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Opening Schools in Times of Plague

2020 went by in a daze. For the first time since 2015, I didn’t publish anything, neither a paper nor a book, and I practically stopped blogging. I did write, but I’m months behind my self-set schedule. It wasn’t just the Corona crisis—it were developments in Hong Kong, the U.S., and Israel too that put me into a negative mental state that continually drained my energy.

Now, things have improved in the U.S., but the situation in Hong Kong becomes more terrifying by the minute, and from Israel come the most alarming news. Moreover, I live in Germany—where politicians, propagandists, mercenary scientists, and dangerous alliances of Covid-19 denialists alike torpedo every sensible solution that real scientists and a handful of public figures come up with to fight the virus and keep people safe.

Among the most disastrous measures, in every respect, is the premature opening of schools. This has no rational explanation. Schools in Germany are notoriously underfunded and have no digital infrastructure to speak of. Teachers are bogged down by administrative work. The integration of technologies in the classroom very rarely exceeds the use of calculators and overhead projectors. And, countless political statements of intent notwithstanding, no one ever really gave a shit, and nothing ever changed.

Now, during times of plague, education is suddenly the most terribly precious thing, and to send children back into crowded classrooms is more important than all the people this might kill in the process, or damage for life.

Of course, there are economic reasons to get children out of the way as fast as political decorum allows, going hand in hand with the ministerial refusal to make home office work, where possible, mandatory. Dying for the GDP is something we all understand.

But, considering the tremendous scope of suffering inflicted by Covid-19, that’s too rational an explanation for the consistently irrational demeanor and decision-making, where the state-level secretaries of education push toward opening the schools to strengthen the next pandemic wave each time like clockwork. What’s really going on, and that took me forever to understand, is that “school” is not, or no longer, structured like a place of education & learning. Instead, school is structured like a fetish, forever pointing toward education as a lost referent that can no longer be retrieved.

As such, it is hyper-resistant to any kind of change or reform; to scientific and technological progress; to social and psychological and pedagogical insights.

As such, it wastes twelve or thirteen years of everyone’s life on memorizing swiftly perishable facts instead of teaching curiosity; focuses on tests and grades instead of fostering skill, creativity, and understanding; insists on following the curriculum instead of inspiring students with the love, and thirst, for knowledge and for lifelong learning.

As such, it demands that everyone suffer. And now, true to its nature as a fetish, it demands the willingness to sacrifice your loved ones in times of plague as well.

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