Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Be a Role Model. Risk Your Life and Those of Your Students to Set an Example

You may or may not have noticed that I don't write about nursing here. I once had a girlfriend who was a nurse, though. Sometimes she'd bring me a stack of magazines and books and have me write a term paper for her. I got As on my nursing papers.

Still, you wouldn't want me as a nurse. I don't know nursing. This notwithstanding, The Atlantic had no problem having a nurse write a column on what educators ought to be doing during a raging pandemic.

My issues with this article begin with the title:

I’m a Nurse in New York. Teachers Should Do Their Jobs, Just Like I Did.

As far as I know, teachers in New York worked straight through April, May and June. Not only that, but we worked an entire week we were supposed to be off. You'd think someone writing an article about us would know that. I suppose being a nurse was her first qualification, or it wouldn't be right there in the title. Let's look at her second: husband, a public-school teacher in New York City...

I sat through a Presidential forum in Pittsburgh last year. Candidate after candidate was married to a public school teacher, had a mom who was a public school teacher, or knew a public school teacher. I'm sorry, but that does not make you an education expert. That's what you call an appeal to authority, and it's a logical fallacy. It's compounded by the fact that it's so indirect. Knowing someone, even intimately, does not suggest you are expert on their job.

I support teacher-led campaigns to make sure that safety measures are in place. And any city or state experiencing a spike in cases should keep schools shut, along with indoor businesses. What I don’t support is preemptively threatening “safety strikes,” as the American Federation of Teachers did in late July.

So there you have an  argument. The writer supports safety, and schools that don't provide it should be shut. However, you ought not to threaten to strike simply because schools appear unsafe. What ought you to do? Write a strongly worded letter? Hope for the best? In fact, there is no better reason to strike than for safety. There is nothing more fundamental or indispensable.

There then comes the tired "teachers are babysitters" argument:

What do teachers think will happen if working parents cannot send their children to school? Life as we know it simply will not go on.

This is problematic on multiple levels. While we certainly supervise children, that is not our primary function. It's our job to set examples and teach them. We don't set a particularly good example when we decline to stand up for safety. And perhaps the writer hasn't noticed, but pandemic life is not "life as we know it" by any standard.

More importantly, the writer fails to even consider the conditions under which students are returning to school. The fact is, in New York City, she won't even get the babysitting service she equates with "life as we know it." Students will be in buildings 20-50% of the time, and the rest of the time, I can only presume, will be life as we don't know it. Not only that, but the quality of education provided in person will be distinctly inferior to what we can provide with remote instruction.

The writer compares us to nurses and food service providers. She calls us essential workers. I guess this depends on what essential means. If it means people will die without our services, then we are not essential workers. If it means our services are very important, then we ought to provide them in the best way we can. At the moment, the very best was for us to provide services is remotely. The nurse hasn't considered that. She also does not appear to listen very well to her husband, whom she uses repeatedly to rationalize her position:

“I can’t think of one time that there was actually hand soap in the men’s bathroom,” my husband told me. That’ll have to change, hopefully for good. 

I don't know about the writer, but I learn from experience. With all due respect, I'd be an idiot to believe that NYC schools would suddenly be spotless, that custodians would finally have the resources of which they've been deprived for decades, or that Mayor de Blasio, who totally screwed up in March, will miraculously become competent in September.

In case those experiences aren't enough, school openings have proven disastrous thus far. Right off the top of my head come Israel, South Korea, Hong Kong, Beijing, and now Georgia. 

I love my doctor. She's smart and knowledgeable. I saw her a few weeks ago and she was dressed like a martian. She was wearing an N95 mask, a face shield, gloves, and an entire body covering. (No, teachers, you won't get that, nor will your students.) I asked her for an accommodation letter, and she said yes, certainly. She told me she wouldn't be coming in unless she absolutely had to. She said she was now teleconferencing, and if I didn't absolutely have to see her, I should avail myself of that service. I told her I would.

Of course you can't draw blood or do physical testing remotely. I'll tell you one thing, though--her office is spotlessly clean and so is her hospital. I wish her only the best.

Meanwhile, the chancellor of New York City schools has finally announced students without masks would be sent home from school. Of course, that won't happen until after they arrive unmasked, and potentially infect their teachers, classmates and families. Of course if younger children aren't "developmentally able," they get a pass, and maybe you get infected. And students won't get sent home until they "repeatedly" refuse. So how much infection, exactly, is it okay for students to spread? And why they hell shouldn't we not only threaten to strike, but also follow through, to protect our lives, our students' lives, and the lives of all our families?

Sorry, but "I'm a nurse and my husband is a teacher, so suck it up, risk your lives, those of your students, and those of all your families." is one of the very worst arguments I've ever heard.
blog comments powered by Disqus