According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in mid-February, adults in the United States have grown more concerned (since July 2020) about the effects of K-12 school closures on student academic progress. They have grown less concerned about the risk of SARS-CoV-2 spreading among students or teachers.
The risk of losing academic ground is now the leading factor cited by American adults as a determinant of whether schools should return to in-person instruction—ahead of students’ emotional wellbeing as well as pandemic transmission risks.
However, almost three in five American adults still say that K-12 school buildings should not reopen for in-person instruction until teachers have the chance to get vaccinated.
That becomes an overwhelming consensus among Black, Hispanic, Asian, and lower-income adults, as well as among Democrats, all of whom say, at least two-to-one and as much as four-to-one, that teachers should be vaccinated before K-12 schools return to in-person instruction.
In other words, statistically, the most vulnerable Americans are also the ones who most want teachers vaccinated before K-12 school buildings reopen.
Two years ago at Thanksgiving, I wrote about my gratitude for the ways Donald Trump’s America had become a great place to teach history. I think what I wrote has held up well.
This year, after another general election—and during a mismanagedpandemic that has already killed some of my friends’ relatives, made the death of one of my friends (from other causes) lonelier and more surreal, forced some students to drop my courses because they couldn’t function for weeks after they were infected, and made effective teaching at any level all butimpossible—I’m taking stock again.
It takes more effort to write it this time. But here’s why I’m still thankful I get to teach history in the age of Donald Trump.
I get the sense that a couple of things aren’t clear to everyone responsible for making decisions in U.S. higher education right now.
Regardless of your opinion of online teaching—and most of us, broadly speaking, are at least mild skeptics—most U.S. colleges and universities will have to move to all-online teaching by the end of the fall semester. (In many states, governors will make that decision for them if they don’t make it themselves. Many may have to switch to all-online teaching before the semester even starts.)
You have to give college instructors months of advance time to plan if you want that to go well.
Granted, if your college or university is like most, it routinely hires adjuncts at the last minute—sometimes a matter of mere days before courses begin—to teach your gateway undergraduate courses. In normal times, it can get away with that, to some extent, because those are usually standard courses; either we have taught them before, or we have seen them taught many times, or we have taught courses fundamentally similar to them before.
But almost nobody has taught all of their scheduled fall courses—general-education, upper-division undergraduate, and graduate—in an all-online format before. And a vanishingly small number have ever taught them in whatever HyFlex panic mode your administration has tried to devise in order to keep campus open.
In general, instructors teaching college courses this fall will have to redesign them—often all of them at once, and often from the ground up—in order to have any hope of teaching in a reasonably effective way throughout the semester.
We needed to have clear, reliable guidance about formats and methods all this spring and summer to make this happen. Had received it, we would still be hard pressed to make things work.
As it is, it’s now July 15. Most U.S. colleges and universities will be in regular session within about a month and a half, and many have opted for early start dates. Right now, most U.S. colleges still claim that they will be open in a traditional face-to-face format this fall.
It was one thing to make an emergency pivot to online teaching in an unforeseeable crisis this spring. What’s about to happen this fall is something quite different.
When the COVID-19 emergency began, a strange thing happened in U.S. public opinion. For weeks, bizarrely, acknowledging the emergency’s existence meant taking sides on a partisan issue. But something else has divided public opinion, too.
Cutting across partisan differences is the ability to conceptualize the emergency. That means not only grasping some very basic medical science, but also understanding how it relates to our economic and legal systems, our demographics, our psychology, and our moral responsibilities.
The novel coronavirus has exploited and aggravated the fault lines in American society. Other than professional experts, the Americans who understand the crisis best—regardless of political ideology—are those who have a well-rounded imagination. They have not been limited to taking orders from political leaders, but have been able to act responsibly and creatively in the moment—making enormous sacrifices to do it.
The crisis, in other words, provides vivid lessons in the need for a comprehensive liberal arts education for ordinary citizens. By “liberal arts,” I mean not just training in certain disciplines, but rather a whole package of reasoning and imaginative skills. An integrated liberal arts education is important for citizens to live responsibly together during a crisis while maintaining their own personal freedom and respecting each other’s humanity.