Since we closed our schools back in March 2020, we have had an ongoing debate as to when and how to re-open our schools. It has been a debate involving economics, health and politics, about the needs of individuals, families, political and ideological needs as well as those of society as a whole.
What to do; what to do?
My proposal is serious, although a bit tongue-in-cheek, as I recognize the impossibility of its being implemented, even on a small scale.
I taught both shop and academic classes in SoCal public junior high/middle schools for some forty years, retiring in 2012. Yes, I do have some idea of classroom conditions in a system which places thirty-five to forty teenagers in a room with a teacher for about an hour per class five or six times a day.
My History and English classes usually held thirty-six to forty students. Let’s take a class of thirty-six students and “social distance” them. We’ll place them along one wall and the back of the room, imagining that there need be no room between the student and the wall. Assuming six rows with six students in each, we need a class 30 feet by 30 feet; add six feet in the front and one side for teacher and student movement our class needs to be 36 feet by 36 feet = 1,296 square feet/a small 3-bedroom house.
If you believe this is doable, I suggest you go to your child’s school and measure your child’s classroom(s). If your child’s classes have more or fewer students, mark the floor with blocks or legos or tape, lay out student positions, six feet apart and then allow room for the teacher, any aides and movement into, out of, and within the room. See what you come up with.
Air and Water
Does your child’s classroom have good ventilation: door(s), windows that open for cross ventilation or any ventilation at all? How about the heating/air-conditioning system, is it adequate?
Does the classroom have a sink for washing hands? If not, how about the toilet facilities? Check them out. Are they adequate and clean? Would you use them? If not, your child shouldn’t have to either.
There are many other things I could touch on here: movement between classes, lunch, PE, choir and band, arrival and departure, recess/nutrition, custodial services, finances (in a contracting economy), but I’ll leave those for later. After all, you have an imagination — use it.
President Trump and Secretary of Education DeVos and other public figures are pushing for schools to re-open, regardless of the current pandemic.
They are correct in that we need to educate our children. We also need to care for (babysit them) so that their parents can go back to work. If you do not believe that childcare is a function of our educational system, you need to get real and open your eyes; perhaps, you can listen to those parents who cannot go to work because they have young children to tend.
OK, to the nitty-gritty. Our physical facilities (schools) are inadequate to meet the needs for the social distancing of our students and staff. So, let’s forget about social distancing — just send them back to school.
Sanitary facilities are inadequate, so, forget about them (after all, we’ve been doing so for decades) and give our kids their own bottles of sanitizer and hand wipes.
To make sure that things are okay, let’s have our political leaders send their children to our local public schools. After all, if it’s safe for our kids, it’s safe for theirs.
And, let’s make sure that those among us who refuse to wear masks send their children to school without masks and have them enrolled in classes with teachers who share their beliefs. Maybe, they can get jobs as substitute teachers for those teachers who are in high-risk categories or who simply want to be safe?
The rest of us can keep our kids at home and have them attend online classes until this emergency is over.
Child care? Why worry? How about we re-write parental responsibility laws so that parents can leave their underage children at home alone. That way the parents can go to work and get our economy working again. Maybe, we should re-write our child labor laws so kids could go to work rather than go to school.
How old does one have to be to flip burgers or operate cash registers with pictures for buttons? Place kids in jobs for unskilled labor that usually go to immigrants because we don’t want to go to fill low wage, high labor jobs. Childcare will be taken care of and we won’t have to worry about having those kids in school and fewer immigrants. Win-Win-Win.
Like I said, a bit tongue-in-cheek, but we really need to think and plan this re-opening before we send our children and teachers back to school. They are our future (as well as our present).
A Few, Not So Random, Thoughts on COVID-19, the Police and School
Yes, I’m going to keep wearing my mask while I’m in public and around people. If I get seriously ill, my wife is in trouble because her health issues mandate 24-hour care. If she gets gets COVID-19, she probably won’t survive.
This summer, we stay home and wear a mask in public. And, if you don’t wear one, STAY AWAY!
I believe that the police, or someone who performs their functions, are a necessary evil.
Given the above, de-funding the police will not accomplish anything positive. Are reforms necessary? Yes, most certainly.
I’d like to propose two reforms.
First, there is a need to better screen those we recruit and train to be members of our police departments. We need to make sure that those who become policemen, and policewomen, are primarily, if not exclusively, interested in helping people. Those who, for whatever reasons, need to bully people must be weeded out. We must screen out those who are inclined to throw around their authority and hide behind its badge and who lie to cover up their mistakes.
Think lying is not a problem facing our police departments? Look first at the videos currently circulating on the internet, and then think of how many times your friends complained about a run-in with the police in which they claimed the police lied about what they did. (I would imagine most of us know someone who was given a traffic ticket they didn’t deserve because the traffic cop lied. Maybe, it’s happened to you. Did the cop actually lie? If the cop lied about something small like a u-turn, missed stop sign, unsafe lane change, what would stop him/her from lying about an assault or firing a weapon?)
We need honest police who believe that violence is a last resort, not a first response.
Second, we must de-militarize our police departments. Police departments are not armies and police are not soldiers. The primary purpose of the police is to protect a community and its people. The primary purpose of an army is to, using extreme violence, destroy an opposing army.
When a police department becomes an army, the people it is supposed to protect become the enemy. If you doubt this, look at any recent, or not so recent, video of police behavior at rallies in which people are exercising their rights to assemble and protest. Yes, like the right to bear arms, the right to protest is a right protected by the U.S. Constitution.
And, maybe, we should give the police a chance to become members of the community they are hired to protect. How about we subsidize their purchase of housing in the cities they work. Beginning officers aren’t going to be able to afford to live in high priced cities like San Francisco or Newport Beach. If they lived among those they policed, might they better identify with those they came into contact with? And, again maybe, have them park their cars and walk around the neighborhoods they patrol. Once or twice (or, maybe, more often) a year knock on people’s doors, introduce themselves and ask about the community. Make the police us and not them.
Ghads, the more I think about making schools ready for the 2020-2021 school year, the more I want to laugh or cry.
Social distancing? Take a class of forty students and set it up for social distancing and you have a class of fewer than twenty. If you give teachers the same 240 students, they must now teach twelve classes. (No, this is not a fantasy. During most of my forty year career, my classes had 35-40 students and I taught six classes each day.)
More classes? Or, shorter classes but teachers are still responsible for students learning the same material? Students coming to school every other day? On-line school on the other days?
Do you know any teachers who are looking forward to teaching under COVID-19 conditions next year? How about, do you know any teachers who have just retired and are breathing a sigh of extreme relief?
How about, do you know any teachers who are considering early retirement because they, belatedly, see what is coming?
Remember, the economy tanked and tax receipts will be down, school budgets will be down; teachers will get fewer supplies and salaries and benefits may, will, be re-negotiated.
More work, lower salary — they all have college degrees; do you think many of them may look for work in some other profession?
Can you imagine being a newbie, first-year teacher, just beginning his or her career under these conditions? I can and still cannot decide whether to laugh or cry.
California State Department of Education
Cal-Ed recently published a guide on how to open schools in the Age of COVID-19. What’s in it? A lot of educational and bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. Don’t believe me? Read it yourself.
In essence it says local districts are responsible for everything, reasonably practical or not, with no realistic how-tos.
Typical response like Donald John: I take no responsibility; handle it at the local level. I imagine it will devolve to individual schools and teachers, like most things educational do. They have no real authority but have all of the responsibility and will take all of the blame when (not if, in my humble opinion) things don’t work out.
My take: by October everyone gives up and things go back to the way they were last October (pre-COVID-19), come heck, high water, illness and death.
Schools — During my last decade of teaching, one of my classrooms was in a “temporary” structure. It was the kind of pre-fab you see dotting campuses all across SoCal.
I was teaching 7th grade History in that room. In terms of the number of students that meant forty desks with class sizes ranging from thirty-six to forty-two. Yes, forty-two with a couple of kids sitting in chairs until class schedule adjustments could be made to get the number back down to forty.
There wasn’t much room to move around, less than a desk’s width between rows, the last desks in the rows hard against the back wall. The room also included a teacher’s desk and room to enter (via the one door) and a half dozen free feet in the front of the class to get from the entry to the rows of desks and room for the teacher to move across the room and use the whiteboard.
Now, let’s assume that we take out the teacher’s desk and add eight desks to the room. That makes forty-eight student desks and very little room in which to move around. If we take out half of the desks, we will get about four and a half feet between students.
Since I cannot say that I remember the exact dimensions of that classroom, let us say that twenty-four desks, evenly spaced, actually gives us six feet between students and adequate room for the teacher to conduct ordinary instruction and other class business. We can now use that classroom, and others of similar size throughout the state, for teaching in a “social-distanced” educational environment. (My wife’s classroom in Santa Ana had a similar square footage with a like number of students.)
What does this mean?
If teachers have similar student loads to their pre-COVID-19 classes (total number of students for whom they are responsible), a typical middle/junior/senior high teacher (five or six classes, 200-240 students) will now have to teach eight to ten classes.
Ten classes per day?
Shorter classes and/or longer days?
Staggered, alternate day, schedules?
Hiring more teachers?
Building more classrooms?
How about K-6 classes where teachers have the same students all day long? They have similar size problems. When you space the students out, you decrease the number of students per teacher and class.
Do you now cut the classroom hours and have the teachers teach one group in the morning and another in the afternoon? You both increase the number of hours the teacher teaches and decrease the number of instructional hours for the students. Or, perhaps you introduce staggered/alternate day schedules, which also cuts the number of instructional hours for the students.
Of course, you could build more classrooms and hire more teachers.
This means more money: construction, salaries, health benefits.
No, I haven’t forgotten the hit we’ve taken to our economy with the shutdown and loss of employment — this means decreased tax revenues and school district budgets.
Donald John wants schools to re-open next month; Gavin thinks maybe July/August. Seriously? When are we going to have public discussions about the mechanics and financing of it all? Or are we just going to muddle through, schedule things as we did last year and see what happens?
If this doesn’t give you enough concerns, walk over to your child’s school and imagine it in a social-distanced world (at least, for next year).
Oh, yeah, almost forgot, we’ll also have to increase hours for classified employees in order to keep deep cleaning the schools — or do you think current standards are good enough?
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing and that protects the weak; it protects the lawful. Our policies that can result in short-term separation of families are not unusual or unjustified.” As quoted by Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States
The Attorney General of the United States this last week used Paul’s Letter to the Romans to defend current Trump Administration policies dealing with the separation of families under arrest/detention and accused of unlawful entry into the United States.
A short pause
To digress a moment, Mr. Trump says the problem is not his Administration but the Democrats. No, Mr. Trump, the Democrats are not the problem. There is nothing in current American laws which mandates the separation of families in these immigration cases. The problem is policy, not laws.
Also, I will take a short moment to remind us all that the Republican Party controls both Houses of Congress and can quickly pass, if it so desired, a single sentence law something like: In no case shall families with children be separated while being held in detention and undergoing legal proceedings regarding illegal immigration into the United States.
This would only require a simple majority vote of both Houses and a speedy signature by the American (Republican) President. In fact, I believe that such a vote would carry 100% “For” votes by both the House and Senate. Things could then proceed without this moral posturing by both sides of the immigration debate.
Paul and Rome
Political conditions in the 1st Century of the Common or Christian Era.
Paul, or Saul, was a child of his times (as are we all of our own). He was a Roman Citizen. The Roman Empire was the largest and strongest of the social/political entities existing in the Western world two millennia ago.
The Empire covered a geographic area comparable to the contiguous forty-eight United States and had a population of somewhere around a hundred million people.
Of these hundred million people somewhere between forty and sixty million of them were slaves — yes, slaves. They had no political rights and could be bought, sold, abandoned or manumitted at any time.
Those who were big and strong worked their lives away in the fields of the latifundia. Comely children, boys and girls, were sold to brothels or to wealthy men and women for their personal use and as house servants.
I will remind you that the Roman Republic was never in our modern sense a republic. That is, it was not a representative democracy. It was a plutocratic/oligarchic dictatorship — of, by and for the rich. In those instances where the Equestrian or Senatorial classes needed to placate the lower classes, the plebes, they did so through “bread and circuses” and the buying of their votes.
Those of the lower classes who were elevated to protect the “rights” of those lower classes became, for practical purposes, members of the upper order.
The Roman Empire was an Empire. It was built and maintained through the use of military force. Millions of people, soldiers and civilians, men, women and children, were killed in its wars. The defeated were sold into slavery. Many were dispossessed of their lands, according to the political, military or economic needs of their conquerors. Might made right; terror was a weapon.
In defense of order
Paul, a Roman citizen, at one time persecuted/prosecuted those who followed the teachings of the followers of Jesus. He enforced the rule of law as he saw it — the law of the Caesars and Caesar’s appointed governors.
After the “miracle” restoration of his eyesight and “conversion,” Paul also began following the teachings of Jesus’ followers. And, through his writings urged people to follow the “rule of law.”
For practical purposes, at least to my mind, he said that people should obey a corrupt military dictatorship because that was the government given to them by God — WHY?
Why? Because Paul thought that the government of the Caesars was the legitimate government ordained by the gods — or God, depending on your point of view.
Possibly, after all he was a child of his times.
Or, possibly, he was just a realist.
There was no way that a group of poor, unarmed civilians and slaves was going to overthrow the might of the Roman Empire. To attempt to do so would lead to slaughter. While the Roman armies of the times suffered setbacks and defeats, they were sufficient to the policing of the Empire and protecting of its external borders. Augustus/Octavian had reduced the army’s size (and hit on the budget), but during the Pax Romana (Roman Peace — 27 BCE to CE 180) nothing stood against it.
As I see it, child of the times as I am — “Question authority!” — one can look on Romans 13 in one of two ways:
One: Paul truly believed that the government of the Caesars was instituted by the will of God and that people should obey all of its laws and strictures. This despite, to our modern minds, its corruption, immorality, lack of concern for much (most) of its population and dependence on coercion and slavery.
Two: Paul, knowing full well the power of the Caesars and that those to whom he was preaching were powerless, wanted to protect them and he, therefore, told them to be quiet, keep their heads down and obey the law. This in the same tone where Jesus, according to the Bible, told people to render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s and unto God what was God’s.
I wonder — was Jesus a child of His time and truly believe that the military dictatorship of the Caesars was the rightful government decreed by God or was He just being practical?
Which brings me back to AGOTUS Jeff Sessions. Does he believe that Paul in his letter to the Romans 13 really means that people should obey the laws because the government was put there by God (even being a corrupt military dictatorship). And, that that applies to us? Today?
I believe that any American government official who believes, like Jeff Sessions, that we all must obey the government because God put it there should be fired. He, or she, does not belong.
We created the United States because we believed that the current — of that time — government was destructive of our needs, wants and rights. People, not God, created government(s) and it is their right to change them.
We cannot use a quote from a first century Roman citizen to justify the, in my humble opinion, immoral actions of our twenty-first government.
Whether you consider Mr. Trump to be the Savior, Anti-Christ or just The Mule in regards to American government in the highly toxic political climate of 21st century America, it is immoral, or so I believe in this day and age, to separate children and parents by the hundreds and thousands. And, separating a nursing baby from its mother?
Assuming the actual existence of the God Jeff Sessions says he believes in, I would like to be a fly on the wall when God questions him at his last judgement: “A baby, Jeff, a baby? How can you justify taking a nursing baby away from its mother by saying I OK’d it? I, God, am to blame?”
13 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
Romans 13 has a long history with regard to revolution and oppression.
Both sides, Loyalists and Patriots, used it to defend their positions during the American Revolutionary period.
Martin Luther used it to defend his position in putting down violent peasant uprisings in the 1520s.
Pro-slavery forces used it to defend the fugitive slave acts in 18th and 19th century America.
Adolph Hitler used it to defend his repression of opponents in the 1930s Germany.
Go to your favorite Search Engine and type in: Romans 13 and whoever or whatever you wish to research. Some of the articles and sites are well-researched and written. And others, I have found, are just pure junk. Decide for yourself.
“They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.