For each of these possibilities — and make no mistake, the covid epidemic presents as many possibilities as it does roadblocks — there’s a flip side, and that is why it is so important to think through these coming changes carefully.
Among the many disruptions in our economy, our neighborhoods, our families, and our lives, very probably the foremost is the question of what we will do about the continuing education of our young people.
Distance learning is now most popularly effected by a program called Zoom, which allows groups of people to see each other and interact online. Led by a talented and computer-savvy instructor, this approach can certainly be as effective and maybe even superior to face-to-face classroom time. However…
Yes, the ever-present HOWEVER…
I created the first online course in liberal arts at the Great Desert University’s westside campus. I had to build the course’s shell with existing software available online, because of course at that time there were no IT experts in online learning, there was no expensive and elaborate program available to universities, colleges, and high schools, and no one had a clue how to make this stuff work. Or even if it could work. So…I know whereof I speak.
Here is the issue — the big Roof Rat in the Room — when it comes to presenting content and organizing participation in online teaching for public schools: inequity.
Social and economic inequity. Not all kids have access to the same electronic assets.
Some have none at all. Some can access them only through their schools, or at a friend’s house, or at a local library. Not all kids have access to a library, or would know what to do there during the relatively few hours that Phoenix-area libraries are open.
To use a coffee shop’s wireless access, a kid would need to have a portable computer. And if you are a poor kid, yeah, you might have a cheap cell phone…but you’re unlikely to have the kind of hardware and software needed to work effectively on classroom learning. The kid would also have to be able to buy a cup of coffee or tea or a glass of soda to persuade the proprietor to allow an hour or two of yakking on the computer in the coffee shop. Restaurant owners are, after all, not in the charity business.
Even if a grade-school or high-school kid can obtain access to the hardware and connectivity needed to accomplish a day’s worth of schoolwork, she or he may not know how to make that happen. The kid needs to have not only the gadgetry but also the know-how and sophistication to use it. As we old folks know, this is not so hard for young pups who can get their own computers. But if a kid does not have access to a computer and online connectivity — and have it for several hours a day — that kid’s online education isn’t going far.
It’s easy for us to say that the taxpayer will magically make computers available to hordes of hungry little kids (and many of them are hungry: in the Phoenix area large numbers of grade-school kids get their only full meal of the day at their public school). But how do we propose to do that? Where?
If we give each of them a notebook or a laptop to take home…well.
Have you spent any time in some of lovely Phoenix’s finest slums? A kid who took a computer to an apartment across Conduit of Blight, right next to the ‘Hood, would see that thing gone in a matter of days: stolen by neighbors, family members, or random thieves either for their own use or sold to support drug habits. A child whose parents earn minimum wage (or less, often enough) cannot trot over to the nearest Best Buy or Apple store and pick up another computer.
The only workable solution to that would be to bring low-income kids together in computer classrooms. And that obviates the whole point of keeping the schools closed until a vaccine can be developed and mandated for school-aged kids.
What moving education online will do is further fracture America’s economy and society along racial and income faults. Parents of poor kids will not be able to afford to band together to hire a licensed freelance teacher to coach their children through each day’s schoolwork. In the US, a hefty portion of children living in poverty are minority children: African American and Latina/o. This means the pandemic will push these children even further into disadvantage than they already are…which is quite far enough.
I’m not suggesting here that the changes I described in my earlier post will not happen, or even that they should not happen. Nor am I suggesting that such changes, if implemented well, could not be highly successful.
What I am suggesting is that if we don’t want to set off a social time bomb, every kid will need to have access to the technology, know how to use it, AND be physically safe in using it.
And that, my friends, will be a far bigger order than just sending a building full of kids home to do their schoolwork online.
Probably the pandemic has already set in motion changes that cannot be reversed. If it goes on much longer, that almost certainly will be so. Some of these will be constructive changes, some not.
Some covid changes will be good for certain people but decidedly bad for others. If we don’t want to see the social unrest that will result from that plain fact, we need to address it now, before it happens. Not later.
TODAYYYY….and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow… So many changes are emitting from the covid-19 crisis, we can’t keep track of them. We can’t even keep count of the ones we already know about or anticipate.
This morning the pooch and I passed one of the affable gay gents who live at the corner of Feeder Street EW and Feeder NW, also walking his dogs. Small talk was exchanged, largely about the startling switch in weather, which dropped in a day from the 100s to the 80s. I remarked that people are already putting up their Hallowe’en decorations — and that Hallowe’en is my favorite holiday.
“Mine, too,” said he. But…as though we were on the same record groove, we just about sang in unison, “But I don’t think we’ll be participating this year.”
“Nope,” he added, “we’re not opening the door to whatever anyone on the other side is carrying.”
Hallowe’en devolves into a gigantic block party here. Everybody in the more threadbare neighborhoods surrounding the gentrifying ‘Hood trucks in their kids (no kidding: trucks, busses, vans, pickups!) and swoops up and down the streets, while the locals greet them from tables set up in the driveways. A great deal of eating, drinking, and costume-admiring takes place, and much fun is had by all.
If any of that happens this year, though, pretty clearly it won’t be much…
There’s been some talk around the’Hood about setting up tables in the park and just letting people come and take whatever they want. Not, possibly, the greatest idea…and it’s hard to see how that would eliminate the possibility of spreading the disease around.
So I think we’re all afraid that Hallowe’en, a cherished tradition, is about to be a thing of the past.
All across the country, people remark on how little traffic they see on the roads, even during rush hour.
Yesterday morning there were more drivers on the road than the last time I was out at that hour, but for 8:30 or so, it was far from normal rush-hour traffic. Inside the parking garage for the high-rise where the dentist resides, there were no more than half a dozen cars on the first floor. The place was effectively empty, most office types presumably working from home.
Then we have the disappearing restaurants…
Most restaurants that have managed to cling to life here are fast-food joints (where people drive through to pick up food) and places that have converted their sit-down business to pick-up or delivery. Many popular joints have just shut down. The venerable Carlos O’Brien’s, a favorite dispenser of gringo-Mexican chow (it’s white folks’ food — not the real stuff), is now a bull-dozed plot of dirt. We’re told a damnable QT will be stuck on that lot. QT’s, if you haven’t had the delight to find them in your parts, are like 7-11’s on steroids: overpriced gas pumps, junk food, and a corporate tradition of hosting every vagrant for miles around.
The loss of Carlos O’Brien’s is a huge setback for light commerce in the North Central area, where it has long been a favorite for business lunches and tourist dinners. Replacing it with a grungy QT is a disaster. LOL! Count up another 2 dozen families in the vicinity of that intersection, moving to Scottsdale! Or lovely Gilbert.
Assuming any of them can get jobs that pay enough to allow them to move someplace else…
In a more constructive vein, though, the whole Amazon/pick-up at the store parking lot/Instacart phenomenon sure changes my thinking about shopping. Why trudge to a series of grocery stores, burning gas every inch along the way, when you can post a list and have some marginally employed wretch deliver the stuff right to your door? The sole drawback to delivery services is that most Americans don’t eat fresh produce, so the poor flunkies who hire out for $7/hour + tips have NO clue how to pick out fresh vegetables, salad makin’s, and fruit.
That issue is solved, however, with a Sprouts right around the corner. If it were safe to do so, I could walk to that store. But even so…I’ve refilled the car’s gas tank a grand total of three times since the covid fiasco launched on April 1, and just now the tank is still half-full. At two bucks a gallon, by limiting grocery trips to fresh produce, I can order an awful lot of Instacart deliveries for the $90 a month I was shelling out B.F. (Before Fiasco).
Considering that my time, when I’m actually working, is worth $60 to $120/hour, why on earth would I want to spend that time driving around the city to Safeway, Costco, AJ’s, Sprouts, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, and the various other grungy venues? I mean, c’mon: ONE HOUR of converting Chinese math to English will pay for a month’s worth foisting the grocery shopping onto Instacart shoppers.
We’re going to see major changes in the way people live: not just in the way they work but also in their home lives, shopping habits, and family planning. Yesterday the dentist’s excellent young hygienist and I were chatting. By coincidence, she happens to live here in the ’Hood, making her one of the Gentrifiers. She and her husband have a couple of young kids. They’ve teamed up with other parents to hire someone to come in and supervise a half-a-dozen kids in online learning. You know…if this works and middle-class working parents discover that it can work…well…why would you send your kids to a public school when for a fraction of the cost you can get all the advantages of a private school and none of the frightful disadvantages of public schools????
Some of these young parents are gonna figure that out, and when they do, the discovery will spread. Public schools will become more frankly what they already are: day-care centers. But when middle- and upper-income parents tumble to the fact that they can get far better, private school-level education by homeschooling under the supervision of a certified teacher, whatever remains of the public schools will become more frankly what those schools already, de facto, are: day-care for the working poor. And the nonworking poor.
Cost to parents? Well, consider. Hereabouts a public school teacher earns around 40 grand a year — or less, if we’re talking about the lower grades. Let’s say we have three sets of parents, who band together to hire someone tutor a total of five kids for nine months, shepherding them through the online learning process. If each family paid a hired teacher $10,000 per child, that’s a WHOLE lot less than they would pay, per kid, for private or parochial school, and the teacher would be paid more than s/he would earn in private or public schools. Children could get socialization through community athletic teams, churches, clubs, music lessons, art classes, drama clubs, Scouting, volunteer activities of all kinds. How would this be worse than warehousing them in a prison-like school all day? Might it not be significantly better? And, when you take into account the cost of clothing, school supplies, transportation, meals, and all the other expenses incidental on public education — including the breathtaking property taxes on your home, which in these parts go mostly to support public schools — would it really cost that much more?
Another change: thinking once, twice, three times about whether you really need to do X, Y, or Z. Do you have to run that errand now — seriously? — or can you fold it in with another trip and do them both tomorrow? And can you manage your time better by limiting the number of shopping junkets and errands, by making them all happen together, by organizing time and tasks at home and at the office before venturing forth?
Case in point: It’s time, at last, to pull out the heat-fricasseed, dead potted plants, run up to Lowe’s or HD, and get some new seeds and plants to spiff up the gardens. So there I am along about 9 a.m., about to get up from the computer and thinking, reflex-style: “I need to go to Home Depot.”
But then another thought strikes: Do I?
Do I really need to jump in the car, burn a gallon of gas to schlep to Home Depot, Lowe’s, and waypoints…right now? Suppose instead I were to pull out the dead foliage, sweep up the dead leaves and debris, and haul all that stuff out to the trash or the compost heap now?
If I put off the Home Depot trip for another day, could I combine that junket with a trip to the Walmart supermarket that’s on the way toward the HD? That way I get to tedious errands out of the way in one foray through the traffic. The yard and plants are already cleaned up and ready to receive their new plants. And I have a whole extra day in which to think about lay out the new plants and pots. You know…actually plan? What a unique idea!
Planning: for trips, for shopping expeditions, for projects that require retail purchases… It’ll be good for you and me, but not so great for our retail friends. By noon I got one helluvalot more done around the yard than I would have if I’d charged out of the house and made for Home Depot and Lowe’s, and tomorrow the shopping trip to one or both of those fine emporia will be far more organized, far less catch-as-catch-can than it would’ve been today.
What it means is that I’ll buy a whole lot less on that gardening expedition than I would have today, because now I know how much space is really available for new plantings, how much of the existing plants I may be able to revive, and even — lo! — which pots I’m tired of and will put away until next year.
Meanwhile, we have the work environment, fast merging with the residential environment:
My son is now pretty certain that his employer will NOT reopen its fancy new digs in Tempe, but will continue to do business in the work-from-home mode. They are, however, keeping him on as a manager. This means that he has to ride herd on the underlings, some of whom are about as bright as freshman comp students, and he has to do it remotely. If that doesn’t sound like a bitch of a job, I don’t know what does. Frankly, riding herd on a bunch of Herefords would be a lot less mind-numbing and infinitely less annoying.
I tried to elicit some hint as to whether this means he will consider moving to his dream Tiny House in the middle of 60 acres in southeastern Utah…didn’t get far with that. He probably suspects (rightly) that if he sets up an outpost in the boondocks, his mutther won’t be far behind: a prospect guaranteed to induce cardiac arrest in an adult man.
If M’hijito decamps to Utah or some such, why in the name of God would I stay here in the unholy, crime-ridden realms of L.A. East? Why would anyone do so, if they could carry on their jobs online from some scenic plateau in Colorado, and if they could educate their children from home?
Think of the sheer number of the changes we’re looking at here, to say nothing of the seismic social alterations they imply.
Anyone who can do any job that does not require them to be at a worksite five to seven days a week could, in theory, live wherever they please. How many of us regard “wherever we please” as an eave-to-eave tract of stick-and-styrofoam shacks with a fine commute in to a miserable office? As a far-flung suburb where we must live to put our kids in a decent public school, with an hour-long commute to and from the office? As a crowded city where the kids can’t be allowed to play in the front yard without a housekeeper or a parent watching over their shoulder every moment, lest they be approached by a child molester? Where everyone has a big dog not because they so love German shepherds and pit bulls but because they need an animated, fully armed burglar alarm to alert them to intruders?
Consider what life would be like if…
You could do your job and do it well wherever you happened to be, with no need to visit the home office more than once every two weeks to a month…
You could get about everything you need to carry on a comfortable life delivered to your home via Amazon, Instacart, USPS, FedEx, and UPS…
You could provide your children with the kind of education they would get from an upper-middle-class public school or a fancy private school for a fraction of the cost, anywhere you choose to live…
You could do those things from any venue that you desire: an elegant San Francisco-style city, a homey small town, a desert island, the back of an RV, a sailboat tricked out as a yacht, a ranch in the middle of nowhere, a perennial college campus…as you wish, with few or no restrictions on where you choose to live…
Think of how much less gasoline you’d use…just you alone, to say nothing of entire nations of Americans, Europeans, Asians, Africans…and whatnot.
You would have a choice over how your child is educated, and you could oversee the quality of their education.
Your kids could spend their days in a quiet small town, suburb, or countryside.
Bullying would not be a daily issue that they would have to learn to cope with.
Neither would widespread use of drugs.
Neither would easy-come, easy-go sex.
Because you would spend so much less on gasoline, so much less on real estate, so much less on local and county taxes, so much less on work and school clothes, so much less on cars to accommodate at least two working family members, so much less on impulse buying, you could live a whole lot better on a whole lot less money. You could travel more and save more for retirement. You could save up enough to send your kids through college, without saddling them with a lifetime of debt.
Mmm hmmm…. There’ll be some changes coming from the covid disaster, that’s for sure. But…what if they’re not all as bad as we fear?