New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait opined on Monday that it is time for progressives to come to terms with the fact that mass school closures throughout the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond were “catastrophic.”
School closures of course resulted in mental health and other crises for young people, so much so that by early 2021, some were sounding the alarm about an increase in suicides among teens.
Axios reported in February of 2021, “Hospitals have seen a significant increase in mental health emergencies among children, and federal officials have acknowledged that prolonged school closures have deprived students of both formal services and simple human interaction.”
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has even taken up the issue of prolonged school closures, noting:
School closures carry high social and economic costs for people across communities. Their impact however is particularly severe for the most vulnerable and marginalized boys and girls and their families. The resulting disruptions exacerbate already existing disparities within the education system but also in other aspects of their lives.
Chait cited the many adverse effects of the closures and called on those who ardently championed them to concede that keeping children home after the initial wave of cases gripped the country in early 2020 was a colossal error.
Chait argued that closing schools “did little to contain the pandemic.”
“Children face little risk of adverse health effects from contracting COVID, and there’s almost no evidence that towns that kept schools open had more community spread,” Chait wrote. “In the panicked early week of the pandemic, the initial decision to close schools seemed like a sensible precaution. Authorities drew on the closest example at hand, the 1918 Spanish flu, which was contained by closing schools.”
Noting that the Spanish flu posed a serious threat to children, Chait argued that the opposite has been proven true with Covid. He then laid into progressives, whom he said are, by and large, unwilling to accept that fact.
The left by and large rejected this evidence. Progressives were instead carried along by two predominant impulses. One was a zero-COVID policy that refused to weigh the trade-off of any measure that could even plausibly claim to suppress the pandemic. The other was deference to teachers’ unions, who were organizing to keep schools closed. Those strands combined into a refusal to acknowledge the scale or importance of losing in-person learning with a moralistic insistence that anybody who disagreed was callous about death or motivated by greed.
The Democratic Party’s left-wing vanguard is continuing to flay critics of school closings as neoliberal ghouls carrying out the bidding of the billionaire class. Bernie Sanders aide Elizabeth Pancotti claims that “the loudest and most ardent supporters of keeping schools oepn [sic] (& those who dismiss legit concerns about teacher/child health risks) are largely those with remote work options/resources for alternative child care arrangements,” as if only some selfish motive could explain the desire of an American liberal to maintain public education.
Chait then complained that progressives “just want to quietly move on without anybody admitting anybody did anything wrong.”
Many liberals are complaining that the recent debates over short-term closings are creating a hysterical overreaction from people still angry about the 2020-21 school shutdown. Perhaps a first step to building trust that we are not planning to repeat a catastrophic mistake is to admit the mistake in the first place.
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