I am not a developmental psychologist; I’m just a mom. But it has always seemed to me that headlong, unstoppable forward development is the normal state of a growing child. In the same way that a shark that is alive must swim, a child who is alive needs to be in a constant state of movement and change. When the forward motion stops, something is very wrong.
With no school, much of that progression, that learning, that schoolyard negotiation—in short, much of a kid’s life outside their house—disappears. And it is becoming clear to more and more of us that much of it may be gone for a long time.
Read: I can’t keep doing this. Please open the schools.
One friend, a longtime teacher, told me: “We’re having trouble deciding whether to open schools, because we don’t agree on what schools are. If you’re optimizing for academic learning, a lot of teachers think you should keep kids at home and make remote learning work for more kids. If you’re optimizing for child care, maybe you go for in-person learning in small pods for K–5 while letting grades 6–12 stay at home. If you’re optimizing for giving kids a meaningful social environment, you absolutely need kids to be back in face-to-face environments.”
That is probably true, but I’ve never before had to choose. School—fairly or not—has generally fulfilled all those different functions for my kids, and probably yours. We are without it now, and whatever comes in September, it is unlikely to be normal. School may open in person, or it may not, or it may open and then close. You might send your kids, or not. I don’t know your area, the prevalence of the coronavirus there, what percentage of people are testing positive, what risk-mitigation strategies your school is employing, or what your tolerance for risk might be. I don’t even know my own tolerance, from today to tomorrow. I just know that the kids don’t seem to be all right.
Among the things we’ve given up to this pandemic, it’s become clear, are our children’s external worlds, and some of their mental health, and much of their joy. We gave that all up, often without noticing. And now we have to live with that, until we make it right again.
Elizabeth Pinsky: We flattened the curve. Our kids belong in school.
We could fix it, you know. We could shut things down, and wear masks, and get enough tests to contact trace and isolate people—if we all worked together, the whole country, united in our goal of giving children what they need. If we did that, we could probably open schools in a few months, in person, safely. We would have to choose schools over bars; we’d have to think big. But if we had the appropriate federal resources and national leadership and shared priorities, we could make things right again.
But we haven’t had the appropriate resources or leadership or priorities. So here we are.