My OH has received mask advice from her school’s head teacher. Wear or don’t wear, is the advice. Up to you. “Whatever makes you feel safe.”
Well. There’s your trouble. Right there, in a nutshell, the muddled thinking that persists about masks, well into (check notes) the 18th year of the pandemic.
The displays of toxic individualism you see (where people who have no medical reason not to wear masks flat refuse to put them on) are driven by a perception that wearing a mask makes them look weak and vulnerable. Because, in their muddled minds, wearing a mask is the equivalent of clutching at pearls, or putting on a long-sleeved shirt in November, or wearing ear protectors when you’re using a pneumatic drill.
Supply your own analogy. The point is that too many people still conceptualise mask-wearing as a self-protective measure. Which it only is if you consider society as a whole and the idea that stopping the spread is good for everyone, including the mask wearer.
I have every sympathy with head teachers, who have been dealing with ever-changing guidance and advice from the government since March, and are having to adjust their policies almost daily, even as the start of term lumbers towards us over the bank holiday weekend. Every head teacher will also have a coterie of staff who don’t read emails, skip meetings, or don’t stop talking long enough to listen to anybody else*, so every evolution in policy stores up confusion for when the real work begins.
But for a Head to use that phrase, whatever makes you feel safe is so unhelpful, it gives me the rage. So: imagine it makes me feel safe to wear a mask, and I step into the staff room wearing mine, but nobody else is wearing one. Do I feel safe now?
Personally, I don’t feel the need to wear a mask to feel safe, but then I understand that that’s not why I’m being asked to wear one.
I do miss those 70s Public Information Films. Don’t Dazzle, Dip: remember that one? Clunk Click, Every Trip. Always Use the Green Cross Code. Careless Talk Costs Lives. Dig For Victory. Don’t Read the Comments. Wear a Fucking Mask Because It’s Not About You.
I’m looking forward to getting back to school – no really – if only to shut off the torrent of opinion columns on the subject. Anyway, here’s mine.
First of all, I’ll only really believe it’s happening when I see the Back to School aisle in the supermarket – preferably a French one. Oh to be in Super-U now that May is here.
Secondly, I’m doubtful about just how damaging this time off has been. There are other ways to learn and other things to learn. I think we’ve all noticed the natural world more than we normally would. For sure, some people have been living in unstimulating environments, others have been dealing with difficult home lives. But in both of those cases, the reason for getting back to school as quickly as possible is more to do with the social work side of teaching rather than the curriculum and exams. Those exams are coming down the track, but, whatever happens, there’ll be a bell curve, and grade boundaries can be moved: they always are!
Thirdly, I think the time off has been – or ought to have been – an eye opener for those invested in technological solutions to learning. I used to be in the business of selling technology into schools, before I was ever a teacher, and the experience left me very sceptical. I realised quite early on that very few teachers have the time to learn new platforms. No matter how many after-school training sessions you get on using a smart board, you don’t really have the time (or the inclination, often) to spend hours creating resources. As for pre-made resources, yuck. Personally, I always have to spend so long fixing design howlers or adapting to my own style that I might as well have started from scratch.
And this period has shown just how unrealistic it is to expect students to access online learning regularly. A household with two school-age children and one laptop is already juggling; throw in a parent who needs to work from home, and you realise that the only way this could ever work is a laptop/iPad for every child. And that’s a pipe dream that’s been caught in an air lock for 20 years.
Even if you got to the laptop-for-every-child stage, how much of the time would 100% of those laptops be functional? In my experience, *dies laughing*. Is the broadband adequate? As to the idea of video lessons, anyone who’s been on a video conference with more than one other person knows that most of the time is spent listening to audio glitches. Just one Teams meeting fucks my whole day.
No, face to face teaching is the solution, and so getting back to school it will have to be. But whether that needs to be in June, July, or everyone should write the year off till September, who knows what the risks are?
The much quoted Australian study was done at a time when attendance had fallen to 5%, and coincided with a 2-week school holiday. One thing that this pandemic has killed is peer review. Crap is being published (and reported) without being properly evaluated all the time: scientists (and journalists) need to stop. Anyway, we know children aren’t much at risk, unless they’re type 1 diabetic, or have one of any number of other underlying conditions; or unless they get the Kawasaki disease variant associated with Covid-19. Sure, they’ll be fine, but what about the adults in the room?
I noticed on my in-school shifts that the small number of students in at the moment are shit at social distancing. Constantly need reminding, and continually ignore reminders. So, yeah, good luck with all that.
Personally, I do think the risks are probably fairly low. I’m definitely more likely to be killed on my cycle to work. I’m not going to fuss too much myself about going in. But I do resent the idea that schools are being bounced back early by Daily Mail sociopaths, and I know that not all of my colleagues are as sanguine as I. Finally, this really should only happen with adequate testing, contact tracing, and isolation. It’s not too much to ask. And yet this government has proved itself completely unable to organise testing, and has resorted to lies and fabrications. So excuse me while I don’t trust them. Hate to use a WWI analogy, but it feels like being asked to “go over the top” for “one last charge” at that enemy machine gun position.
As we huddle, or not, in our homes, and wait it out, or not, it’s interesting to ponder the response of the UK government, and that of the US government, in comparison to all the others.
Europe, we’re told, is now the epicentre, with Italy the epic entry point for a disease that is both virulent and mild, deadly and harmless, widespread and concentrated. It is Schrödinger’s virus, known and unknown, wave and particle, existing always in the space between certainties. Being in the middle of it, we cannot know it. And because of the actions we take now, we will never even know, at some point in the future, just how bad it might have been.
The World Service produced a brilliant episode of The Inquiry, which asks the question, Why did the USA fail in its initial coronavirus response? Spoiler alert: Trump, but the facts are laid out so baldly and the failures and the reasons for them so dispassionately that it ought to be compulsory listening. Trump’s denial and bluster, his focus on the stock market as the sole measure of his success as a President, his tendency to improvise and lie and then deny what he said: all of that; but also the dismantling of the Federal government’s ability to respond and co-ordinate effectively so that even when the problem was known, even when there was a clear course of action required, the mechanism simply did not exist. Know this: the first case of a person who had been infected on American soil was only detected because someone broke the rules and tested samples they weren’t allowed to test. Here’s to the crazy ones…
Now, our blustering puffball of a Prime Minister has differentiated himself from Trump by speaking more coherently (a first, for him) and by lining up with experts beside him who are not facepalming. There seemed at first to be a genuine belief that the UK’s measures, supported by our NHS which is fairly unique in the world, might prove more effective in the long term. After all, if you go into total lockdown, you might slow the spread of the disease for two weeks or a month, but then it comes back, like the Spanish Flu of 1919, and you’re back where you were.
When I wrote before, I admit, I didn’t understand the importance of testing. I do now. Of course, with widespread testing, those who have had the disease, who are no longer infectious, who have the antibodies, can stop self-isolating and get on with things. Without testing, people are staying at home who probably don’t need to stay at home. So the lack of testing here and in the USA is a problem. (On the other hand, nobody knows yet whether you can get Covid-19 twice, so there’s that.)
Setting all that aside, what might be another reason the British government (and the US government) didn’t want stringent lockdown measures in place earlier? Why were people being nudged and encouraged instead of bound by law?
I think the answer lies in the way the government has “closed” the schools.
Yes, the schools are closed, except maybe they’re not. I’m a teacher. My school “closed” on Friday, but I’m getting up on Monday and going into work because, and here’s the thing, we don’t know how many kids are going to turn up.
When you look at the list of “key workers”, it’s hard to imagine many professions that aren’t covered under its rubric. Now, anyone who can should be keeping their children home. But people in many sectors have been given permission to send their kids to school. So teachers like me, for example, are considered key workers, which means if I had school age children, I could send them to school so that I, in my turn, could go to school.
As I said, nobody knows, as of now, how many will turn up on Monday. Furthermore, we’ve been told we’ll have to go on caring for these children during the Easter holiday. Huh. And now it’s seeming like the right-wing politician’s disdain for “long school holidays” is coming home to roost. One of my colleagues thinks we’ll have more kids by Wednesday or Thursday than on Monday because parents will get sick of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if hundreds show up. Fingers crossed it’s only a couple of dozen, but nobody knows.
It’s the uncertainty, you see, which of course, is far more concerning than certainty.
Why doesn’t the government properly close schools, properly close pubs, restaurants and shops, instead of just “advising” them to do so? My personal conspiracy theory is that, strategically, these neolibs know that a proper lockdown would expose the fragility of the economy, the Oz-like illusion of prosperity, and that a domino-like collapse of the precariat would lead to… socialism. Their solution? Socialism. Bailouts, benefits, mortgage holidays, and – most importantly – free state childcare, even during the Easter holidays. All in service of shoring up capitalism and the free market, which is not really free because, oh look, the government are here to bail you out. Again.
How many people driving around in unnecessarily large German cars are going to miss a PCP payment?
One final thought, which you’ll note from the image above is actually my first thought. Trump’s barefaced lying and denial in the face of facts is, as ever, deeply calculated. He knows how it plays with his supporters, who are in the front line of saying that the whole thing is a hoax. Doesn’t matter that he’s no longer calling it a hoax: they are, because they heard him call it that a month ago. He’s always gambling that the coin will fall his way. But his “it goes away” line struck me hard because it’s what William H Macy as George Parker says in the movie Pleasantville, as he tries to persuade his wife Betty (Joan Allen) to ignore all the changes that are happening: even as she sits in front of him in living colour while he’s still in black and white. She’s fully on board with the change and wants to move with the times, but he faces her, so earnestly, and says, “It goes away. It goes away.”
Update: fellow blogger Rashbre has put up a review of Class War, which has some interesting insights.
I need to write a better blurb for it, but: it’s about Dave Coote, a teacher who’s struggling along in an academy school and facing up to the fact that the job is becoming impossible because of creeping privatisation, corruption, and management bullshit.
There’s other stuff happening, too: a former student who drops in to ask a favour and turns his life upside down. And then there’s the evidence of financial mismanagement Coote comes across and what he decides to do about it.
It’s a work of fiction, of course, and published under a pseudonym because: reasons.
It’s a quick read: 68,000 words. Available for Kindle and Kindle Apps: