Inequity, Distance Learning, Disrupted Learning Communities & Social Eruptions

10. Increased anxiety at a pandemic was of course absent from the playbook which insisted on school closures as a preventive measure. Without much reflection or public debate, school closures had become part of the non-pharmaceutical response to pandemic since the days of H1N1 and the fears of and infectious outbreaks, long before the pandemic, as fears of the Avian Flu grew in a nation where 9/11 cast long shadows.

Whether public school closures provided the best way to ensure social distancing–or promised uncertain losses in a time when social infrastructure was increasingly frayed, and when pronounced social inequalities would become revealed as increasingly pronounced. The trauma of his disconnect was already oddly accentuated by the absence of much sense of continuity or socio-emotional context that schools may have once provided; the disruption of the school as a site of socio-emotional learning was, let’s say, discounted in the fear of the virulence that the Bush team was trying to curtail. While the move to close the schools seemed evident, was there a lack of imagination in not moving to hybrid situations of alternate school-days, or transitioning to dividing the school to be able to visit the campus on different days?

Data on educational inequalities is abunant. But lack of imagination failed to see schools as possible sites of counseling, testing, and outreach, as well as needed food supplies.  Although we are only coming to terms with the steep neurological implications of COVID-19 and the “coronavirus shutdown,” the absence of any ways to mitigate or manage the psychological impact of the pandemic is striking, as the disparate rates of depression that it has provoked. We might ponder if better consideration of the data on educational inequalities might not have alerted members of the administration of the direct ties that school closures and increased learning gaps would pose to the inequalities that already existed throughout the American educational system, in which the place of public schools has come under such sustained attack: slated reductions of funding in the expansion of government aid to charters and private schools, partly under the banner of Educational Choice, will indeed intersect with the funds needed to ensure reopening of safe spaces of education in more distributed spaces with more personal protective equipment, including masks, sanitizer, and hall monitors, and nursing staff. Yet school counsellors are more apt to invite kids to consider on their own what the experience of removed learning offers, as if it was another world to explore, and a piece of quaint memorabilia that they might keep for their future families, in order to instill a sense of normalcy–even as many suspect that the world has changed, as the globe itself is hard to be seen but as being crowed by the spikes of the virus is distinguished by, unlike global maps of the past.

Was there not a danger that the so-called “digital divide” that cuts across the globe in no uncertain terms, point deep problems for developing nations who face a truly Sisyphean uphill struggle of mastery which we must be careful is not designed to leave them in the dust, inflicted by a global digital divide–

UNICEF Data on Percentages of Population without Internet, 2015-19, datareportal.com

–the mid-March geography of school closures or recommendations for closure hit areas that lack WIFI or which have high learning needs in the United States, and particularly in the southern United States, or uneven high-speed internet; closure into April in some states may have reflected fear of shifting to online instruction on a permanent basis in many states.

EdWeek, March 6, 2020–COVID School Closures/Black Closed for Academic Year

And what of social emotional learning that the site of embodied in school sites might offer, either implicitly or in practice? In research from 194 Chinese cities ascertaining mental resilience to the pandemic COVID-19 across 194 Chinese cities, almost a third (28.8%) claimed heightened anxiety and over half (53.8%) moderate or severe psychological impact, and 16.5% moderate to severe depression, but the effects of the novel coronavirus on families and family well-being were not addressed in the United States.

The gruesome video of the altogether needless death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer provided not only a sanctioning of disproportionate use of force against a black man, but the tragedy of a death foreseen by the crowd who assembled around the confrontation outside Floyd’s parked car, and anyone who viewed the footage in different forms across the nation: that it provoked a cathartic release of protest at the poor conditions state violence, and of the multiplication of what seemed endless deaths, due to the lack of any state policy for limiting or constraining infections by COVID-19, or providing health care equipment that might protect health workers who were increasingly susceptible to infection: the utter needlessness of Floyd’s death made it not only an intersectional site of mourning but of rebelling against the racialized violence of the state and augmented policing.

But the deep moral insecurity and lack of compass that may afflict not only our nation but the world suggests the need to ask deep questions of the dangers of setbacks of development, lest we wistfully refer, in hushed tones, like William Gibson’s twenty-second century London, to the massive and sustained erosion of economy, health, and public government before stark inequalities, referring to a cascade of multi-causal interlinked disasters, embracing climate change, crop shortages and the inadequacy of antibiotics for “diseases that were never one big pandemic but big enough to be historical events in themselves.” The Jackpot–an actual apocalyptic event of global history–leaves Gibson’s mid twenty-second century denizens rudderless, wistfully regarding the past, dependent on super-computers to create alternate presents to forestall disasters after 80% of the human population died, the survivors past grieving in the post-Anthropocene.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison recently remembered his sense of a clear premoniition, before George Floyd was killed, and the wave of protests in his city, the extent to which Minneapolis residents were in “a different space and a different place.” And this space and place demands to be examined, for it was not a place that was comforting or reassuring, but one of the generalized abandonment that COVID-19 has produced, in the aftershocks of the “remedy” revealed not only more extreme for its effects on the GDP than the coronavirus pandemic, but the aftershocks of the lack of policy repsonse to the pandemic, which has so far not produced similar shock waves in places where more coherent responses existed. The shocks of massive employment, isolation and increased consciousness of poor health care and increased vulnerability and precarity accelerated with a sense of powerlessness.

If passing off a fake twenty was the offense that was being policed, the deputization of the police and the salesman at the convenience store who telephoned the police as agents of policing is impossible to separate from the tensions of a world where the convenience store worker was lucky to have a job and needed to retain it: unemployed had been severely short of cash two months into COVID-19 and without any sense of a change in social assistance, possessed by “a coiled sort of anxiousness ready to spring” in Minneapolis, Ellison felt; the intensity social abandonment was evident in the unemployment lines and closure of community school networks which met increasingly pronounced needs for families as cutbacks in public services and an absence of public investment in the nation grew.

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

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