Amy Walter: It's Politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway. For most of this week, the political world and Capitol Hill have been immersed in the impeachment trial. Well, it's the second impeachment trial, actually of former President Donald Trump, but for many Americans with school-aged children, this last week has not been much different than the week before that, or the week before that, or the week before that. They remain desperate to see their children back in school and return to their normal lives.
Many are watching their kids struggle with online school and a lack of social and emotional connections. Others fear that's sending their child back to in-person school could compromise the health and safety of other members in their household. Next month will mark one year since students began learning from home. About half the students in the United States are still learning from home. While Zoom classrooms filled the gap at the beginning of the pandemic, you've seen, it's not sustainable. You told us about this.
Speaker 2: I have a very, very depressed child. The results have been catastrophic from an emotional standpoint, as well as from a learning perspective. My kid can engage in class, the moment classes end, my child cannot manage to do anything.
Speaker 3: The mediated socialization has been a big problem for my kids. A lack of friends, they're all under 11 but seem to be experiencing a kind of depression I didn't know until I was in my 20s. The effects will be long lasting.
Speaker 4: We are denying our children so many opportunities with the remote learning and not finding a way to get our children back into the classroom with face to face time with teachers.
Amy: Another reason for the increased attention to the issue of education is the fact that we have a new president, a president who on the campaign trail and in his first days in office, made reopening schools a top priority.
Joe Biden: It should be a national priority to get our kids back into school and keep them in school. If states and cities put strong public health measures in place that we all follow, then my team will work to see that the majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days.
Amy: Less than a month into his new job, Joe Biden is learning just how hard getting teachers and students safely back into the classroom really is and so is his press secretary, Jen Psaki.
Interviewer: Could you help us understand what the White House's or what the president's definition of open schools is?
Jen Psaki: His role that he said is to have the majority of schools, more than 50% open by day 100 of his presidency, and that means some teaching in classrooms. At least one day a week, hopefully, it's more.
Amy: By the end of the week, she changed her tune.
Jen: The president will not rest until every school is open five days a week. That is our goal. That is what we want to achieve.
Amy: Joining me to discuss President Biden's plan to return students to the classroom and what teachers, unions, and families think of returning is Marguerite Roza, research professor at Georgetown University and director of the Edunomics Lab, and Dana Goldstein national reporter at the NewYorkTimes covering education.
Dana Goldstein: Well, if the 100-day pledge is watered down as the press secretary made it seem this week it's already been achieved. The majority of the nation's schools are at least partially open for some kids on some days for some number of hours. That's not an ambitious goal because it's happened already.
When parents and educators heard President Biden in his inaugural address the days after coming into office say that he wanted K-8 schools open within 100 days, the hope was for something much more aggressive, something that looked a lot more like regular school for those kindergarten through eighth-grade students. That is still extremely difficult to achieve in those parts of the nation where schools remain shut down. Those are generally schools in more politically liberal places and cities and suburbs with large populations, where teachers' unions are powerful.
Amy: Right. Margaret, that's the thing. President Biden, we don't know what their intent was when they said 100 days and schools being open but what we heard was as Dana pointed out, that meant that all kids were going to be in those classrooms. Do you think that they really thought they could make this happen? As they've gotten into it, what they are recognizing is, "We have fewer levers than we thought we did to get this to work."
Marguerite Roza: That's right. I think the idea that the federal government-controlled schools was a bit of a mistake. It doesn't actually fund the basis of schools. There's optimism that providing more money would be a sufficient lure to overcome the barriers and reopen schools, but the barriers weren't for the most part about money. Even with the promise of potentially much more aid coming their way, many of the schools in especially these big cities aren't negotiating.
Amy: That's what I want to get at this point of the carrot approach to this. It seems to be, we can use money to make this happen. First Margaret, can you get into how much money has actually been that the federal government has appropriated? How has that been distributed thus far? How much of it has actually gone into schools and for what kinds of things?
Marguerite: Back in March, the CARES Act was passed, the first federal package, and that brought around some odd $220 per student out to schools. That bipartisan universal agreement, "We've got to do something very quickly," it was very quick when they did it and the money flowed.
Mostly what that did was stand up, remote learning, The idea of, "kids got to be home for a while, we've got to get laptops out there, digital devices, do some professional development for teachers to help them teach from home." That's pretty much what the first chunk of money was used for a little bit for students with disabilities and social, emotional learning, but really the remote learning was the main thing.
Then the December aid package was passed. That brought a lot more money about $1,000 or so per pupil. That's very flexible. It can be used for really just about anything. Most of that money has not reached districts yet. For those who are open already, many of them are thinking about using it to remediate students who are behind, with summer school or tutoring. For those who are still in remote model, they're thinking about trying to use it to open schools, "Do we spend money on COVID testing or hazard pay? Or do we pay for more aides to try to open?" Or they're just not thinking about using it yet at all. There's a long window for which it could be spent.
Then this proposed Biden package would up the number again by quite a bit. We started with $200 and something per pupil. We went to $1,000 per pupil. This would be $2,600 per pupil on average with some of that really targeted again toward that learning loss, which is the word we use to describe students being behind from where they should be academically.
Amy: Right. I think we had this idea or maybe it was just me, but I had this idea back in April and December as this was going through that what this meant was each and every school would get this pile of money and then use it to say, "We're going to get kids back to school. That means we're going to have a testing program and we're going to use it for testing. We're going to use it for making sure our classes are ventilated." Was that even a realistic thing to believe could happen that there was enough money to make a school, no matter how big or small, be able to do the kinds of things, the remediation that would need to happen, just physically, remediation?
Marguerite: I think the money isn't the issue. That's surprising to people because the money was dangled out there as the issue, but we're not seeing it. Those places that have opened, many of them are lower-spending districts. It doesn't seem that there is any level of ventilation or COVID testing that will convince some unions to bring their people back. We've even seen this in California, where the governor said, "Here's a bunch of money if you reopen," and a lot of the big districts didn't even apply for it, said, "No, thanks." I'm not sure the carrot in there in terms of money is working.
Amy: Dana, you mentioned this too, earlier about the schools that are open and the schools that don't have a lot to do with where they're physically located as well, whether they are in cities or whether they're in small town, rural areas or Trump versus Biden, if you want to look at it that way. What are you seeing?
Dana: Politics is, I would say one of the biggest projectors. We just consistently see that in liberal areas where teachers' unions are powerful, where they have collective bargaining rights. This has allowed them to have essentially a veto power at times over whether schools will be open to be able to make demands.
In some places, changes to ventilation have led to deals that have reopened schools. For example, in Boston, where the public schools agree to surveillance, testing for the virus, and to putting things like air purifiers in every classroom and central office, these types of specific negotiations did lead to a reopening, which began last week and will be continuing over the next few weeks. We'll have in fact, even high school students back in the classroom by April 1st in that district.
It's not that there is no roadmap to achieving a common ground here with teachers' unions, but it is very difficult. Some locals and remember, there's thousands of teachers' union locals across the country, but some locals are really holding out for teacher vaccination. Given the sluggish rollout and the fact that even in places where teachers are eligible currently for the vaccine, they don't always have an easy way to access it because there's not enough doses. This demand will definitely slow re-openings.
We're expecting guidance from the CDC really any minute now, that will say that if other mitigation strategies are in place, teacher vaccination is not a precondition for safe schools during the pandemic. That may help move along some of these entrenched battles at the local level.
Amy: If the carrots as Marguerite pointed out, that the money isn't necessarily the problem, what about the idea of using penalties, using sticks instead of carrots? Have we seen that thus far? Has it worked?
Dana: President Trump threatened to do that and did not follow through. I really don't think that this president, who is a labor ally will do that. We don't see any indication that, that is the plan of the Biden administration. It would be very surprising if this Democratic administration chose to withhold federal dollars from districts that are closed. I don't think they will do that.
Marguerite: We have [inaudible 00:12:12] government [inaudible 00:12:13] I think early on, that was part of what motivated districts in Texas and other states to open earlier was the concern that there was one policy that held districts harmless for enrollment loss, up to a certain date. After that, if you didn't have enrollment counts, the state funding wasn't going to flow. It's a workaround way that's a little bit more of a financial stick, and districts were responsive to those more at the district level and earlier on, maybe too late even for those.
Amy: I want to ask for both of you. It seems like then, really at its core, we're dealing with two issues that can't just be solved by money or policy, and that's fear. Which is, "Am I going to get this potentially lethal disease or pass it on to people I love?" Also, the question of inequities about who gets sick, and how likely it is that those people have access to healthcare. I'd love for you both to weigh in on that, and how those two issues are really so seminal to understanding the issue about opening schools.
Dana: You're right that fear and anxiety is a major factor and these questions about whether teachers are going to be comfortable going back to the classroom, and also equally importantly, whether parents are comfortable sending their children back. The fact of the matter is, in many places like New York, Washington DC, Chicago, where schools have reopened after a time of closures, the majority of parents offered in-person learning slots have declined them. We still need to do more research and reporting on why parents are making those decisions.
I think for a certain number of them, it's because they do have fear of their children bringing home the virus, especially in communities that have been harder-hit, lower-income communities, communities of color, immigrant communities, where people are more likely to live in intergenerational households. There's a concern that the more people that are out in the world, including students, can bring it home, and in fact, grandma or grandpa, it's a very real fear that people have.
There's also some evidence beginning to come into view that some parents declined these spaces in schools because these hybrid schedules where you're only in school a couple of days a week are just really complicated, from a logistics and childcare perspective.
In terms of the fears that teachers have, there is a lot of reassuring research that masking is the single most powerful way to prevent the transmission of COVID in schools. Even if someone shows up to a school, if everyone is masking, hand-washing, and covering their sneezes and coughs the way that they're supposed to. There's a very low likelihood of getting the virus. Saying that the risk is low on aggregate is not the same as saying that, "I can assure you that you are going to be safe if you go back."
I interviewed a teacher in Chicago whose wife is having chemotherapy right now, for breast cancer, and he does not feel ready to take on pretty much any risk that he could contract the virus out in the world and bring it home. You have to have empathy for that individual person. I think you really do have to understand that no matter how much data or research you throw at that person, he may still very much feel that he should have the right to work from home right now, and I can understand that.
Marguerite: I'll add in the other factor, which I think is trust. We saw early on that the larger districts were struggling, convincing people to come back. Then, it rolled up to the state to intervene and then now, it's rolled up to the federal government to intervene. I don't think this rolling up to further and further away larger organizations is working. Where we have seen schools open, many of them are smaller districts where principals had a lot of say in the policies that were in place, and could turn and reassure their teachers.
I think that trust is going to be important, especially when it comes to this next stage. We've been thinking about what will lure the teachers back. We're going to have to eventually think about what will lure the students back, and they're going to need that trust.
Amy: As you are looking at this and thinking about getting the students back, what are some of the solutions to that?
Marguerite: It's interesting, there is a piece written about a school opening in Baltimore, and many students were at home, still learning remote. They could see on the video that some students were in school, and the visual of the students on the screen at school doing fine was persuasive for families. They may just have to see it in action, and that's why in some ways, this is very hard to both teach students in person and teach them remote. That may be the reassurance like, "What does this mean in my classroom, in my school? Am I comfortable with that?"
I've also heard of principals talking to individual families, their families have questions, they want them answered. There's so many unknowns that they can adjust. Those are the people who are going to look out for them, versus hearing it from your governor or your president, who may not have any influence over your very-localized situation.
Amy: Dana, what about you? I was just thinking back to a year ago, the conversations we were having about these Red for Ed marches and protests all around the country about schools that weren't getting properly funded. Now, again, this job of what should teachers be doing? and the role of unions, reflecting on how all of this in these last couple of years has churned the way we think about education and the job of unions and [inaudible 00:18:35]
Dana: When teachers had those Red for Ed protests, which began in conservative Republican-dominated states that were paying teachers very, very poorly. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone across the political spectrum who thought that those $37,000-year salaries with 10 years of experience were adequate for teachers who started protesting in places, like Oklahoma, West Virginia, Arizona.
Those protests were extremely popular. Teachers argued and parents in the public largely agreed that their work was so essential, that they simply did need to be paid more. They also asked for more funding for staff like guidance counselors, and nurses, and schools. Those are some of those arguments are continuing to come up through the pandemic. I agree with Marguerite that it is the existence of the technology that makes remote learning possible, that has made this such a fraught conversation.
Many teachers, they feel a lot of whiplash because in their lives, they've been working harder during the pandemic than ever before. It's very difficult to connect with students online. They are texting constantly with kids, with parents. They're attending Zoom faculty meetings. They're coming up with new ways to teach and learning new types of software. They feel like their hours are longer and the emotional reserve that they've had to call on again and again, to reach out to kids in this wellness, it's really challenging. We all should be thankful and recognize what they are doing.
I think that the idea that there's just simply isn't working for many kids and is a failed experiment in remote learning, that's going to rub a lot of teachers the wrong way because they are trying so hard, but I do think we have to say that we have some evidence now on student learning mental health, emotional health during the pandemic. For many, many students there would be just major dividends to returning to the classroom.
Amy: Dana Goldstein is a national reporter at the New York Times covering education and Marguerite Roza is a research professor at Georgetown University and director of the Edunomics Lab. As more schools reopened to in-person learning, a trend is emerging around who is choosing to go back. According to a Washington Post-Shar school survey, Black and Hispanic parents are far less likely than white parents to feel safe sending their children back to school.
There are many factors feeding this distrust like intergenerational trauma caused by a history of discrimination and mistreatment from within these institutions. The education system with its own racist history and the school-to-prison pipeline is no exception. Howard Stevenson is the director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education.
Howard Stevenson: School is a particular place where racial discrimination or microaggressions as some have called occur frequently. Most parents of color can say, "Even if I put my child in a private school, I still am trying to keep my eyes open. There's a trade-off between a good education and the politics of navigating racial hostility for my child but we'll try to balance that out."
Even before the pandemic, there was always a level of mistrust which you could argue was very salient among those parents, but not necessarily in the news world or in the research. What we've been finding is the pandemic just exacerbated the hypervigilance that even if I'm going to put my child in the school that's really good, but still does not know how to navigate the politics of race or prepare teachers to navigate that.
While we've suffered through that at times sometimes better than not, it hasn't always been negative. Having done that before the pandemic, I was willing to make some trade-offs, but now during the pandemic and having my child home for a lot of parents, they realize that having their child home allows them not to go through the social rejection that happens because they're not having to jockey for positions and popularity and social networks in the same way.
Amy: That's interesting that there is both the question of, "Listen, it's not worth these trade-offs because we're literally talking about life or death," and at the same time socially, because we hear this a lot from parents, and a lot of them from parents that I have been talking to, this worry that their children are falling behind when it comes to social and emotional health. What you're saying is that there's also some benefit for some of these children to not have to go through the really dehumanizing part of this in their school experience.
Howard: It's a both-end challenge. It has advantages and disadvantages. If you have had a hard time finding your place in the social network in the school where there are some racial overtones or microaggressions not having to navigate that, for some students is actually a plus but the compromise in the learning process is a trade off as well. I think one of the challenging issues of racism in our society is that families of color have had to constantly make trade-offs from the beginning. A pandemic just illuminates a little bit more, a different set of trade-offs.
Some are trying to make the case, "If we can't trust people to protect themselves wearing masks in the setting and deal with the racial hostility on occasion, this is where I would choose." You're always going to be bracketing. The isolation at home has not always been great for families of color as well as other families. There's always a trade-off.
Amy: Let's talk a little bit about this trust gap and how to lessen it. As we are watching the CDC and the Biden administration put these policies forward about reopening schools, talk to us a little bit about the kinds of things they can do to get the trust of Black families and teachers and those involved in the schools.
Howard: I think it's not too dissimilar for how we can get folks to see the vaccine as something positive. Part of that is education but going out to where people are. To what degree can we visit families in ways and explain to them in more detail and answer their questions? I think that the vaccine distribution process has been so challenging that there hasn't been a time to say, "How do we educate from very different perspectives folks in Black and brown communities.
A key thing that schools used to do before the pandemic and still I know somewhat to do is that if you have a child coming to your classroom for the first time you go out to the child's home, you introduce yourself to the family, you see that home that the child is in. That builds trust in ways that is immeasurable. Some schools stopped doing that regardless of the pandemic, but others have done it as part of their policy. I would argue that those schools are more trustworthy.
The issue is you don't have to get everything right, but a parent that feels like, "Not only did you come to my home in my neighborhood, you understand where I'm coming from, but maybe you're somebody I can challenge and you won't crumble. When I have a concern about race, you won't fold, you won't deny you want to abuse power," those experiences build trust over time. Parents talk to each other. In the same way, things can go badly quick, they can go well if people are beginning to trust with those kinds of risks that schools can take for their better.
Amy: That seems the challenge whenever we talk about education because it has so many different layers. You've got the federal, you've got your state, and then, of course, you have your school district, but really it comes down to, as you were saying, your own personal experience in your individual school with your child or children, their teachers, and their principals.
It seems as if, and I was talking to some folks earlier about this, that it's really less about how can the federal or state players, policymakers help with this trust gap? It's empowering the teachers and the principals and those stakeholders, the closer to home. Is there some place that's done a good job of that in your research, some school districts or areas that they've been able to break that down?
Howard: I have run into schools, and again, without naming them, partly I have run into schools who I think have taken racial literacy to a different level. The fact that you hear government officials talking very directly about racial equity builds a certain amount of trust. As opposed to a rhetoric that is more incendiary or hostile that changes the climate of trust, and it takes time to build that back, but even for federal and state officials who lead educational efforts can, "What do you mean by racial equity? I'm so glad to hear it, but I get to query, I get to go to a website."
In a classroom though, the work that I do on racial literacy is really about the ability to read, reframe and resolve racially stressful moments. Most of the challenge of trust is in our face-to-face conversations. Having a racial conversation is incredibly stressful for so many people. If you have teachers who've gotten training in that to manage their fears about the conversation where they can listen better, they're fully present, they can take some heat sometimes because all parents give heat, it's just human but sometimes in a racial moment, some people, they literally feel threatened by that.
If I have a teacher that can actually manage those encounters that is going to build trust in a very different way than a federal or state leader. Part of it is, "Can I battle with you? Can I share what I'm really concerned about? Can you also come back at me?" That's going to build trust in the long run.
Amy: Dr. Stevenson, this has been a great conversation and I really appreciate you taking the time to have it with me.
Howard: Well, I appreciate it. Thank you for the opportunity.
Amy: It's Politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway. When we talk about the challenges of reopening schools to in-person learning, we always end up talking about teachers; those who were willing to go back into the classroom, and those who aren't. It's obviously much more complicated than that. Teachers aren't just trying to manage and mitigate risks for their students, they're also worried about their own physical and mental wellbeing.
Since the start of this pandemic teachers have navigated fumbled national guidelines from the Trump administration and have reinvented the wheel on the fly. Thousands of districts across the US have implemented thousands of models of teaching.
Patrick: This is Patrick, I'm a teacher in Boston. We are being asked now to return to schools while at the same time the state has dropped us a tier in the priority list for receiving vaccines. All along I had thought the plan was for us to teach remotely until all teachers have been vaccinated and that seems like that is no longer the plan. We're being forced, it seems quite hastily back into school buildings.
Amy: Navigating school reopenings and having teachers back in their classrooms has kept Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers busy since the start of the pandemic. I spoke with her about the challenges of getting students and teachers back in school.
Randi Weingarten: It is very tough to reopen in-person learning in the middle of a pandemic when you haven't had a clear way to fight the disease, when the former president mishandled it so much, when you haven't had the guidance that we asked for, or the resources that we knew that we needed. You had about 13,000 districts in the last year doing 13,000 different things, but what teachers want they know that in-person learning is so much better than remote. What they've asked for since they're the ones that are taking the entire risk on about, whether to teach in person, they've asked just to be safe.
There's a roadmap to be safe. We've asked the Biden administration just like we've asked a Trump administration to try to get us the wherewithal to do that roadmap. That's what we're trying to do. When you see this binary choice of it's either the teachers or the kids, it's the teachers that are teaching the kids. If someone is too scared to teach, if you're scared that you're going to bring home COVID to your 80-year-old mother that you are taking care of or to your kids, that's a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed if doing in-school learning is as important as we all believe.
Our union has tried to do this since last April. We were the first people to put out a plan not on weather, but on how. That's why I blame the Republicans who did nothing to help us until December getting us some money so that we could start doing the mitigation strategies and now turn around and blame the very people who are in school.
Amy: For those who say, actually there's been money sent out from the federal government since March, there's $4 trillion or so that's gone out the door, a lot of it to schools is your argument that it was too late? that it wasn't targeted? that it wasn't for the right things? What's the frustration?
Randi: The money that went out the door in December was important and was a good down payment. I really miss, for example Lamar Alexander who really got this. That money was really important because it created a down payment for things like ventilation fixes and the cleaning supplies, the PPE. The 50 billion that we got in December sent a message to school districts that they could actually revamp those ventilation systems. Some of them have done it.
I know we've had a lot of consternation about Chicago. Chicago started revamping its ventilation systems and spent millions of dollars on it, same as Washington DC, same as New York City. The federal money became so important because they were doing all of this as states were cutting funds for education because their revenues had collapsed. That's the magnitude.
I really appreciate President Biden's push because the 130 billion that is in President Biden's plan has really important components, including learning recovery issues and dealing with testing, which is a key to the management of reopening schools because you can then see what is very much a symptomatic spread.
Amy: You yourself have suggested that schools can be reopened. You wrote an op-ed recently about this, where you talked about again, mitigation efforts going into place, including, and it seems that you're putting the biggest emphasis on having testing in every single school. Is the amount of money that has been put into the Biden's stimulus bill enough to address a testing of that magnitude?
Randi: I think it's a really good start. I'm always careful when somebody asks me if something is enough because there's over 50 million children, there's over 3 million teachers, there's over 100,000 schools. When you're fighting a pandemic, you're going to be doing this school-by-school. They have $23 billion in the Biden plan for testing. That's what we thought was necessary. I think it's a really important tool in terms of seeing a symptomatic spread.
What the head of the Rockefeller foundation and my proposal was is essentially test teachers twice a week and kids once a week. New York City they're testing 20% of the school system every week. That way you can actually see if community spread or if any spread is coming into a school, and then, if there's a problem, you immediately close up classroom contact trace. If you're seeing two or three cases in a school at the same time, and they come from different sources, you do the quarantining.
That plus the mitigation strategies has been studied, analyzed, and the experts who have studied and analyzed this have concluded that this is what really reduces transmission in schools. If we know that and we know how to manage it, and we know how to see it, then that's what we need to do in terms of schools.
Amy: How much though, is that still going to be a challenge given that? You even noted this in your op-ed that data alone is not enough to convince parents, educators, and students they'll be safe in school. How do you do that? Because it seems as if this is where we're caught in a cycle, that the science is telling us this, but then there's still mistrust about the science itself.
Randi: Let's say, you and I have been knee-deep in the science probably for the last several weeks. I look at this stuff every single day. I'm sure you do. Think about what has happened over the last year in this era of misinformation. Something as basic as Joe Biden winning the election has not been believed by a disproportionate number of Republicans because the Republican standard-bearer kept saying it wasn't true over and over again. That same Republican standard-bearer, that same president, literally for every day, from March through January, whenever he stopped talking, whenever he stopped being on Twitter had a different story about COVID.
If you're someone who doesn't follow this all the time, if you're someone who has family members who have been sick or who've died, you have no idea, they have no idea how COVID was transmitted to them, then you're scared. Then you don't quite believe three stories in the last 10 days about, "This is what the science tells you." Part of our job is to meet fear with facts but to do it with trusted messengers. We know this when we're talking about vaccine hesitancy. That same fear is existent when we're talking about, "How do we reopen schools?" What you're seeing for example, in Chicago is that while 60% of white parents wanted their kids to have in-person learning, it was only 30% of Black and brown parents. The kids who need in school learning the most are the most skeptical, and we've seen that in polls over and over again.
Amy: Who's a good, trusted messenger then? Can it really come from Washington or from national leadership? Isn't it about who's closer to home?
Randi: Exactly right. That's why part of what's so important here is that if educators believe it's safe and feel safe-- I know feeling is the social science and the safety metrics are the other science. If we can flip this switch and we get the safety mitigation, we get this roadmap in that I'm talking about, which is the safety mitigation strategies that CDC will talk about, the testing, prioritizing teachers for vaccination, then dealing with the fact that we know that the variant is there, what will happen if it comes to our shores, if we do those four things, educators who are not at high risk, I believe will be more confident and comfortable about in-school learning.
They become the most important messengers for kids just because they're the ones who have been on the screens with kids right now, they're the ones parents are relying on right now to help create that engagement. It's a win-win situation if we actually can get everybody aligned in interest and that's part of the reason why this exploitation of fear that I've seen in the last few weeks is so negative because they, the educators, community members, they're going to be the best messengers.
My union has been doing lots of reopening clinics. Every week we have had either a reopening clinic to talk to our elected leaders about. We've had Dr. Fauci. We've had several other experts on town halls and we'll continue to do that. We believe part of our job is not just to advocate for what constitutes a stay free opening, but we believe part of our job is education. We've taken this on with gusto.
Amy: Randi Weingarten, thanks so much for taking the time. I appreciate it.
Randi: Thank you, Amy.
Amber: Hi, this is Amber from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and my child attends school in a suburb where roughly half the children attend five-day in-person and the other half are at a cyber academy. She will not be going back to five-day school until there's a pediatric vaccine.
Caller 2: My six-year-old daughter is struggling reading and Math. She's below where she needs to be and I believe she may need to repeat first grade if she doesn't get some extreme intervention this summer. I plan to get her in with a tutor service to help catch up. Even with that, I know their emotional and social struggles she has as well. She has no friends to hang out with her age and most of her time has been spent with her parents, grandparents, and little brother.
Caller 3: I feel that the parents are responsible for their children. If it was up to me, I would keep children and teachers at home.
Amy: One more thing for me, this pandemic has helped to reveal many things about our society that have been able to stay hidden during the normal times. One of those things is the deep distrust we have of one another. In the before times we celebrated community and the "we're all in this together" spirit, but when tested that community commitment has fallen apart.
There are plenty of reasons for this. We're a country founded by outsiders and rebels. We love to hold onto our rugged individualism. We're also the offspring of enslaved generations of people, Americans who've been abused and lied to and denied our humanity by the institutions that were supposed to protect and promote us. For the last four years, we've had a president who has stoked this distrust, this fear of other, this belief that life is a zero-sum game. If someone is winning, that means you are losing. It should come as no surprise that educating our children, our most sacred of community covenants has been reduced to a zero-sum game mentality too.
Many teachers don't trust the community. They see their neighbors ignoring mask mandates. They watch people spill in and out of bars and restaurants seemingly oblivious to the cost it will take on others around them. They hear people around them talking about the disease as a hoax. Plenty of parents don't trust the teachers or their unions. They see other frontline workers, including many who never signed up for working in a pandemic, doing their jobs. Many wonder if teachers are as committed to children as they say they are. What about the science? Do we need two masks? Or is one enough? The vaccines work, but what about these new strains?
We have a choice. We can choose to live in fear and distrust. We can assume that our teachers and our neighbors are selfish. We can disregard the science when it doesn't suit our own experience, or we can try to build our communities with empathy and compassion and grace. It's not easy, but the more we do it, the more likely we are to rebuild our tattered faith in each other.
That's all for us today. Our senior producer is Amber Hall. Patricia Yacob is our associate producer, Polly Irungu is our digital editor. David Gebel is our executive assistant. Jay Cowit is our director and sound designer. Vince Fairchild is our board op. Our executive producer is Lee Hill. Thanks so much for listening. It's Politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway.
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