The major debate afoot right now is not what you think it is. It’s not the election, not black lives matter, not even how much money we’ll get in the coming stimulus bill, although that is definitely in our minds.
Instead, the really big issue for everyone is whether school, opening for the coming year, should be in person or online. As I do not have kids in school, the question does not directly impact me. Nonetheless, we are Here and Sphere for a reason. Important public policy is our mission’s arena, and no decision seems more significant to us than how to educate our kids.
What we can do, if not to decide the big question, is to make sure that important factors do not get passed by. First of these, in our opinion, is that in-person school is mandated for a reason : kids cannot do without peer interaction. Do we value “diversity,” or don’t we ? Kids in school meet all of each other and have to deal with all of each other. It’s hard enough a sit is to know contemporaries who live in different neighborhoods without imposing more drastic social isolation. An entire school year spent at home, learning in the anodyne medium of on-line, trades socialization for safety. Yet is it safe, socially, to do his ? I wonder.
Some will say that the reality is that kids will separate into cliques anyway, including skin color cliques, so nothing is in the end gained by requiring kids to attend in-person school. These observers may well be correct; yet are we to simply give in to undesirable social outcomes rather than do what we can to dilute them ? I understand that after graduation, out in the real world, kids, now adults, will enter workplaces in which “diversity,” more or less, is in place. I’m not satisfied with that answer. It’s much harder to develop a workplace friendship than a school one. At work, adults practice dissimulation. They “front,’ as the slang has it. In school, these social strategies are far less workable, not to mention not yet come to mind.
For all these reasons, I strongly favor kids returning to in-person school.
There is more — considerations of a different kind: money. The Boston Public School budget includes $ 106,000,000 for “transportation.” It shouldn’t be there in any case, but at least it is required for in-person schools., If Boston decides to impose online, at-home schooling, what becomes of the now otiose $ 106,000,000 ? And what of the school facilities maintenance budget, several millions of dollars ? It’s hard to justify not returning all these dollars to the taxpayer, yet I’ll sell you six hundred Portland antifa lasers if you think tax money will EVER be returned to those who pay it.
Lastly, a parenting consideration : if Boston school kids are required to school from home, who will watch over them ? Supposedly we would like to get people back to work sooner rather than later. For high-tech folks who work from home as a matter of course, no problem; but for first responders, retail workers, health care aides, transport workers, construction guys, and many more,. work from home cannot happen. They HAVE to go to a workplace. How can they do this if their kids are stuck at home doing school by “zoom” ? You say “daycare,” but individualized daycare is far too expensive for the very workers who will need it the most.
Finally, an ethical consideration : safety is important, yes, but is it so important that we discard all of the above for its sole sake ? Maybe so. Maybe we do that. But there will be a price paid : not by us but by the kids themselves whom we are running through a safety gauntlet..
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere