Christopher Scheer Original

The Kids Are Alright. At Least Yours.

Don’t overstate the benefits of opening schools for poor children while allowing the reckless endangerment of the adults that care for them.
A child [acting as a political prop for her adults] holds a placard during the demonstration outside the California State Capitol to protest the California stay-at-home orders and to call for the reopening of the California economy. (Photo by Stanton Sharpe / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

By Christopher Scheer / Original to Scheerpost

Let’s be real, you probably don’t really care THAT MUCH about any kids that are not your own. And if you have the time, education and curiosity to read this rant, the kid(s) under your direct care are going to be JUST FINE.

Seriously, they will. Just make sure to get out of the effing house every day, unplug the wifi for at least eight hours of daylight, and lock them in their room with some books and puzzles and apple slices when you feel like strangling them. Find or build a pod of kids who live within walking distance and make them play with each other OUTSIDE when they are not visibly leaking snot.

No, your kids are not becoming feral. No, they will not fall hopelessly “behind” because they don’t learn their colors or their multiplication tables or AP chem on the phony, one-size-fits-all age-based pacing guides created to give the appearance of order and logic to the generally curiosity-killing, nigh unreformable education systems that dominate both private and public schooling. (Just don’t blame it on the Prussians.)

Oh, I know, you may SAY you’re mostly eager for schools to reopen to benefit the poor kids, the kids from single-parent homes, the foster kids and the kids on the wrong side of the “achievement gap.” And I believe that you believe that this is why (some of) you are arguing so vehemently that we should open the schools “as soon as it is safe” (which is pretty much an unknowable moving target at this point, for much of the country). 

Kids need NORMALCY, we keep hearing. Bullshit. You know who had a “normal” childhood? Almost nobody. One kid in Des Moines, another in Laguna Beach, probably. Maybe.

Did you? Have a “normal” childhood, that is? If so, great — your kids will get the benefit of that, just by being around you more during this time! You have the gift to give!

Kids don’t need normalcy, whatever that is, they need LOVE and TRUST and HEALTHY FOOD and PRIVACY and FRIENDS and HUGS that aren’t creepy. They need to laugh until they can’t quite breathe. They need a BREAK from screens. Some basic structure is good, sure, like set bedtimes and a chore wheel and consequences if one tears the head off the other one’s Barbie. But they also need to learn to endure actual BOREDOM and to make their own snacks and pillow forts and fairy houses. 

What they do NOT need, however, is to spend 7.5 hours a day in a stressed-out, masked-up, social-distanced grim-ass bureaucratic nightmare of a flickering fluorescent-bulb, sound-panel ceiling classroom with a teacher who may be old, have underlying conditions, or even be unknowingly sick themselves if COVID-19 is actively spreading in their community. Especially if it puts them at a significantly higher risk of landing in the ICU.

[For what it is worth, kids carrying COVID-19 may or may not be significantly contagious, or then again, they might be, or, who the hell knows, they might not be. Feeling lucky? Anthony Fauci said those kids who return to school are “going to be part of the experiment of the learning curve of what we need to know.” Cool!]

Sober pause to acknowledge the obvious: Schools are a super important institution and we should do everything we can to reopen them as soon as is practical. Duh. As the American Academy of Pediatrics put it: “Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.”

Here, though, is what makes me SUPER uncomfortable with the “do it for the poor kids” mantra: They are the ones, generally, living in the most vulnerable households. “COVID-19 has not been an equal-opportunity scourge,” notes a new Los Angeles Times investigation. “[A]nalysis, based on Los Angeles County data, shows that someone living in the heavily immigrant Pico-Union neighborhood, for example, is seven times more likely to contract the disease — and 35 times more likely to die — than someone in relatively affluent Agoura Hills.”

So, here’s what I want you to do, middle- and upper-class parents of America, if you really care about the have-nots (which, is anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent up to 75 percent of the population, depending on how you measure it): Do whatever you have to do to GET THE $600 UNEMPLOYMENT CHECKS BACK IN THE PIPELINE. Because what those kids on the rougher side of town need right now is for their parent or guardian to not become FUCKING HOMELESS, and/or to not have to go to work in crowded unsafe environments where they are being exploited as pandemic cannonfodder to keep our mail-order steaks arriving on time.

I can tell you as a former Oakland public school teacher that kids living in cars or SROs or on the floor of an aunty’s living room generally do not LEARN SHIT even when school is open. Because that’s how insane stress works: It focuses you on the immediate struggle and makes it a LOT harder to learn about the intellectual underpinnings of Enlightenment thought or the difference between valent and covalent bonds. And the kid they make the movies about, the one who survives all that and goes to Harvard? They are OK, too, because they are reading or coding or painting right now while you are surfing the web. 

Then, once you get those federal checks printing again, you can get the (likely Democratic) mayor you elected to rein in their fascist police from wreaking daily terror on your poor and/or Black and brown people, get your state to do the bang-up job mine has with Obamacare (shout out to my peeps at Covered California!), fight to block evictions, read up on the Job Guarantee, and/or go clean the needles and condoms out of the sandbox in a hood playground. (And, then, while you are doing all this magic, boost education spending, because you are going to need a lot more adults and classrooms with social distancing and increased cleaning and behavior monitoring.)

And yeah, I get it. Even if you are doing alright, you need to work. A lot. You’ve got a mortgage to pay. You need to keep HBO Now flickering. And it REALLY sucks to fight with your kid over screen time. Been there, done that. There are just … SO. MANY. SCREENS. And “distance learning” (which also sucks and is unlikely to fulfill its over-hyped promise anytime soon) means you now have to fight your kid to do both their classwork AND their homework now, and that is going to involve a lot of yelling. So much yelling. 

But you know what is going to suck much more? When your kid brings home COVID-19 and you realize that not only are you much older than you wanted to admit (the virus doesn’t care that you “still feel 25”) but you also might have an underlying condition or two you don’t even know about. 

Because what your kids really, really, REALLY want at the end of this whole freaking nightmare is for YOU TO BE STILL ALIVE. And grammy and Aunty Roberta, too. But most of all, YOU.

Christopher Scheer
Christopher Scheer

Christopher Scheer is a former journalist and former high school teacher. He is currently a grad student and one of the editors of Scheerpost.

Copyright Scheerpost 2020

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