Note: late last night (and after the time of this writing) the Chicago Teachers Union voted to return to classes on Wednesday after a week of holding out.
Last week on Monday, 84% of Chicago public school teachers showed up to work. The next day only 10% came in. That was because the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) was voting on whether or not to revert to virtual classes. The vote passed—despite the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and mayor’s repeated insistence that they did not want to continue damaging student development with a return to full remote learning—with a 73% majority.
Here’s the CTU’s tweet immediately following the outcome of the vote:
This reads more like a ransom note from kidnappers than a statement coming from a group responsible for educating children. It’s also pretty telling. It shows that the CTU is unaware of the negative effects that our anxiety-fueled-do-something-first-ask-questions-later policies have had on kids. Either that or they just don’t care, which is even more troubling.
Last week, the New York Times summarized some of those effects here. They cite a study done by NWEA which found that “students made gains during the 2020-21 school at year at a lower rate compared to pre-pandemic trends…ended the year with lower achievement compared to a typical year, with larger declines relative to historical trends in math (8 to 12 percentile points) than in reading (3 to 6 percentile points)”. Naturally, this has had a disproportionate impact on minorities and students in high-poverty schools (i.e., Black and Latino students). Why? Because Many Kids Don’t Have a Warm, Safe, Healthy Home in Which to Do “Remote Learning”. That’s doubly true for low-income students, of which Chicago has a boatload:
The last time I thought about WiFi was whenever my Internet last went down and I had to perform the monumental task of unplugging the router, waiting 10 seconds, and plugging it back in. That’s because WiFi is an afterthought for me just like it probably is for you. The same is sure to be true for most in favor of remote learning. This is not necessarily the case for many students in Chicago though. For some low-income students, school is their only access to reliable WiFi, not to mention a computer to connect it to. And this is to say nothing of the 10,836 homeless students that the CPS reported for the 2020-21 school year. What the fuck are those kids supposed to do? The CTU asking these same students to attend class virtually is like a fitness nut asking their morbidly obese buddy to go rock climbing with them. It’s mean.
But let’s say these students do have a computer for themselves (imagine the financial hardship on a low-income family with multiple kids, all of which need their own laptop to attend school?), how many of them are in nurturing environments conducive to learning? I’m going to go out on a limb and say very few. Even for middle-class kids—whose parents don’t have to break the bank on a computer for virtual classes because they already bought them a Macbook Pro last year, for their 7th birthday—the home is not exactly an ideal place to focus on material that is, largely, boring. Especially not when that boring material is being “taught” via fucking Zoom.
Lunchtime, school plays, and dances, extracurriculars, field trips. These are the sorts of “non-essential” activities that actually play a crucial role in cognitive development. “Those kids were mean to me, I’ll find new friends”; or, “it turns out girls don’t actually have cooties”; or, “when I’m nice to the lunch lady she gives me extra pudding”. You know, the little things we learn just because life happens to us? The experiences that form the foundation for who we are to become? The absence of these activities has led to reports of increased behavioral problems: fighting, vandalizing, swearing, disrespecting teachers, etc. I’d be tightly wound too if I’d been sentenced to solitary confinement during my adolescence.
School shootings are up—42 in 2021 vs 27 in 2019. In the CTU’s own city, 101 residents under the age of 20 were murdered last year. That number was 76 in 2019. According to the CDC, the number of mental health-related emergency visits among kids aged 12-17 increased 31% in 2020. The number of ER visits for suspected suicide by girls in the same age group rose 51% from early 2019 to early 2021. Those heartbreaking figures have caused 3 medical groups to literally declare a state of National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health1.
“We used to see on average 2-3 kids a week with serious suicidality, now that rate is up to as high as 2-3 per day.”
- Dr. Aron Jansen, Lurie Children’s Hospital (Chicago)
Unfortunately, a large portion of the population continues to live in paralyzing fear of Covid. They are largely liberal and many of them have significant media reach. You know them, you’ve seen the headlines. The end-is-nigh crowd with their exaggerated worst-case-scenario-always outlook, who have some sort of fetish for living in a heightened state of anxiety which is propped up by a surplus of malleable “facts” that confirm the next wave will be the one that finally finishes us off for good. This state of delusion has possibly caused irreversible damage already2:
The only reasonable (loose use of the word here) way to vote “yes” for a return to remote learning (knowing the above) would be if you were absolutely-100%-dead-ass sure that lockdowns worked. Here are one, two, and three reasons to believe they didn’t (only that they threw a wrench into the economy). I’m not here to defend the position one way or another. I’m just here to say that it looks an awful lot like remote learning is crushing our children for the sake of probably nothing except to feed a vicious cycle of mass hysteria.
Is there a perfect solution? For sure not. But with the consequences of remote learning becoming increasingly alarming and the effectiveness of this type of policy becoming increasingly questionable, the CTU’s stance is simply unreasonable.
The 3 groups: the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA).
This study has not been peer-reviewed yet.