Ari Paul: How the Concerns of Teachers Have Been Misrepresented in Omicron Reporting
At Counterpunch, Ari Paul looks at the widespread journalist habit of blaming teachers and their unions for school closures. This is a well-sourced piece, filled with lots of links.
Politicians and media push the idea that teachers are simply ignoring Covid-19 progress–vaccinations, masking and the fact that Omicron appears less severe than previous incarnations of the virus–and are overreacting at students’ expense. MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (Twitter, 1/5/22) mocked teacher concerns after the CTU vote: “If you don’t want to teach, don’t teach. Quit. Just stay at home and stop teaching children, okay?” He added, “You are either ignorant when it comes to science or you just don’t want to be in classes.”
Krystal Ball, the ostensibly left-wing co-host of Breaking Points (YouTube, 1/6/22) (she keeps a copy of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent on set behind her), fumed while citing the Leonhardt piece:
It is absolutely inexcusable that we have continued to inflict widespread, well-documented, significant harm on our kids under the guise of protecting them from this pandemic.
And many of these media examples show how the teachers’ intentions are often misrepresented. Wen wrote in the Washington Post (1/6/21) that “left-wing activists are pushing for schools to remain closed,” saying that the CTU “has successfully shut down in-person instruction in the city.” Chicago teachers didn’t refuse to work, they organized to work remotely. They were looking for a solution, not an excuse to skip working.
It’s easy to paint teachers unions as overly cautious and defensive. But it is the nature of the pandemic, not teachers, that is making it difficult to keep schools open. If cases continue to rise, yes, fewer people (proportionally) will die or be hospitalized than in previous peaks. But it’s not just a question of fatalities: If 20% or more of a school’s workforce (which would include school bus drivers, cafeteria workers and maintenance staff) has to tap out due to sickness or quarantine, the logistics of safely and effectively running a school with in-person classes simply become impossible. It is not an unreasonable demand to insist that major school districts have a plan to deal with such a scenario.
No one wants to go back to the days of constant remote schooling, which is as burdensome and hellish for teachers as it is for the parents who have to be part-time homeschoolers. The CTU said as much in a statement (1/4/22): “The educators of this city want to be in their classrooms with their students,” but noted that conditions in the buildings simply weren’t up to the task, adding that Mayor Lori Lightfoot and “her [Chicago Public Schools] leadership have put the safety and vibrancy of our students and their educators in jeopardy.”