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September 4, 2020

Why I am Still Not Freaking Out About School

Photograph of a barrel of red apples, with a sign on it that says, "Welcome back to school"

I am still not freaking out about school. There are a lot of reasons why not, and some of them include denial, but mostly it’s that me freaking out about school isn’t going to make anything better. It will be as futile as all-caps screaming at the Education Minister on Twitter, and I don’t do that anymore. (Most of the time.)

This is not to say that I have done nothing. (There is a wonderful plot of land in that space between “freaking out” and “doing nothing,” and I’ll meet you there.) A bunch of parents with smarts and agency put together an advocacy group calling on the government to put caps on class sizes, which would go far in actually applying the advice of medical experts that keeping groups small lowers risk of disease transmission.

This group is called Ontario Safe, and you should follow them, and support their initiatives, which include an email-writing campaign to the Minister and local MPPs.

I have sent the letter, I have encouraged other people to get involved. I have also emailed the Minister on my own behalf. I have thought about the importance of public education, for my own family, and also across the board. (Have you listened to Nice White Parents yet? It was fantastic and challenging in the very best way. I learned so much in ways I wasn’t expecting…)

I have also not really engaged with other parents about their own thoughts on sending their kids back to school, because in general, I just don’t care. Quite magnanimous of me, because usually I am judgey as all get-out, but the best thing about there being no perfect choice is that there is no terrible one either. Usually the idea of “choice” is totally sanctimonious (and I should know—I cloth diapered) and kind of gross, not remotely as neutral as it would like to be (don’t get me started on “school choice”) but this is a different kind of situation, or maybe I’ve just evolved since the spring (I doubt it).

You will make your choice based on your own childcare needs, and your own child’s social needs, and the health of the people who live in your home, and the size of your school, and your comfort with school and teachers in general based on previous experiences, and your child’s personality, and how well virtual schooling went in the spring, and your own level of anxiety, and infection rates in your area, and whether it’s really worth it to have the people in your family start wearing pants again.

I am sending my kids to school because local infection rates are really low; because I want to demonstrate my trust and support in the public school system which I fervently believe in as much as I believe in any system, because the government is telling us that it’s safe to do so and I also believe in trusting the government (because the government is more than just the ding dongs and because not trusting the government can turn a person into a lunatic); because public schools are the only choice that is financially possible for me; because my kids are old enough that I trust them to follow processes and direction, and be smart; because when I think about sending millions of kids into schools my head explodes BUT when I think about the fact that my children will be under the supervision of two specific teachers (I don’t know who they are, but it’s always easier to break a thing down into parts) I feel better because I know how seriously teachers take their responsibilities; because the risk of serious harm to ourselves or others is statistically lower than in many activities we partake in regularly; and because if things go wrong and we’re not comfortable/it’s not working, I can take them out of school again, as we’re flexible enough with two parents working from home that this is not a big deal—and the last six months has taught me that missing school does not mean missing education. Even if they miss that remote learning transfer window, or whatever, it will be fine. Kids are resilient. I think we parents should strive to be more so.

By which I mean we should not be freaking out, I mean. Whether you are sending your children to school or not. We all have our reasons. And other people’s reasons really shouldn’t even apply to you

There is also a plot of land I’d like to meet you in between the space where you might shrug off the pandemic as a hoax and regard mandated mask wearing as a government conspiracy and where you constantly share articles from CNN about outbreaks at Georgia high schools and wake up with night terrors at the premise of a second wave (which in news headlines always gets calls a “DREADED second wave). Another plot of land between the pandemic being a hoax AND an awareness of the fact that news outlets want you clicking on their stories all the time and keeping you anxious works to their benefit. Stories about Georgia are not necessary applicable to my situation.

In March and April, children hung rainbows in their windows with signs that said “Everything is going to be okay.” In March, for a week or so, I was convinced that we were all going to die in the coming days, and it turns out the children were more correct than I was. I have been working hard to channel their optimism ever since, and in many ways, it’s been the right path. And no, “everything” is not going to be okay, but when was it ever? In general, we have been and we will continue to find a way for ourselves through all this, and working hard to keep our responses calm and measured goes a really long way.

4 thoughts on “Why I am Still Not Freaking Out About School”

  1. Sharon says:

    So there’s this OTHER plot of land. It might be a very exclusive and secret plot of land. Which I have dubbed “The Garden of Illogical Hope That There Won’t Be a Second Wave Here.” I’ve been quietly camping out in this plot for the past couple of weeks. I sort of think we’ll be living in pandemic times for a long, long time to come (one year? 16 months?) but am hoping that with masks and hand washing and lots of us doing our best and yes even with schools re-opening, we’ll be able to avert the second wave. I’m fully ready to pack up my gear and move elsewhere if this hope turns out to have been misplaced but I’m staying here for now because the grass is pretty cushy and it’s still far enough away from the conspiracy theorists who refuse to mask and don’t think this pandemic is real.

    1. Kerry says:

      So “second wave” actually is NOT a thing, unless you write newspaper headlines. There will be outbreaks, infection rates will rise—but we know more now about disease that we will not have to go back to the start/to March. Things have reopened, but with huge changes to facilities/how we conduct ourselves. This is not a reset. We do know how to control/contain the virus in a way we didn’t when everybody panicked in the spring (which was the correct response) but we don’t necessarily need to panic now.

  2. Kelsey says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Kerry, I really appreciate your perspective!

  3. Julia says:

    Thank you for so beautifully putting into words the random thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for the past few weeks!

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