Impossible choices

Memo: Everybody

Re: Schools reopening

Stop it. Whatever it is you’re doing, however you’re reacting, stop it. There is no solution. The whole thing is impossible.

We can’t keep the schools closed, because parents need to go back to work, and the kids need to be in school for all the reasons you can go read about if you like.

We can’t open the schools, because it will create yet more epicenters of disease for all the reasons that should be obvious to anyone.

We can’t reopen; we can’t keep kids home — we must reopen; we must keep kids home. It’s impossible.

Here’s the deal, though. Overlooked in all the ranting and finger-pointing and sincere concern is the very simple, very awful, very unavoidable fact: we have to give up on the idea that students are going to make any kind of real educational progress this school year. (We even have an acronym for it: AYP, Adequate Yearly Progress. We test for it, and we punish for it.)

We have to abandon the concept of “yearly progress,” where we (still) think of education as an assembly line. In kindergarten we install the ABCs and counting to 100; in 1st grade, we install the reading bits; etc.

That is not happening this year, no matter whether we open the schools or not. Not in person (which is unlikely to continue for more than a couple of weeks in any case) and not online, which is problematic for all the socioeconomic and behavioral reasons you can go read about if you like.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t teach our children. On the contrary, we must continue to try all the impossible ways that have been forced on us. It’s just that no one should be allowed to think or say that by the end of the school year we’re going to be in the same place as we normally would be. It. Is. Not. Going. To. Happen.

We need to say this out loud and up front, because if we don’t, if we just pretend that whichever impossible choice we make we can still administer those fupping standardized tests in May[1] and emerge like some triumphal Soviet flag-waving poster, then I know what’s going to happen. This nation will rev itself up into the most disgusting, most outrageous display of Blame The Teachers you have ever seen.

And if that happens, I hope every educator in this country quits.

No, we need to be grateful for however much progress our students are able to make, no matter how much progress they might have made had this nation been led to contain the virus from the very beginning. We as a society need to support every effort to provide learning opportunities to every student; we must create ways that — impossible or not — let every child out there learn something.

What we must not do is hold those students and their teachers accountable for “Adequate Yearly Progress.” That is a criminal mindset.

And if you already know who the criminals with that mindset are, raise your hand.

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[1] It occurs to me that after this is all over and we open the doors of our schools again for a normal school year, the standardized tests are going to be — how shall I put this? — fupping useless. Dare we hope that it wrecks that whole education-industrial complex for good?

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