Remember that big push for #STEM a few years ago? I do. And I thought it was okay, I mean, I read what other countries did, and remembered my own gendered education, and memories of being made fun of for having a wide vocabulary and being “smart.” Because being pretty is/was valued over being intelligent. For STEM, targeting girls especially because science and math are ‘for boys’ and we wanted to show girls that science and math are cool, that it’s okay to be smart. There is a YouTube Channel called “It’s Okay to Be Smart,” too. I even participated in the WABS Fellowship program, and am still friends with a Boeing engineer I can call on anytime to speak to my students. I have worked for years to bring project-based learning through a Humanities’ lens to my students, a bigger picture, big, burning question excitement and engagement. Curiosity is love. Biology is poetry, and physics is art in motion.
I am going to use ‘we’ here, but it’s clumsy. Of course it wasn’t all of us.
My question this morning, and it must be asked, what are we really teaching children now? What values do we hold as a nation, and what do we build together? As I look at crowded hallways and teachers around the nation who are planning face to face instruction during COVID19, I am frozen in my tracks at the sheer audacity of arrogance, greed, complicity, and the nightmare unfolding in front of us. I want to scream at them all, what are you doing? To parents who are “anxious” but send their children to school anyway?* To teachers who are trapped by their right-to-work states? In this purgatory of forever quarantine, losing our rights, written in headlines on the hour?
Yes: I know if Texas teachers, for example, strike they lose their retirement savings. Just like that. For decades the GOP has worked, infiltrated systems and institutions to undermine social protections at every level. And every time we fight back, it feels like we have ten other people screaming at us, supporting these actions, loving the “game” and “winning” because that’s all we are now. A binary system of winners and losers. And the irony is, we’re all losing.
Yes, I know many parents are working two jobs to make meager ends meet. This is also by design.
Yes, I know many parents identify with their white supremacy and the current president, and think not only is he a good person, but he’s done well by them.
What I don’t know, and I don’t know how we can find out, is what children are learning right now? If children learn what they live, are they the current manifestation of conspiracy theories, lack of facts, and are they lost forever? And I mean…lost. Truly. My sons know what’s what. Their friends, do, too. And probably your school-aged children. But they are about to face the biggest battle, the one in preparations now–there is no more science. There is no more curiosity. And there is no more love of intelligence. It’s been murdered and no one cares to solve the crime.
Most of us are jealous and discouraged about countries who have cornered the outbreak and kept it under control. I for one wish I was a Hobbit right now and lived in New Zealand (well, I did before this, and now more than ever). Other countries have taken the lead, and not had the cultish devotion of an unintelligent man as their leader. My husband read Denial of Death by Ernest Becker years ago and like a Nostradamus of Washington he laid out the entire next four years for me. But being warned is not the same as being prepared: I should have known that my fellow citizens would pull us into this hell of ignorance and magical thinking. But children, however, that’s a different matter. We have never loved children in our nation, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
Down the street from me a neighbor who flies both a US flag, his Marine Corp flag, and has a Culp sign in his front yard. Culp doesn’t believe in wearing masks. I don’t dare put out an Inslee yard sign, because last time I put out an Obama yard sign it was stolen and swastikas were painted on my fence. This was 2008. I don’t have the money to fix a graffitied fence. And I am a coward. I am afraid of them, the white supremacists in my neighborhood who don’t understand science, or care to know. They are satisfied in their ignorance and think magic will protect them, or it was magic’s will.
Children are learning now how little we value their lives. They may not be able to articulate it, because they trust us. Those same kids who shouted “build the wall!” when Trump was elected trust their parents. They trust their teachers who are coming back to school to teach them, with clear shower curtains, hand sanitizer and masks. Sometimes.
And when I say their lives their lives not only include their mortal coils, but those of their families. Get ready to collectively mourn the children who bring home COVID19 and harm their families. I have relatives and though three of four of them came down with COVID19 brought home by their 19 year old daughter, they dismissed it like a bad cold. They’re Trump supporters. And maybe for them it wasn’t bad or life-altering, or they will have any long-term health effects.
I don’t have any answers for my question right now. I’m watching, waiting, and thinking. But I do hope, and wish, all teachers right now, would start the year with facts and how science works. How getting new information and adjusting approaches works. How they can prepare and make decisions for themselves and their families. This is a natural disaster and must be treated as such.
Do we love children or not? Do we love them enough to teach them facts and critical thinking skills?