“My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.”
I may have mentioned in the past that one of my three favorite books of all time si a non-fiction book examining the conflict between nurture and nature. It’s written by Ivy League scholar Steven Pinker and called the Blank Slate.
It’s a thick book and a laborious read that pulls no punches. As I struggled through it, Pinker would make me so angry with some of his postulates that I would literally hurl the book across the room in fury. Then I would reflect, concede some of my disagreements needed modifying, hold unto others, but invariably, I would walk across the room, retrieve the tome and continue reading.
It was decades ago when I read Pinker’s thoughts, but it still feels like yesterday, and I often find myself comparing today’s experiences with the ideas that Pinker first exposed me to. While I don’t expect today’s writing to resonate as long, nor as deeply, I do hope to have a similar effect on readers. I suspect that some of what I say today will anger some, but hopefully, they’ll be able to put aside that anger and think about what I’m trying to say and the potential future implications of today’s actions. We don’t do precedent very well in this country, often to our detriment.
Now more than ever we need to consider but short and long-term goals when charting a course of action.
Earlier in the week, The Tennessean printed an article covering a recent policy approved at last week’s board meeting. Recognizing that we are in the midst of a pandemic and that we are sending teachers into schools where we can’t make a reasonable promise to ensure their health, this policy would make available some of the $300 million-plus awarded to MNPS from the federal government to supplement teachers lost wages in the event they were forced to quarantine or contracted the deadly virus. A much-needed and very welcome policy move, yet…not without concerns.
The relief is only available to those teachers who are vaccinated and comes with the caveat that in order to collect. Per the Tennessean,
Employees will have to provide medical documentation that they are unable to work remotely because of their illness and also must provide proof “that he/she has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine prior to isolation or quarantine; OR the employee provides documentation from a Board-certified medical provider that the employee was ineligible to be vaccinated,”
Hmmm… a lot to unpack here. This is a policy that was met with a great deal of enthusiasm by some, including, the local teacher’s union, MNEA. Metro Nashville Education Association Organizing Director Sara Duran said teachers are grateful the district listened to educators’ concerns.
“The numbers of quarantines has grown so rapidly over the last couple of weeks, that the potential of an educator burning through their own sick leave seemed all but inevitable,” Duran said in an email. “This would not have been possible without teachers, parents, and community members making their voices heard.”
But this policy doesn’t protect all teachers from “burning through their own sick leave”, just those who adhere to a requested action. Getting a vaccination may have a proven benefit but a mandatory vaccination is not an MNPS policy, nor is the refusal to get one in violation of local, state, or federal laws. While it may be my desire to have everyone get vaccinated, it is still a desire and remains at present, a recommendation, and thus a personal decision. If we start randomly punishing people for behaving in a manner I disagree with, we’ll be doing a lot of punishments.
In defense of the demand to get a vaccination, supporters have offered up seat belt laws and other mandatory requirements that limit personal choice in favor of the public good, as evidence of propriety. Keep in mind, most of those infringements have been codified. Don’t wear a seatbelt…get a ticket. Maybe a minor infraction, but you are still in violation of state law. An important distinction.
It’s also important to point out that they were codified at a time when little thought was given to precedent. Do you think that when cameras were first included with phones there was much consideration given to the future impact on privacy? While there was some debate around seatbelts, the focus was squarely on the present as opposed to the future. Just because we failed to give adequate consideration in the past does not translate to consideration for giving inadequate consideration in the present.
Other supporters have pointed to insurers and the idea that they will charge higher rates to the unvaccinated than to those who’ve taken the shot. An important distinction here, is that that is benefits based on a fee, you agree to pay to a private entity.
In the case of the recently created policy, the money being utilized to cover teachers is being pulled from federal dollars collected from US taxpayers. All US taxpayers. Not just the vaccinated. Now you are telling those that are not heeding recommendations that they can not avail themselves of that taxpayer money. That’s a dangerous precedent and one that’s sure to have future implications.
In the case of MNEA, they are using dues collected by all members to protect just those who follow recommendations and putting the emphasis of proof on members. Last I checked MNEA defends a whole lot of teachers accused of violating district policy, as well as state and local law. In some cases, protecting those who are by all indications clearly guilty. Yet teachers who have not violated any statutes or official policies are denied benefits.
A message that seems to be, pay your dues and prove that you’ve followed all suggested guidelines and some of you will benefit. For the life of me, I can’t understand why anybody would pay annual dues to an organization that only protected them some of the time. And only when they aligned with popular opinion. (For the record, we are a proud MNEA family and any criticism of current policy should not be viewed as a lack of support for the organization,.)
Let’s talk more about the requirement to “provide medical documentation that they are unable to work remotely because of their illness”. What does that mean? What is the standard of being unable to work?
Is a fever of 103 considered just cause?
Are body aches and extreme fatigue? What are we using to measure the degree of extreme fatigue and aches?
What about a persistent cough? When does it rise to the level of proof?
Are doctors being provided a list of symptoms and to what degree they must exist in order to write an excuse? Are all doctors writing excuses based on universal guidelines?
Who pays for the required doctor’s visit?
I realize that the district has a list of minor and major symptoms(Return to School Algorithm 8.6.21), but I’ve never seen documentation about how those designations were determined?
Equally troubling is the quote provided by Dr. Battles in the Tennessean,
“This should ensure that staff are working when possible but also being mindful that there are breakthrough cases that lead to serious illness, and we want to be accommodating to that reality,”
Hmmm…I wasn’t aware that there was a need to ensure that teachers were working. Last I checked, teachers, for the most part, were getting their ass to schools and going above and beyond expectations. Apparently, that is not a view shared by Battle as she expressed the need to include language in the new policy to ensure teachers are working as needed.
The district has $300 million-plus at their disposal and we still feel the need to “ensure that staff are working when possible” before allowing them to have access to that money.
Where was that burden of proof when MNPS proposed giving $18 million to Meharry for COVID testing? It was accepted that Meharry would deliver equal value for the contract with no evidence required.
What about when $17 million was made available to Great Minds to secure Wit and Wisdom materials? The assumption is that they would provide equal value for the investment, but was evidence of value ever demanded?
This is a benefit never extended to teachers. Teachers must “provide medical documentation that they are unable to work remotely because of their illness and also must provide proof “that he/she has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine prior to isolation or quarantine”. That is problematic to me and sure to open the door to future consequences.
Do I wish everybody would take the vaccination? Absolutely.
Do I think vaccines make us all safer? Absolutely.
Do I think injecting a foreign substance into one’s body should be a personal decision? Absolutely.
Anytime you divide people, you are playing with future negative impacts. We’ve been arguing about history for months now, yet few of us seem to acknowledge the lessons of history around the pitfalls of dividing people. You can not pass a policy rooted solely in public opinion. Never ends well.
If public sentiment is so strong around vaccinations, codify it. Make it law. We did it with seatbelts, why not vaccinations?
It’s a dangerous slippery slope we are playing on, and to repeat my mantra once again, we have to deal with today’s crisis with an eye towards future implications. Something we are absolutely failing to do right now.
Over the last several months the TNDOE has been regularly releasing videos in order to convince the public that they are actually doing meaningful work. The jury is still out, but the latest video certainly doesn’t paint the DOE as being in touch with what’s happening in schools.
In this 45 second communication, Commissioner Schwinn welcomes students back with a message that cites clean hallways, the smell of new books, along with the energy and feelings of being back in classrooms with friends and teachers. She tells of her first day of kindergarten, her pink backpack, and the excitement of meeting Ms. McDonald for the first time. She is overjoyed with the excitement of a new school year and the promise that comes with it.
Remarkably she fails to mention the elephant in the room – COVID. She fails to mention that some of those kids won’t be able to smell those new books because they’ve contracted COVID. Some of those friends and teachers won’t be seen because they will have become infected or exposed and therefore must quarantine. Some of those teachers might be heading towards the big classroom in the sky due to the state’s failure to address the reality of the ongoing pandemic.
I doubt the memory that most children will hold in the future will consist of “pink backpacks and new teachers. But rather heightened anxiety and fear, coupled with new ways of doing school.
Schwinn addresses none of that. But are we surprised? Shouldn’t be. When people show you who they are, believe them. The first time. But Ms. Schwinn isn’t content to offer evidence just once, but rather she does it continually.
The latest evidence comes from her recent refusal to allow Overton County Schools to go virtual. Due to the high number of cases associated with the Delta strain, they were asking for the ability to allow certain schools to go remote for 7-days. 7 days.
They were denied.
“The rationale behind it was she (Schwinn) was still very concerned by the large percent of students that are still here,” Holman said. “She wanted those, from the way I understand it, she was still very interested in those students receiving in-person instruction.”
Meanwhile, schools have pissed away multiple weeks on testing. But hey, 7 days in order to ensure student health would somehow put students at risk from the learning loss boogyman.
I’ve heard requests from other districts, including Rutherford County, have also been denied. I wonder if any of those applying for waivers have agreed to be a part of the “Best for All” program.
Thirty years from now all of this fear of remote education is going to appear rather quaint. Because if you think that the development of remote instruction is going to wither on the vine and die, you are fooling yourself.
Thirty years ago the idea of walking around with a communication device in our pocket seemed a little far-fetched. The ones that existed were bulky, frequently dropped calls, and even when we could hear, the quality was poor. What exists today bears little resemblance to what existed before the turn of the century. There is no reason that the same won’t hold true for virtual education.
What won’t be quaint upon reflection is the failure to adequately ensure the safety of all students. Per a report by News 5’s Phil Williams,
Last week, there were 14,392 child cases, comprising 38.5% of all new COVID-19 cases in the state of Tennessee, according to the health department. The week before, there were 16,429 cases, which was 35.7% of the total cases reported statewide.
That translates to nearly 40% of all cases affecting children. But let me tell you about my pink backpack and the smell of clean hallways.
Just like dividing each other isn’t a viable path forward, neither is sticking our fingers in our ears and humming real loud. If we want the children of the future to be able to share stories like those shared by the commissioner, we need to start with policies that unite us and first and foremost, keep kids safe.
If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.
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