Saturday, July 25, 2020

COVID19 is our Small-Pox Infected Blanket

by Greg Pulte

During the colonial period of the United States, it is sometimes reported that colonial leaders provided blankets infected with small-pox to indigenous people. In the coming weeks teachers will embark on an experience unprecedented in American education. Texas teachers will enter school classrooms knowing we may become infected with COVID19 and that we may not survive (my wife and I revised our last will and testament yesterday afternoon). We also know that if we survive, we may suffer irreversible organ damage. By not recognizing the destructive force of COVID19, over 150,000 Americans have died from COVID19 in the past five months (COVID19 numbers), our leaders urge our teachers to wrap our students, ourselves, and our communities in the metaphorical small-pox blanket.  

Texas teachers know many of our students will have COVID19 and will be present in the classroom anyway, parents often send sick children to school regardless of anyone’s well-being or better judgement. Texas teachers know that students, especially young students, will not practice social distancing or illness prevention. Kids get close to each other. Children sneeze on each other. Children wipe their noses on their sleeves and then touch common surfaces. School children are purveyors of infection.

Every teacher knows, especially every first-year teachers, that sickness awaits us. First-year teachers are told up-front during the first year in the classroom, to expect to be sick more often than well, “eventually, you will develop immunity.” Like the common cold, immunity to COVID19 may not be possible.   

Social Distancing 
Some school districts are taking measures to reduce infection risks such as including frequent “deep” cleanings (does anyone know what a deep cleaning is?” Supposedly hand sanitizer will be provided, but masks will not be required in some districts. The reality is no one should feel comfortable spending eight hours a day breathing the same air in proximity to an infected person, mask or no mask, six feet or not.  

Teachers are scared. Teachers are scared to send their own children to school. Teachers are scared to be in the classroom for fear of infection. Teachers are scared we or our children will bring COVID19 home to grandparents or ourselves. I personally fear this may be my last year teaching, not because of the incessant demands of STAAR, teacher merit pay schemes, or school shootings, but because I may not survive infectious school halls or my classroom. My students may not either.  

Sadly, I continue to read on social media opinions like, “the kids at Walmart are working,” as if Walmart were a barometer of public health and safety. First, the folks at Walmart probably are sick and probably are spreading the infection (among the reasons our rate of infection in Travis, Dallas, Bexar, and Harris counties remains stubbornly high).  Second, despite people’s demonization of Walmart and its customers, Walmart is large enough to allow for a degree of social distancing. Classrooms filled with students for several hours per day does not allow for social distancing, even with reduced class sizes, plastic shields, and social distance. Like flying on an airplane, we breathe the same air all day long, potentially infecting all.

Beyond infectious school air, there is a notion circulating that children do not get sick from COVID19 or it does not affect children seriously. While there is no consensus, this notion is a distraction from the reality that, even if this were true, it would not protect the children’s teachers, their parents, or grandparents to whom students go home at night.

Yesterday a Cedar Park “official” made the statement “Stop catering to the leeches ... Fire them and rehire new teachers.” The Cedar Hill councilmen went on to say, “America’s parents do not have to put up with being held hostage by union leaders demanding unreasonable and imprudent continuations of ruinous lockdown policies. Demand a return toward normalcy.” (Anger-challenged Cedar Park council person Tim Kelly).

Wow, these comments are simply madness. As if there was a vast surplus of teachers waiting in the wings to get into the classroom, we will be lucky for a substitute teacher to be foolhardy enough to come to school. Sadly, these teacher hating sentiments emerge from the anti-teacher, hate-filled rhetoric that only comes from conservative media bullet points. Lord spare us this nonsense.
Social Distance Plastic in Thailand
As a teacher at a North Texas high school. I can assure that there is nothing teachers want more than return to the classroom. Online learning is no substitute. Student participation online is lacking and the social interaction that students desperately need is not possible.

Rather than blaming teachers for being cautious about student safety, point your attention to who is really at fault here, our poor political leadership at the state and federal levels. Our feeble response to the danger of COVID19 sent the message that COVID19 was not something to worry about. As a result, the pandemic spiked in several states, especially those states which rushed to reopen the economy after a brief shutdown. The reopening came “at your own risk,” although the risk was not expressed by leaders like Texas Governor Abbott or Florida Governor DeSantis.

The federal level response to COVID19 was no better for families. Corporations may have received a bailout to the tune of $2 trillion, with more dollars on the way, but the $1,200 check actual Americans received is a monthly grocery bill and a car payment. One can only hope that Joe Biden, should he be elected will bring real solutions to the pandemic, solutions that avoid the notion of a return to how we did things before. Instead of looking at the past, we must devise trans-formative and sustainable change that benefits working Americans. If we are to endure this pandemic, we must rebuild the working and middle-class who have been fleeced market-driven economics. The days of the corporatist welfare state must end. Americans need a new New Deal that works for people of all colors.   
Small-Pox blanket
Finally, beyond our poor political leadership at the state and federal levels, too many of our community members seriously believe wearing a mask and social distancing infringes upon their “freedoms.” TALK ABOUT ENTITLEMENT!! Individuals with this attitude more than anyone else are to blame for spreading COVID19. These attitudes promote infection. These attitudes have an immediate impact for our economy’s ability to open, to thrive, and for our students and teachers to return to school safely.

To pretend we are not living through a global pandemic is to wrap oneself in a small-pox infected blanket. To demand that teachers provide in-person instruction is to wrap students, teachers, and communities in a small-pox infected blanket. For now, as much as I dislike saying it and as much as I want to see my students and fellow teachers working together in classrooms that do not look like infectious disease clinics, we will be best protected from COVID19 by a continuation of online instruction. Pray the virus dissipates soon…



1 comment:

  1. Excellent critique by Dr. Greg Pulte on school re-opening this fall.

    I'm with you, Greg Pulte​, putting everybody at risk by requiring in-person schooling—and thusly continuing to spread the virus is morally and ethically bankrupt as a policy in these dreadful times. Teachers and school leaders must unite on this.