance Learning

Perhaps there were questions as to whether school environments could be easily sanitized, and rigorously patrolled as other work quarters, shops, and public spaces? The fear that they could not, and lacked any comparable discipline was almost universal. And the lack of any clear ground plan of educational strategies left most cities and regions where there were clearer remote learning strategies and options in place on a definitively different plane than those areas removed from

23. The start of nation-wide school closures was not an American idea, of course, and had begun in China, adopted in a localized fashion as the highly infectious coronavirus spread in northern Italy, increasingly spreading fears across the entire country, as its communicability was realized–

UNESCO, Global Educational Monitoring: COVID-19 School Closures

–by February 29, the selective closures of schools spread to England, Vietnam and the United States, as Iranian schools entered country-wide shutdown:

UNESCO, Global Educational Monitoring: COVID-19 School Closures

By the end of May, as other resources were involved, although the center of increased infections shifted, country-wide school closures were not the norm for most o the nations where the Coronavirus had exploded, the shutdowns were global, save in select areas, as Norway, Denmark, and France had opened their schools, with New Zealand, were rates of infiection had remained low. The new global shutdown normalized the school shutdown, and immediately raised questions of how schools might reopen, as the fear that any sneeze or cough could disperse an airborne viral load among a classroom, even if all surfaces were regularly cleaned: N-95 masks were the most efficient means to stop viral spread, but we all became OCD and compulsive cleaners, or any tendencies legitimized, as over cleaning seemed sanctioned as a norm, creating a problem of balancing the local and global. But were the role of schools–and especially the community dependence on public education, such as it was, not particularly sensitive to merit closer attention in the United States because of their community role?

Was an unwarranted sense of calm provided in the reorganization of space suggested in classroom charts?

Oakland Unified School District teacher Harley Litzelman was a particularly persuasive and articulate advocate of the danger of expecting to reopen schools in an age of monitoring COVID infection, responding to the bold eagerness for imagining the possibility of distancing students from one another, by spacing desks a meter and a half: while falling within the prescribed distances, the late April message to global educators, Litzelman raised the question about whether we are ready to transform schools into the sites of public health care that we have lack in society into classrooms, and seek to create safety norms not designed by educators with classroom experience as norms that educators can be expected to follow, leaving aside important questions of the lack of school funding to expand the square footage of educational spaces that are already crowded due to lacking funds, and the practical challenges of instilling new codes of behavior and comportment–mask-wearing; distance-keeping; self-testing; no coughing; no sharing food; hallway and recess distancing–that “guides” for classroom reorganization advocating classroom management akin to a factory floor, rather than an instructional space, imagine students to be immobile?

Was the order of newly proposed classroom seating arrangements a false sense of security as we searched to come to terms with the failure of any collective response?

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

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