Last week, the New York Times published a 7,800 word article, Rhode Island Kept Its Schools Open. This Is What Happened.
Some teachers and students got sick. Principals had to improvise constantly. But it worked — mostly. The article breathlessly recounts how Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo largely ignored expert advice, dismissed the poor state of school maintenance, and the concerns of educators to force public school districts to open for in-person instruction. That reopening was unencumbered by teacher vaccinations or local democratic control of the school district. (Governor Raimondo has been nominated to be President Biden’s Commerce Secretary. She awaits Senate confirmation.)
This isn’t the worst education coverage, but it continues a pattern of journalists not challenging the assertions of sources and a complete absence of interest in teaching and learning.
The author of the piece, Susan Dominus, posted a link to the article on Twitter and it was retweeted by NY Times reporter Nikole Hannah Jones. I replied with the following questions and thoughts raised by the article. I’m sad to report that neither NYTimes journalists felt any need to respond to a reader’s questions. (I often wonder how so many intelligent people miss the social in social media.)
- So, the governor ignored all expert advice and the concerns of professional educators and may have gotten lucky – this time. What about the next time schools face a crisis, is just guessing and pushing forward prudent?
- “Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.” – Deborah Meier
- What is the nature and quality of the educational experience in these classrooms? Are they playful, social, collaborative, creative, democratic, interesting, or are teachers “delivering” a bunch ‘o facts to kids? What about Art? Music? PE? Social studies? Hands-on science?
- Are there any plans for the schools to build back better, not just physical plant, but programmatically? Will Rhode Island kids experience better learning experiences after COVID-19?
- What is happening at The Met/Big Picture schools in Rhode Island? They’re a model of educational excellence too often ignored.
- Why is it that major media outlets, like the @nytimes, while occasionally interested in education policy, demonstrate profound disinterest in teaching and learning? Learning is wrongly assumed to be a consequence of being taught, or in this case, being in a classroom.
- Have you seen the medical reports of childhood asthma cases reducing dramatically during COVID-19? Could it be because kids aren’t attending filthy poorly maintained schools? [report, report, blog post]
- When schools disinfect classrooms continuously and on the cheap, ehat are the consequences of the Love Canal of chemicals being applied in poorly ventilated spaces? Do you really believe that these schools suddenly enjoy good ventilation, cleaning, or maintenance?
- Might I humbly suggest that you or the @nytimes report on how the municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy or Deerkill Day Camp of Suffern, NY have successfully served children during the pandemic without sacrificing the educational experience?
- Is there a particular reason why professional licensed educators continue to be demonized and scapegoated? Huge sectors of the economy are instructing workers not to return to the physical workplace.
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.