Commentary on the politics of closed schools

Josh Mound:

Few topics have united liberal pundits with the Trump administration more than the need to reopen schools for in-person instruction, even in the face of an unchecked COVID-19 pandemic.

In-person reopening during COVID-19 has become the latest — and perhaps most consequential — battle for the neoliberaleducational reform movement. It’s a topsy-turvy world, in which pro-opening pundits and activists are cast as the (usually white) saviors of low-income students and students of color, while the teachers who actually dedicate their lives to working with those students are portrayed as the uncaring bogeymen, particularly if they’re unionized.

As soon as it became clear that COVID-19 would not be contained by the fall, writers of a certain disposition began gearing up for the fight to come. As Politico writer Michael Grunwald tweeted with almost palpable glee in June, “This spring, the protests have sparked an uncomfortable debate about who police unions look out for, and this fall, COVID might spark a similar debate about teachers unions.”

This long-awaited debate finally came earlier this month with the publication of Alec MacGillis’s New Yorker article, “The Students Left Behind by Remote Learning,” which went viral and sparked a series of piggyback articles from writers at the Washington Post, New York Times, Reason, and New York magazine, among other outlets.

It’s a debate that’s revealed the depressingly narrow vision of economic and social justice held by pro-opening advocates, the contempt that pro-opening advocates have for the educators they paradoxically claim are essential, and the dismissive attitude pro-opening advocates have toward the actual views of the low-income families and families of color they claim to speak for.