Redesigning The Post-Covid World, Apt. 11D, May 8, 2020
And as social scientists figure out schools and subways, Steve and I are making plans for our own family. What will we do, if politicians and administrators can't figure out the situation for Ian's high school and Jonah's college? Honestly, not much is happening right now. What happens if the situation doesn't improve?
The early weeks of the pandemic were owned by the scientists, like Anthony Fauci and the ever youthful Sanjay Gupta, who showed us charts of infection rates and gave us lessons on hand-washing. The weeks going forward will belong to the social scientists.
As the scientists tell us, we're only in the second inning in managing this virus, so now it's up to the social scientists to figure out how pick up the garbage, hold elections, run the trains, and teach the kids, while we manage the disease in an economy that grows worse and worse every day.
By social scientists, I am not actually talking about academics (or former ones, like myself). I'm talking about local politicians and administrators whose biggest responsibilities just a few weeks ago was a vote on new parking lots in town or a tense zoning board meeting about the permissible square footage of a typical bathroom in a new development. Now, these people are making major decisions that will impact our day-to-day lives for years to come.
Let me just talk about schools, my favorite topic, for the sake of a short newsletter. Schools have been duct taped together this spring, but these measures have always been considered temporary. So, plans are being made.
As I write this, administrators all over the country are trying to figure out how to open school buildings in this environment. There is very little chance that schools or colleges will open normally in the fall. Not surprisingly, teachers are refusing to return to schools. Many are older and high risk for COVID complications.
So, administrators are trying to figure out if they can keep staff safe by limiting the number of students in the school building and classrooms. Since they can't double the square footage of school buildings, students might only be educated part time. They also must figure out how they’ll educate students who have regressed by a full year, provide special education services, transport the kids to school.
All these decisions will have to made in times of an extremely awful economic situation. So, even more drastic options are being floated, including permanently closing school buildings.
I've slowly been recreating a high school experience for Ian by signing him for online classes. We're trying to establish more routines at home, because he needs that. It's not a great situation. He sighed this morning that he missed the fun of school and connections with classmates.
We're also trying to think through the logistics of a summer job for Jonah at a COVID lab. It would require an intense decontamination every night and a higher probability of infection at home. It would also mean that we couldn't be near my parents for months. But, like any young person, he wants to be on the front line of the war, so I think we have to let him (and us) to take that risk.
We do not have a plan if Jonah's college does not open this fall, but I'm hearing about more and more parents who say that they'll won't spend money for private college tuition for an online class.
I imagine that all of you are thinking through the logistics of various life decisions from employment to child care to vacations. We're all weighing risks and rewards, trouble shooting, rethinking longterm plans, and creating new systems. Steve said the other day, "we're all on our own!" I prefer to think that each one of is a social scientist finding a way to provide services, like food and education, for our families.