The Lottery…

Shirley Jackson’s famous story – “The Lottery” – is a horror tale about how a town chooses who periodically gets killed for reasons they have long since forgotten. The victim protests that the choosing wasn’t fair, but to no avail.

Right now, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, teachers feel the same way, particularly in states like Utah where school boards are planning face-to-face teaching, starting in two to three weeks, despite the fact that cases and death rates are climbing, not declining. One teacher protesting at the state capitol carried a sign proclaiming: I can teach from a distance. I can’t teach from a coffin.

Too much of the uproar about getting children back in school, face-to-face, concentrates first on the students and second on their parents needing to get back to work (and the economy). In making decisions about when face-to-face teaching will resume, almost no one is asking about the effect on teachers and whether the school systems have the resources to safely resume teaching.

Not only are the resources not there, but in most cases, traditional teaching can’t be resumed without a high risk of contagion. When professional athletic teams, with their millions of dollars, can’t resume even practicing without spreading the disease, just how are underfunded and overcrowded schools supposed to resume classes without spreading the coronavirus?

Add to that the fact that almost 30% of public school teachers are over age fifty and 17% [close to a fifth] are over fifty-five. In Utah, the majority of substitute teachers are retired full-time teachers. At the university level, nation-wide, the situation is even worse, with more than 35% of university faculty being over age fifty-five.

On top of all that, at least here in Utah, both secondary schools and universities are still talking about resuming fall football and basketball.

Welcome to the latest version of Jackson’s lottery.

10 thoughts on “The Lottery…”

  1. JerryChops says:

    I recently saw a quote saying “The best part about science is that regardless of whether you believe in it, it is true”, or something to that affect.

    I’m concerned that roughly 40% of my fellow citizens choose to not believe in science. It’s hard to steer a ship when 40% of your crew denies the existence of an encroaching iceberg.
    On the off chance that you do manage to avoid the iceberg you’ll likely find yourself removed from the helm due to taking “unnecessary and costly actions”.

  2. Postagoras says:

    A big factor is one you touched on in another blog entry, that our “just in time” economy is very efficiently tuned until there’s a general catastrophe. At that point, we have no slack. The parents MUST return to work so the teachers and kids MUST return to school.

    There’s an old saying in engineering: “You push in the balloon right here, and it pushes out over there.”

    1. Tim says:

      On JIT : In the UK, the Just in Time supply line failed us with medical PPE which was manufactured in France but which the French Government then decided should stay there.

      As a result several UK companies started to make it but that took time.

      Government is now being urged to have a sustainable supply line on key items (such as timber and food,) based at home.

      1. Hanneke says:

        That is one reason the Netherlands is second only to the USA in agricultural exports (by value).
        After the Hungerwinter of 1944-1945 there was a big push to invest in agriculture, to make it more efficient and improve seedstock etcetera, to make sure we could at least feed ourselves if the need should ever arise again.

        Some of the crops would have to be diversified and people’s menus adapted, but the agricultural area, greenhouses, poultry and livestock, and the equally necessary expertise are there.

        Even though we are a mercantile nation, so many people starved that winter that it was deeply implanted in our psyche that local food production is of great importance, and such basic necessities should not depend entirely on importing from elsewhere.
        Luckily, the EU as a whole also accepts that a basic level of food production should not depend on imports, and has resisted pressure from the US and WTO to throw that market entirely wide open, allowing domestic food production to be outcompeted by cheaper, less environmentally friendly, less careful about animal welfare, and more exploitative farming practises elsewhere in the world.

        I understand the good that comes from free trade, but I also see a need for some protectionist traderules when it comes to the basic survival needs of a country.

  3. Michael Creek says:

    Commenting from afar, I was thinking that this could not occur in Australia because we have a requirement that workplaces be safe. It then occurred to me that perhaps the US has similar protections. It turns out that it does, Federally, called the OSHA which states that “Employer Responsibilities
    Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace. Employers MUST provide their employees with a workplace that does not have serious hazards and must follow all OSHA safety and health standards. Employers must find and correct safety and health problems. OSHA further requires that employers must try to eliminate or reduce hazards first by making feasible changes in working conditions – switching to safer chemicals, enclosing processes to trap harmful fumes, or using ventilation systems to clean the air are examples of effective ways to get rid of or minimize risks – rather than just relying on personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, or earplugs.”. It then occurred to me that perhaps the protections do not apply to public sector employees or to state and local government. The answer is “Yes and No”. Some States, including Utah, have enabled OSH protections, others no. Now, not being a lawyer, nor familiar to the US system, it still seems to me that teaching in a classroom as a vulnerable adult, in close contact with children, adolescents or college students, then protection levels are somewhat questionable.

  4. R. Hamilton says:

    30%-40% of teachers fall in a potentially vulnerable category. Perhaps 5% or less of students also do. The vast majority under 18 are at very low risk, and the younger ones may either not catch it or may not spread it.

    ALL readily identifiable more vulnerable persons should be encouraged to do distance teaching or learning. But the needs of students and parents are, bluntly, what the schools are there for; keeping the teachers alive is not unimportant, but the maximum number of non-dead bodies should not be the only priority. Many students will, absent parents with the time to either home-school or to closely supervise distance learning, do better in person than not. Neglecting their futures or their family’s economic welfare, for the sake of a percentage of the vulnerable that SHOULD stay home, doesn’t make sense either, IMO.

    A friend of mine is a teacher old enough to be at risk; I don’t want them required to teach in person; but neither do I want students shortchanged, parents put into further economic difficulty, or lots of unsupervised kids with time on their hands roaming the streets.

    Mind you, IMO anyone that’s not at least middle class enough not to NEED two incomes all the time, and actually married, should never have had kids (or even unprotected sex) in the first place; turning rug rats into mature human beings is a full time job itself, and shortchanging that job dumps all sorts of problems on society, which SHOULD NOT have to be responsible for the negligence of others.

    1. Hanna says:

      Utter BS.

      You, you would do anything to get tRump re-elected and keep the modern, rotten-to-the-core GOP in power, and to hell with the infection risks.

      Nice going.

  5. John Prigent says:

    I may be cynical, but over here in England I’ve had the ‘pleasure’ for many years of witnessing many, many trade union actions on the grounds of safety. Oddly enough, the safety concerns all vanish when the union extracts a large enough pay rise so that membership dues can also be increased.

  6. Christopher Robin says:

    As a teacher in Ohio this has been a concern for me even at age 42. My school district mandates students wear masks in the hallways but not in the classroom while I must wear one the entire time. I have resigned myself to contracting the virus with the hope its not too severe. Living in a county with a large number of people that believes the virus is a “hoax” my concerns are swept aside.

  7. Tom says:

    … Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults. While some children have been sick with COVID-19, adults make up nearly 95% of reported COVID-19 cases. Early reports suggest children are less likely to get COVID-19 than adults, and when they do get COVID-19, they generally have a less serious illness. As of July 21, 2020, 6.6% of reported COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1% of COVID-19-related deaths are among children and adolescents less than 18 years of age in the United States. …

    So as far as children are concerned R.H. is somewhat correct (the CDC apparently excluded the rare child with overwhelming immune responses).

    There are approximately 77 million people aged 1-19 in US. There are about 4 million teachers for these children.

    There is a 10/10000 case rate for 5-19 age group (school children) in lockdown conditions. There is a 360/ 100000 case rate for 20-65 age group (teachers) in lockdown conditions.

    Models from several different sources suggest approximated 3 fold increase in cases without community lockdown; so about 30/100000 children will become ill to some degree and some will die plus 1000/100000 teachers will miss school because of Covid-19 illness during the first quarter and about 30 teachers will die in the first quarter of return to school. Most of the cases and deaths will be in public schools and fewer in private schools.

    For a solipsistic administration the numbers are probably acceptable.

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