Many Kids Don't Have a Warm, Safe, Healthy Home in Which to Do "Remote Learning"
Here’s a basic point I’ve been making for at least a dozen years, including in my book, and will now do again: the educational function of public schools, while certainly of prime importance, is the secondary function of public schools. The first function is giving children warm, safe places where they can be stimulated and looked after, and where they can access cheap or free meals if they need them. The humanitarian good of this function dwarfs that of the education function.
For a troublingly large number of kids, school is easily the safest and most nurturing place in their lives. This is true of homeless kids, but is also true of kids who are abused or neglected by their parents, or of kids whose parents simply lack the means to provide them with a warm, safe, nourishing environment. And it is absolutely maddening to me that liberals who are insisting that society lock down again speak with reckless abandon about sending kids back home “just for another two weeks.” There’s zero chance it would actually be just two weeks, nor is there any epidemiological reason whatsoever that two weeks would be the right amount, but set that aside: it is unconscionable to separate kids and parents from the schools they desperately need for ten days, especially during the winter.
The National School Boards Association says that 1,384,000 public school students are homeless. Right off the bat, you cancel school, and you’ve got almost one and a half million kids who will be spending more time in shelters, in the garages of friends, in McDonald’s, in libraries, in parks. This, in an effort to defend them from a disease which poses miniscule risk to them even if they’re unvaccinated. (Trust the science.) That’s enough, for me, right there. That is the argument that makes itself against more school closures. But there’s also the question of abuse and neglect. Such figures are hard to generate as those behaviors by parents and other adults who live with children are necessarily kept in the dark. But a study that looked at Michigan Child Protective Services found that 17.7% of public school students had been subject to an investigation for abuse or neglect, some 6.4% of which would eventually be substantiated. Of course, we can assume that the number of students who actually faced abuse was significantly higher than the number investigated by CPS, and the fact that only 36% cases were substantiated does not mean that the rest were not definitively abuse. I see no reason why Michigan would be an outlier in this regard. So we’re talking about sending many hundreds of thousands of kids into homes where they will be neglected or abused. And we know, for a fact, that many students went hungry during the school closures in 2020. How could they not? About 22 million kids get free or reduced price meals from school every single day. Do the people pushing more closures have anything to say about this? Not that I’ve seen. Maybe sneering liberal Twitter can pool their money and buy those kids some Happy Meals.
What drives me wild about this is that topic is discussed in the exact same witless and condescending tone as every other topic that’s been sucked into the maw of culture war - so many of the people who think we should close schools can’t be bothered to say “you know, this is really complicated, I think the calculus points towards keeping kids home for the greater good, but there’s no good option and it’s going to be incredibly hard on our most vulnerable kids.” No. Every fucking last issue has to be obvious to everyone at all times. There’s no such thing as a hard choice anymore, because to say that choices are hard is to suggest that the other side might have a point about something, anything, and we can’t have that. And everyone has to broadcast savvy at all times. You can’t be curious or questioning or conflicted or haunted by anything, because if you are, you don’t appear to be one of the endlessly bored, extravagantly haughty know-everythings who define our current discourse. We are dying from knowingness.
Here, let’s check in with the Last Good White Man, Will Stancil, who took time off from telling us what Black people are really all about to drop this nugget:
Josh Marshall @joshtpmSo to give you a sense of how it’s going. My son’s NYC public high school had 30% attendance today.
Hey, Will: Zoom lessons with whose fucking internet connection and what fucking computers? Are you gonna give millions of children your WiFi password? You see here how the concept of unequal access to safe homes, let along to technology, just does not even cross the mind of these people. I mean, why would it, right? They had loving and warm and safe homes as kids, and the parents among them are giving those benefits to their own kids, so it’s out of sight, out of mind. Josh Marshall, quoted above, is on team “let’s close the schools” too. Do they get to take their remote algebra lessons in your fucking mansion, Josh? Marshall goes in public and minimizes the damage of remote schooling because Josh Marshall’s kids have a nice, warm, safe home with food, internet access, and diversions appropriate for their age. He can’t imagine not being able to provide those things, so he thinks the solution is obvious. That is not true for an immense number of kids. Think of them, please, when you do your little culture war calculus about which side you’re on before dropping sneering one-liners on Twitter about how the answer is so obvious.
Now I will practice what I preach and admit that there are some genuine downsides to sending kids to school right now. The trouble with trying to generate more sympathy for the other side, for me, is that we don’t really know that lockdowns work to stop the spread of Covid. Dig around a little, I encourage you. The evidence is far more contested and uncertain than those calling for school closures seem to believe. Here’s a researcher from the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, though I encourage you to dig around, because there’s more where this came from:
It looks like there was essentially no detectable effect of shelter in place orders on COVID cases and deaths. There is a small effect on mobility that dissipates pretty quickly. There is some meaningful effect on unemployment as well, where it looks like these shelter in places orders were increasing unemployment. It looks like there's a little bit of a lag there, but once these orders have been in place for a couple weeks, it looks like unemployment really does suffer in these places. So at least the very top-line results don't make it seem like shelter in places were doing the first sort of thing they were supposed to do, which was stop the spread of the disease.
And that’s full-on lockdowns, not limited school closures, which can only have smaller effects. So we’re talking about separating millions of kids from access to the only places where they’re safe, warm, and fed, and doing so based on profoundly uncertain benefits. Why? Well, because we’ve got to Do Something. We have to panic - you must panic, or else you are a terribly unserious person, and probably one of those - and then we have to Do Something. Relying on the vaccines and therapeutic medicines that the miracle of modern medicine have given us? That’s not Doing Something, sorry. Closing schools is Doing Something. Sorry, poor, abused, neglected, hungry, and cold kids! Your needs are inconvenient in the face of appearing to want to Do Something, so that all the very serious liberals can be seen being very serious. Don’t worry though, you’re resilient. They keep telling me that, over and over, that kids are resilient. So enjoy spending more of your days in a shelter.
If you’re one of these lucky liberal elites who blithely insists that there’s no problem holding kids out of school (in winter!), good for fucking you. Keep your kids at home then. But don’t rob parents and children of the only place where those children can go and be in the kind of environment every child deserves. Despite my reputation I very rarely write angry. But I am angry about this, and you should be, too.