This week, public school teachers in DC — who, you understand, care for nothing as much as educating the children and equipping a new generation with the tools they will need to succeed in life — protested the plan to possibly reopen schools in the fall by placing fake body bags outside of the school district’s offices. Striking a careful balance between absurd melodrama and shameless self-aggrandizement, one of the bags was accompanied by a cardboard gravestone that said “RIP Favorite Teacher.” Others read “killed in the line of duty” and “how many will you let die?”
Many activist teachers across the country have been engaging in similar theatrics for weeks now. A recent CNN article warns that educators are preparing their wills in anticipation of going back to work, an act apparently tantamount to being sent to death row. Indeed, a recent article on a website for educators called Bored Teacher claims outright that reopening schools is a “death sentence” for teachers, which seems to be the general sentiment expressed by many of the hundreds of teachers who have taken to the streets to protest the re-opening of schools.
One can’t help but wonder how these activist teachers, who see the classroom as some kind of death chamber, are frequently willing to protest in large groups. While some of the anti-school reopening demonstrations have featured social distancing practices, many of the protests attended by activist teachers have not. Teachers have had a notable presence at the BLM protests for the past several weeks. In Portland, they have even formed a group called “Teachers Against Tyrants,” and have been wading into the non-socially distanced mass of people to convey their political message. In Philadelphia, teachers gathered with their students to march against police brutality. Similar scenes have unfolded in Texas and elsewhere.
If teaching in front of a classroom of children is a “death sentence,” what about standing in an enormous crowd of other adults?
In reality, of course, neither a protest nor a classroom is a death sentence. The average age of a public school teacher in America is 41, putting most of them well outside the high-risk age bracket. They are also working closely with children; a group that appears to have a lower risk of contracting, spreading, or developing serious complications from the virus than adults. It is not that teaching carries no COVID risk at all, but that the risk is likely far less significant than activist teachers are claiming. And whatever the risk, it is hard to see how it would be substantially greater than the risk of attending a raucous protest with thousands of other people.
Meanwhile, grocery stores, Walmarts, and many other retailers have been open throughout the pandemic, even at its height. It’s possible that I missed it, but I don’t recall teachers’ groups crying out for Target to be closed for the sake of its workers. In fact, I’d guess that a fair number of these people who are allegedly so petrified of returning to the classroom have themselves been patronizing retail establishments and grocery stores this entire time. And it’s not just teachers — I don’t remember hearing almost anyone demand that these places be closed. If we are supposed to weep for the fate of our doomed teachers, why not for Kroger cashiers?
I will be told that all of this is very different from the situation teachers will be in when they return to school. School is indoors. It lasts for several hours. Many students are confined to one classroom. It’s true that these factors present unique challenges, but there are also unique advantages. Namely, as I already outlined, the fact that kids statistically appear to be less likely to contract or spread the virus than adults. Teachers will be spending most of their time, therefore, with what statistics suggest is the safest group of people to be around as far as COVID is concerned. This is one of the reasons why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that schools be re-opened in the fall.
But the main thing that ought to balance out the challenges, and prompt any dedicated teacher to call for a return to class, is the overwhelming importance of education. This after all is the actual reason why few people complained about grocery stores and retail outlets remaining open — we all believe those establishments to be essential to the proper functioning of society. Don’t we say the same, only more so, for education?
I’ve already argued that, as far as I’m concerned, public school teachers can and probably in most cases should be replaced by parents. As a homeschool advocate, I don’t think that public school is essential. But most of the people protesting the re-opening of schools would disagree. It is they who would say, in any other circumstance, that kids need school and will be gravely harmed without it. Isn’t that enough reason right there to re-open? Putting everything else aside, shouldn’t the fact that our children allegedly need the public school system be sufficient justification for getting them open again?
It’s clear that move to keep schools closed has less to do with precaution than with priority. Education is not as important to some of these activist teachers as they have claimed. They will “risk their lives” to send a political message at a protest, or to shop at Target, but not to teach our kids. Children must take a backseat.
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