One year ago, on March 16, 2020, my kids did not return to school. In an email dated March 13, 2020, San Diego Unified sent the following message to parents:
The San Diego Unified School District will close all schools effective Monday, March 16. With suspected community spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in San Diego County, it has been determined that closing all schools is a prudent public health and safety measure we hope will help slow the spread of this virus. Classes will resume Monday, April 6, unless conditions call for an extended closure.
This was meant to be an early spring break, an extra few weeks tacked onto the regularly scheduled spring break to “flatten the curve,” but I knew better. There was no logical reason to arbitrarily open school back up to resume classes. There was no vaccine, no immunity, and the body count was climbing. I was certain school would not open for the rest of the semester, and I was right.
For me, that Monday the kids stayed home from school was the day the unreality of our new reality began to sink in, the seriousness of the situation we found ourselves in. It was no longer something tragic happening overseas, another country’s crisis, like H1N1 or Ebola. It was here, on U.S. soil.
Social life ended. Bars closed. No more parties, or socializing in real life, which was fine by me.
I was concerned about the pandemic, but also proud of how we all came together to combat the virus. I admired the Italians singing in solidarity from their apartment balconies as the death toll mounted.
Soon it was America’s turn. We put aside partisan bickering to fight for a common cause. Trump stopped being an ass for once and acted presidential. The media stopped picking on Trump. Partisan politics got pushed aside for unity because the virus didn’t differentiate between left and right, liberal or conservative. We were in this together, until death do us part. I did my duty as an American and avoided people, went nowhere, and amused myself by watching quarantine parody videos on YouTube.
For a brief few weeks I was proud of my country and how we all came together to fight this virus.
And then… George Floyd.
For the rest of the year, America lost its ever-loving mind.
All of a sudden, everything got political. My friends’ Facebook feeds became political. Nurses and doctors, face masks, no face masks, American flags, the Bible. Instant rice, syrup and pancake mix got political.
A couple of literary agencies began hemorrhaging literary agents for reasons that made absolutely no sense to me.
Three Agents Resign After Red Sofa Literary Owner’s Tweet: Minnesota agent called police to report nearby looting – Publishers Weekly, May 31, 2020
Literary Agent Gets Cancelled, Fires Her Whole Staff – Book & Film Globe, June 04, 2020
I made what I thought was an innocuous remark about it on Twitter and got quote-tweeted by a published author who thought being a left-wing troll was a good way to promote herself. I pushed back, and ended up in a Twitter debate with her that lasted a couple of days.
I’m biracial, by the way. I don’t appreciate having my racial identity insulted, regardless of whether it’s my “white” half of my DNA, or my Taiwanese half.
Nevertheless, I decided it was not a good time to be expressing an opinion. Not only are debates on social media stressful, they’re time consuming. I want to be a novelist, not a political commentator. Expressing unpopular, heterodox opinions on social media was not the molehill I was willing to sacrifice my fledgling writing career on.
I tried to mind my own business. I avoided Facebook. I tended to my garden. I tried to help monarch caterpillars become butterflies (I don’t post much, but you’re welcome to follow me on Instagram at @LisaMarieHagerman).
Summer came and went. Fall arrived, and schools remained closed. I wasn’t surprised.
My older son, who recently graduated from high school, had no desire to do remote online college and enlisted in the Marines. I haven’t seen him since he left for boot camp in November. My younger son, now a high school sophomore, seemed to be doing okay. He was active in cross country, and meeting up with his teammates through a private running club. He continued weekly swim lessons and weekly art classes. He attended church on Sundays with other kids his age. When I asked how he was doing, he told me he didn’t mind staying at home for school. He hardly noticed a difference, he said. I would have believed him if it wasn’t for the Fs he was getting in Advanced English. He was normally an A student.
In December this tolerable half-normalcy came to a screeching halt when our Benevolent Overlord Newsom decreed that all dining—both indoor and outdoor—must shut down, without offering any scientific rationale for this decision. Afternoons were 72 and blue. It made absolute no sense why we couldn’t sit outside a restaurant as a family unit.
My son’s private swim lessons and art classes also got shut down, again. Around this time, he injured his leg and had to drop out of cross country. He had nowhere to go. He remained inside the same 10×10 room all winter, fifteen hours a day, leaving only for meals and bathroom breaks (during Christmas break he switched rooms to play computer games). I urged him to get outside and to go for a walk, to get some sunshine and fresh air, but he refused. I thought about dragging him to the car and driving him to the beach so we could stare at the ocean for a couple of hours, but I didn’t feel like doing that either.
He moped around the house. He began answering yes/no questions in grunts. I could see the light dimming in his eyes. And he continued to rack up Fs in English—and didn’t care.
I noticed many of his Fs were for a “Socratic” or “SS” assignment. I asked him what that meant. He shrugged. He didn’t want to talk about it.
News articles about the declining mental health of kids became more frequent. Suicides were on the rise, and kids were failing their classes. I began to worry about my son’s mental health.
The Pandemic Has Researchers Worried About Teen Suicide – NPR, September 10, 2020
A rise in student suicides has pushed the 5th largest US school district to speed up a return to in-person learning – CNN, updated January 26, 2021
When he received his first 0%–in his entire life–for yet another “SS” assignment, I sat him down to talk. He finally opened up and told me what was bothering him. He said the “SS” stood for Socratic Seminar. In other words, he had to talk to get a grade. He’s an introvert, like me. He takes time to warm up to speak. Competing with 35 or so other taking heads on Zoom was a challenge for him. Given how much trouble other students have been having with remote learning, I figured the teacher had not considered that her pre-Covid Socratic teaching method was not working well with Zoom, and my son was struggling with it. I understood his perspective and thought I’d relay his feedback to his teacher. I sent her the following email (I’m leaving out his name):
Dear Ms. ___,
I noticed my son [his name] received a 0% (0/20) on his latest assignment “Adichie Article SS.” In fact, he’s failed every single one of these Socratic Seminar assignments. My son is a hard-working A/B student who (as far as I can remember) has never received a 0% for any assignment. Fs are out of character for him.
I sat down with him this afternoon to find out what’s going on and get his take on why he’s been doing so poorly. I got some insightful feedback from him about the Socratic Seminars that I’d like to share with you. I took notes.
According to [my son], the same chattiest 10 people already answer the question. He said they provide a good balance of what he believes and what the class already thinks. Saying anything more would simply be restating the same answer. These kids are quick to speak and basically answer for the class, so he has nothing more to add because he’d simply be repeating what they already said. They answer before he has a chance to talk.
He said the “fishbowl” worked well. Everyone got a chance to talk. He suggests setting a limit on how much people can talk because they take up all the time. Not everyone gets a chance to speak. He also recommended smaller groups. He said even having only two groups would be better than what is happening right now.
I believe these Fs are not a reflection of [his] comprehension of the material or his willingness to participate in Zoom class. Would you consider [his] feedback and break up the class into smaller groups to allow everyone in the class a chance to participate? Also, would it be possible to allow [him] and any other quieter kids who have been failing these Socratic seminar assignments the opportunity to earn extra credit to help get their grade up? My son is a quiet and thoughtful introvert and frustrated with the format of these Socratic assignments. He’s willing to participate and speak but isn’t getting a chance.
She thanked me for my feedback, addressing both me and my son in her reply. Then she defended her teaching method. In fact, she got defensive. She wrote that he was only one of two students getting Fs in these Socratic assignments. She explained she told the class multiple times that students are to “use the hand raise icon or private chat to me and then I interrupt and call on that student.”
I (literally) give everyone at least a B for saying and contributing anything-which I think is more than fair. This is why [he] received a B for the fishbowl (he only had to speak once).
Later in the email:
I am not setting the bar for participation very high. I am always willing to help and work with a student.
In the future, I would also appreciate it if [he] would email me and let me know if he is struggling. He can also hang around after class at any point to chat with me or sign up for office hours.
Understood. I will go over your reply with [him] so we can figure out what he can do to participate and improve his grade.
I did not mean to piss her off, or come across as a whiny helicopter parent. Maybe my email was too blunt. Maybe all three of us—me, her, my kid—could have done a better job communicating with each other. My son didn’t know he could use the chat function. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention when he should have.
Or maybe remote learning sucks.
New data show more San Diego Unified students are failing, receiving “in progress” grades – San Diego Union Tribune, Jan. 2, 2021
Given the high rate of depression and failing grades, why would a teacher ignore that in her own class? Why wouldn’t she send out an email to the parents of students getting Fs? Hey, your child is failing. Is everything okay? Or was she thinking: too bad, so sad–your kid is lazy. Or was it that she was getting bombarded by emails from frustrated parents like me?
I’m at home. All day (I thought I’d be published by now). I can help out on my end. With an exception from the AFJROTC instructors, I’ve seen no meaningful correspondence from any of my son’s teachers this year. I understand that my teenage kid needs to learn to speak for himself, to take the initiative to contact his teachers, I get that. But given there’s been no face-to-face contact since the school year began, and given the mental health issues kids and teens are struggling with right now, her hard-line defense of her teaching style was not helpful.
How is it that parents and teachers have become antagonists instead of partners in our children’s education?
Entire California school board out after disparaging parents on accidental Zoom broadcast – NBC News, Feb 19, 2021
This past winter, when everything was shut down, my son seemed depressed. He didn’t want to talk. I assumed he was failing his English assignments because he was failing to connect with the Zoom format, or the teacher, and his apathy for school was becoming a problem. That’s why I stepped in and sent her the email. Given her response, I’m not surprised he wouldn’t want to go to this teacher for help. I wouldn’t want to either. (He was in Advanced English, but he didn’t bother signing up for the advanced class or AP English for the next school year. She killed his enthusiasm for the class).
I noticed her email arrived in my inbox at 3:18 a.m. She must have stayed up all night going over his grades. Maybe she was stressed out, or overworked, but I was kind of pleased that I made her stay up all night and deal with my email.
The next morning she must have been in a better mood and sent me a follow-up email and a smiley face 🙂 and offered to meet with my son privately on Zoom before class started. We took her up on that offer, and he spoke with her for a few minutes before class started. However, he made up only one of his failing grades. He was too apathetic to make up the rest.
I have a friend who enrolled her son in a private high school in La Jolla, and he’s doing great. They’ve been open since fall. They’ve had no Covid cases, and no problems. The Catholic church in my neighborhood has been open too.
A year ago I trusted mainstream news, the public school system, the competence of the Democratic Party, and the clear mindedness and rationality of a secular worldview.
I got frustrated by NPR’s skewed news reporting and ended my monthly donations to them (read these op-eds from The Atlantic and Newsweek about NPR’s controversial In Defense of Looting interview). I purchased a subscription to The Wall Street Journal. I started following a daily nonpartisan news feed called 1440 Digest. I downloaded a news app called Ground News.
I’ve been grumpy all year. But on the bright side, my family hasn’t caught so much as a cold since last March when the lock-down began. My husband is still employed, and my son is getting As right now (he doesn’t have English this quarter). Covid cases are dropping, and 107 million vaccine doses have been administered so far. My son doesn’t seem as depressed and mopey as he was this past winter. His in-person art classes have resumed. Restaurants are opening limited indoor dining. CNN’s ratings have plummeted. And supposedly San Diego Unified will open up classrooms on April 12th. When that happens, San Diego can finally start getting back to a new kind of normal.
There’s been a lot of talk about “systemic racism” since the tragic death of George Floyd. Mainstream news and political activists always blame the police for everything. I’ve been doing some reading. It turns out the self-interest of teachers unions and the Democratic Party is far more pernicious.
According to an op-ed by Margaret Fortune, president and CEO of the Fortune School, and national co-chair of Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools:
Democrats in Sacramento are showing how politicians can be liberal and tone-deaf at the same time on issues of race in public schools as they work on behalf of teachers unions to dismantle public charter schools in the name of balancing school budgets.
…black parents are more likely than other ethnic groups to choose a charter school. If these bills pass [AB 1505, 1506 and 1507], black parents will no longer be able to choose where their children will go to school within the public school system. This means that they will be forced to send their children to the district-run public schools, which have an alarmingly poor track record of educating black children.How California’s Legislation Targeting Public Charter Schools Shows That Blue States Can Oppress Black People Too, by Margaret Fortune, April 30, 2019
In his book Charter Schools and their Enemies, Thomas Sowell compares students enrolled in NY public charter schools (KIPP and Success Academy) with traditional public schools sharing the same building and students from the same socioeconomic background (low-income minority communities). The students in the charter schools overwhelmingly outperformed their public school counterparts. He also documents in chapter 4 the enormous waste of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on salaries of incompetent NY teachers who sit in “rubber rooms” and do nothing. He also mentions that the Los Angeles Unified School District “spent 3.5 million dollars trying to fire 7 teachers… and ended up able to fire only 4 of them. In Woodside California, it cost a school district $584000 to try to fire just one teacher–unsuccessfully.”
In contrast to the failures of today’s public school system, Sowell writes in his book Black Rednecks, White Liberals about an academically elite, all-black high school with an impressive 85-year track record (1870-1955). He writes:
In 1899, there were four public high schools in Washington D.C.–one black and three white. In standardized tests given that year, students in the black high school averaged higher test scores than two out of the three white high schools.Black Rednecks & White Liberals by Thomas Sowell
Here’s the link to Sowell’s original 1974 paper about the school, Black Excellence–the Case of Dunbar High School.
I bet you’ve never heard of this school. I haven’t until a year or two ago. Why is that? Dunbar graduates include: the first black general (Benjamin O. Davis), the first black federal judge (William H. Hastie), the first black Cabinet member (Robert C. Weaver), the discoverer of blood plasma (Charles Drew), and the first black Senator since Reconstruction (Edward W. Brooke). During World War II, Dunbar graduates in the Army included “nearly a score of majors, nine colonels and lieutenant colonels, and one brigadier general.”
Why do the most vocal advocates of Black lives ignore the achievements of this school?
That’s all I have, for now. Good riddance Covid-19.