America is falling behind.
Europe has leapfrogged us, and has reopened its schools (except for Sweden, which never closed down in the first place). Denmark went first, reopening schools on April 15, and, since then, the vast majority of European countries have followed suit. And, guess what? A mid-May videoconference of education ministers from EU countries featured news that the reopening of schools across almost two dozen European nations had “not led to any significant increase in coronavirus infections among children, parents, or staff.”
No significant increase in coronavirus infections among children, parents, or staff? What are we waiting for?
Europeans get it. They understand that society collapses quickly when you give up on educating your children. The imperative on the Continent was to reopen schools as quickly as possible. And they did so.
Public education is even more vital in America, where we do not have an official aristocracy, and where our economic and social mobility are, consequently, far greater. In America, education is the escape path out of poverty. With an education, all things are possible; without an education, little.
Education opens the door to participate fully in politics and government. It levels the playing field for all and makes possible all manner of achievement. Nothing could be more quintessentially American than that.
Right now, though, with schools closed all across the country, our children cannot hold on to hope for the future. High school students in particular – those who are approaching their college years – need to believe there is hope for the future, and they must believe that learning and making good grades have rewards.
The last place middle school students need to be is online, where they can take their middle school bullying tactics behind a screen, without seeing the pain they cause in the faces of those they hurt.
And kindergarten and elementary school students cannot learn from Zoom. They need live interaction with their peers to help hold their attention and learn how properly to interact socially.
It makes no difference how old you are. The simple fact is, if you’re a school-age child, you should be in school.
Those of us who extol the virtues of online learning or remote work from home can sometimes be guilty of ignoring or overlooking how difficult it may be if you cannot afford the equipment or the ability to connect online. Students in rural areas and lower-income urban and suburban areas may not have high-speed Wi-Fi. Without high-speed Wi-Fi, it is hard for every member of the household to do video calls for school or work effectively.
And then there’s the safety issue.
Paradoxically, even as domestic violence reports are up across the country, child abuse reports are falling. That seems contradictory, until you think about it. Domestic abuse is up because women suffering from violence in the home are reporting it happening to themselves. Child abuse, on the other hand, generally is reported by adults outside the home who interact with children in school, church, or organized sports and/or after-school activities. If there is no school, no church, no Sunday School, no organized sports, no after-school activities, those children in abusive homes at risk do not interact with an adult who can help advocate for them. Not all children are safer at home. They need to be back in school.
We must reopen our schools, and quickly. School boards across the nation are meeting now to figure out how they are going to do so. They are looking at the most recent CDC guidelines, which are totally unworkable. They need to take their responsibilities to their young charges seriously, and act in their best interests.
More than two centuries ago, our Founding Fathers understood the importance of public education to securing liberty to their posterity.
“Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty,” wrote Thomas Jefferson to James Madison a few days before Christmas, 1787, as the men engaged in a correspondence on the pros and cons of the newly drafted but yet unratified Constitution. The two Virginians knew well how important was the education of the public to the preservation of liberty, and they were determined that under the new form of government, strong public education would create a desire and a protective spirit toward the preservation of individual liberty.
As we work our way through the pandemic and its associated lockdowns, our current leadership class would do well to emulate Jefferson and Madison and their colleagues. Acknowledge the importance of public education to the preservation of liberty, and get the schools open.
Jenny Beth Martin is honorary chairman of Tea Party Patriots Action.