Distance Learning, Disrupted Learning & Social Eruptions

Schoolchildren were offered work packets with limited guidelines, suggested that, as grading was waved, and all tests postponed, the moment become an occasion for reflection, as if to give everyone more time to process what was occurring–or to pause time, to mark a caesura, as we figured out what we would, as a world, do.

The logic of disrupting social networks by schools presumed a limited spread of disease whose spread was in need of being constrained–not to fight a virus that had englobed the world. We possess limited statistics, alas, to track the pandemic whose airborne transmission poorly mapped by analogy to flu–that has wiped out many older populations as seen in northern Italy–over a quarter being elderly in Lombardy, which has the highest elderly dependency ratio among developed countries–and even more in the populations of the institutionalized in prisons, old age homes, hospitals, and internment camps.

Detailed county-based counts of cases and testing that are daily tabulated for the country provide alternative views of looking at risk, but we perhaps payed less attention to the routes of transmission, and had little evidence from which to work, with limited testing being performed, and few testing facilities able to process the complex tests of swabbed samples, despite the readiness of our nation to on-site on-demand service.

Testing v. COVID Cases, April, 2020
Web App Tracking COVID-19 Cases in America as of April/Chris Barker, UC Davis

3. Despite the adequacy of our point-based mapping skills, we may be distracted by the flies of dots of mortality and infection rates, in large part as fear of providing too many tests might fan the flames of insecurity, it seems, as widespread testing might promote in the general public and in our financial markets. As a result, we have created the most dangerously deceptive scenario in which the United States seems to be committed to projecting confidence, even if it is the global epicenter of the spread of the highly contagious pandemic.

We may need a far finer-grained map of the country, whose layers called attention to the dangers of places where social distancing is not easy to maintain–like ocean liners, Wuhan markets, urban areas more crowded, and with less access to open space. It increasingly seems that the uneven geography to which the choropleths we have inherited from old models of data visualization are spectacularly blind from levels of class, uneven health care, exposure to pollution or overcrowded living conditions, that they, indeed, seem to naturalize in their appeal to a miasmatic notion of disease transmission or effluvia–common to many of the first statitistical data visualizations of cholera, like the London maps developed by Richard Grainger, and Dr. John Snow in the 1850s.

Detail of Intensity of Distribution of Cholera in London by 1850 by Richard Grainger

We had much harder time embodying COVID-19, as its infection was so diffuse, and the pathogen so contagious, but pathways of contagion multiplied in a linked nation where intense pathways of travel blurring space to conceal the huge stratification of society by divisions of wealth.

The uneven geography of the nation should not be bleached from our own choropleths in an attempt to explain or communicate the topography of infection that is increasingly apparent. It was clear that Trump was little interested in testing or counts, from prohibiting ships with passengers were infected with coronavirus to dock, to insisting the count of fifteen infections would soon decline–rather than grow from twenty-one to the thousands and beyond two million.

Although it is clear closures of school can delay epidemic spread, reducing “peak incidence” up to 60%, the benefits of eliminating the contact network of populations was sacrificed long after the national emergency was declared, as undetected infections were many times greater than confirmed cases. But the closure of all schools in twenty-three states by the second weekend of April curtailed the school year, upending grading policies, assignments, and exams, that upended any interactive learning experiences as all activities migrated online into virtual form, as the nation hunkered down without retooling graduation or educational guidelines but suspending instructional hours, educational resources or support for the remainder of the year.

School Closures (Recommended in Shaded Areas and State-Mandated) and No Policy, April 2020

Especially terrifying in this second, and perhaps as profound, landscape of a lack of national policy, is the lack of any coherent attention to the students who suffer from an absence of schooling or networks of socialization. Both seem discounted in the advocacy of private educational corporations that has been promoted from the Presidency of George H.W. Bush, and his early Education Secretary, Margaret Spelling, which promoted the code words of “school choice” and “standards and accountability” as good business practices of redefining the role of government in the pragmatics of education that have created the current state of play in public schools and have cascaded across time: for in fashioning himself as an “Education President,” despite the skepticism of educators, encouraging corporate- sponsored teaching modules and reading tests to restructure public education, the mandate of No Child Left Behind, animates the ubiquity of Zoom, teleconferencing, and remote learning, as a Ghost in the Machine of distance learning that has eroded expectations for interacting creatively.

Indeed, the effects of the Bush Presidency have extended far beyond his term in office, as they were rooted in a compromise among party elites to open the door to private investment in education, that were the roots of a virtual landscape of the online education that seems arrived from Silicon Valley, promoted by the talking points of online remote education and the architecture of removed instruction, an infrastructure of disconnection that is echoed by evangelists of wireless interconnection by Bluetooth, whose very vision of an interlinked landscape almost designed to exclude many.

4. Bluetooth is not foregrounded in remote learning, the very notion of a remote interface is embedded in the technology: and the hierarchy of communication in a disembodied experience of remote learning is in a sense paradigmatically structured in the hierarchical remove of Bluetooth remotes. For while the problem of replicating a hierarchical relation of learning and instruction in remote learning tools risks a remove that minimized actual interface, the Bluetooth devices promote a smooth remote operation of frictionless efficacy and passive interconnection absence in the best classrooms. It is almost haunting that Bluetooth still promotes with tone-deaf blindness as creating a “master/slave architecture” to enable communication to an array of “slaves” from one device over a scatternet, able to shuffle data on wireless links in spatial proximity to one another.

Harald Bluetooth Holding

The disconnects accentuated across remote education ays that would dishonor the name of the Scandinavian King Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson, ruler of Denmark and Norway, son of King Gorm the Old and of Thyra Dannebod, whose tenth-century monarchy united warring factions in Scandinavia to a harmonious land of concord, a much of the same land and islands that developed a model functional health care system in the Age of COVID-19. Bluetooth technologies sought to inaugurate a concord of the interlinked, but by a concord of objects in interlinked space, more than health-care, the unity the Viking King Harald Bluetooth created among Danes, Scania and Viking was preserved in the historic Curmsun Disk, rediscovered in the wake of World War II, a map of Scandinavian unity in its cross with four dots bound by an octagonal ridge, offering a precedent from cross-border unity, dating c. 960-1125 AD, during King Harald’s rule.

If the ability for remote diagnoses is invaluable in confronting COVID-19, Yet on a level of educational inequities–and this is the essential subject of this wide-ranging post–the record is far more mixed, and the stare of the tenth century ruler might well shame us in its simplicity.

For DeVos has systematically undertaken, in the cover of a lack of formulation of health policies, a not hidden sustained and concerted efforts to promote distance learning solutions as schools shuttered during the pandemic. By actively seeking out and developing contacts with school officials, state governors, and school district leaders, she seems to have exploited national vulnerabilities while offering no road map to how public school policy might develop in the face of multiple stresses that the pandemic has unexpectedly introduced, abdicating any role on providing guidance for reopening, King Harald’s leadership is missed.

As decisions fell to often divisive district boards who are asked to struggle to formulate plans with uncertain funding and state support, leaving many schools open to later accusations of a filature of management, the lack of a national policy worked to the advantage of education businesses; De Vos’ greater attention to preparing to foot the bill for the future development of charter, private, and parochial schools to pick up the pieces where public schools “failed” seems to have been conducted behind the backs of public school principals and teachers: it stands to be senselessly and insensitively disruptive to networks of support public schools provide.

If the glyph on everyone’s computer is not without alphabetical content, but a branded nordic runes, combining a signature of Harald’s initials as an Oath of Scandinavian unity, committing to the uniting of peripherals.

The corporation quick to brand runes, Eriksson, pioneered the technology of linking devices by wireless, adopted to advertise its service, in a brand emulating a pledge to link devices in harmony and concord absent from the uneven topography of access to education or medical services today. It may be time to ask for true leadership, or speculate what would Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson say before increased inequities of distance learning.

The strong correlation between a lack of increased testing has led by May to a rise of positive cases that far outstripped testing rates, as a near tripling of positive cases in Texas, or the almost fourfold growth of cases in Florida–where positive cases grew over 340%, per the COVID Tracking Project, or Arizona (where positive cases grew sevenfold) suggests how failure for testing has permitted infectious spread to grow unmonitored in a massive failure of public health oversight.

5. Yet if school closures make sense as an initial phase of mitigation and containment, it is very possible we were past that stage by March 1, and have grown far beyond it now. Even at that point, he situation was, of course, unprecedented–and the scale of infections extended far beyond what was officially registered.

Estimated spread of infections by COVID-19 within the United States, on March 1 2020, based on epidemiological modelling New York Times (based on research of Alessandro Vespignani)

As pediatricians increasingly call for the importance of children returning to on-site education in schools, coronavirus notwithstanding, stressing the demonstrated “importance of in-person learning” as both well-documented and endangering adverse impacts in the long term that outweigh the fear of spreading coronavirus infection, pediatricians have taken stock of the increased health risks of sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal thoughts during the domestic confinement of coronavirus as itself a mortality risk for adolescents and children, transcending educational impact–we are indeed in uncharted territory. While these increasingly evident risks are apparent, it makes sense to review the shortsightedness of school closures, and the degree to which they most pronouncedly placed poorer students, students of color, and disadvantaged, including homeless, at risk, both as they rely on a range of school services that public schools provide to many. The only mitigating factor may be the massive allocation of a needed $245 billion to reopen school doors in a safe manner-and the danger of finding these funds at a time of increased national needs and a global economic slump. Will we ever have the schools we once so undervalued? While it makes sense the Trump valued education little, the decision to shutter schools that governors widely adopted, and school boards initiated in many states, may be bearing clear costs that only remind us of the absence of clear governance.

To be sure, increased perception of a lack of governance is apparent in the viral bubbling over evident in the multiplication of contraction far beyond the initial “hot-spots” of the nation–New York, Seattle, the Bay Area–was by March 1 already evident, if we only suspected the extensiveness of viral spread and susceptibility at that time. While Trump’s Vice President assured governors that marital increases in local counts were only due to “the magnitude of increase in testing,” as if training them in statistical interpretation. The actual status of undetected viral infections is suggested in the increased static that overlapped the nation’s boundaries, in this still of animated map stamped March 1, based on epidemiological modeling by Alessandro Vespignani’s lab–as the dean of Yale’s School of Public Health corrected Vice President Pence’s assuring words, “The tip of an iceberg can’t be growing with the iceberg shrinking” lest it violate the rules of oceanography and physics: but the anti-science rhetoric of Trump’s team seems to have distorted the nationalistic terms the President sought to interpret the virus’ spread, or the rosy economic lenses he used to try to steer public opinion without tracking contagion, promoting slogans as “Stay Healthy, Return Smarter, Return Stronger,” while numbers of infections escalated in States who did not enforce distancing guidelines.

Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona before Casis of CoVID 19 in Arizona Since March 11

The escalating rate infections was only made grimmer by President Trump’s spin that there was no need to test for the spread of the novel coronavirus, lest figures of its spread make the nation look bad–although this was the basic playbook of vigilance and containment before a pandemic. Did he seek to massage data to create a good image, more than rely on it to register a new reality, or just not pay attention? The national disconnect was profound: states lacked guidelines from the top, and faced an implosion of public authority, even as infection rates multiplied, and multiplied beyond the figures we had. President Trump continues to reject CDC guidelines for safely reopening the country of which he is nominally chief executive, as hie is more comfortable seeing the virus’ spread in terms of global war, and has adopted a range of dissonant strategies form issuing distorting statements about a remedy, and assuring the virus’ immanent waning to trying to locate danger outside our borders, rather than within it, as if it were a political football he could map without any evidence.

Trump has oddly embraced in dissonant terms a globalist interpretation for a virus “inflicted on the USA and the rest of the world” to cast COVID-19 as an actual war on our borders, without adopting coherent strategies of containment. The alt right Florida Representative charged a Chinese Scientific institute “may have birthed a monster” or the novel coronavirus,–debasing its research in the anti-globalist rhetoric, as Trump described the virus as “inflicted on the USA and the rest of the World,” questioning the accuracy of mortality counts as staff members queried the accuracy of figures as due to “lack of uniform standards in the United States or internationally” to undercut World health Organization tallies–or stating exculpatoritly that “America’s out of practice of how to deal with something like this and to report it accurately”– as if a similar pandemic had ever occurred. Bu t the notion of such an alleged global war rejected divisions increasingly evident in domestic space.

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

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