WARWICK, R.I. — In what appears to be the only decision of its kind in Rhode Island so far, the Warwick School Committee this week voted to begin the school year with distance learning for all students, with some exceptions.
And in what has been an all-too-common reply from government officials who want children to risk disease and death, Gov. Gina Raimondo criticized the decision, claiming the local school board didn’t “do the hard work required to give us a plan for in-person learning.”
Perhaps Raimondo can be forgiven for not reading into the school committee’s deliberations on the topic, which included a financial impact study and consultation with a biologist from UMass/Dartmouth to determine what local schools would need to adequately reduce the risk to children and teachers.
But the governor can not be forgiven for parroting the conventional belief that children benefit the most from being in school buildings, especially as COVID-19 continues to sicken and kill people.
It has been long held as fact in educational psychology that children are better adjusted, emotionally, physically, mentally, and socially, when they attend school in person with other children. Of course, when the alternative is no schooling, it’s easy to reach that conclusion.
But the premise itself is flawed, since educational psychologists leave it to teachers to deal with bullying, psychological trauma, hunger, and other problems common to public schools.
In pushing for in-person education, Raimondo seems to ignore the fact that children won’t be having the “typical” school experience that is supposedly so healthy for them: Teachers behind plexiglas shields, no close communication with friends, everyone wearing masks, two days in a building with three days at home, and the constant fear of infection hovering over everyone and everything. (And this is not even mentioning the damage it would do if one of their classmates dies from the coronavirus.)
If Raimondo believed in doing “hard work” for Rhode Island children and their families, she would immediately advocate for universal basic income, free healthcare for all, and fully digital learning until the pandemic is under control.
Parents should not have to subject their kids to certain trauma just to scrape out a barely-above-subsistence livelihood; teachers should not be seen as glorified babysitters or free day care providers; and government officials should not insist that schools can be “safe enough” when they do not provide the funding to make them so.
Raimondo, at root, is a modern American capitalist. In this philosophy, there are workers and there are owners, and one’s position is determined by hard work, intelligence, and persistence.
The problem is, American capitalism actually runs on a caste-like system that places the burden of holding the economy together on workers while the owners disproportionately profit from their work.
This is why we have substandard schools with inadequate funding for ventilation systems; this is why we get COVID-19 spikes after bars open; this is why working parents are forced to choose between rent and medicine: Workers carry all of the weight and risk of making the economy function while their effort makes other people rich.
And this is why Raimondo — who, until now, has been an exemplar in how a state should manage the pandemic — talks tough about putting children in schools, instead of going to the General Assembly and demanding true institutional changes, deficits be damned.
That would be hard work — not verbally browbeating school boards.
Conclusion: Raimondo’s agenda to reopen schools is driven by dollars, not sense.
Additional COVID-19 classroom coverage and commentary:
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