By JAMES FORTIN
The openings of grade and middle schools, high schools, and colleges all have one thing in common – they are the betting chips in a massive gamble by the ruling class. Like in poker, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. In this case, however, the 1% will be betting with our lives, not theirs.
As of this writing, kids and younger adults are flocking back to their schools. With a lack of national reopening standards to guide school districts, however, each community is on its own to decide what is safe and what it not. Some districts are headed back for in-person instruction, others are planning to keep students at home for a virtual classroom environment, some still are combining the two in a hybrid model. Facing all districts is a disturbing national finding announced by the American Academy of Pediatrics: more than 97,000 children tested positive for the virus during the last 2 weeks of July. A more recent study placed that number in excess of 400,000.
Parents and their children’s teachers, in their overwhelming majority, refuse to send their kids into infection-prone environments. And even when they have sent their children along to modified, in-person learning, examples galore come screaming forward of mass infections in the very first week of school.
The rush to send the kids back has been a priority especially for those states run by pro-Trump devotees, and where the virus is relatively widespread. It those cases it is more a political statement, in line with prematurely opening the economy, than an educational necessity. The results have not been good.
In Georgia and Mississippi, in-person attendance resulted in thousands of quarantines around those states. In Indiana, a high school dropped in-person schooling and reverted to on-line instruction after only two days of instruction. Hundreds of other schools across the nation have, or are considering, reversals from of their first-announced plans to reopen brick-and-mortar instruction, including the entire state of New Jersey where the disease runs rampant, with 200,000 having tested positive for the virus and 16,000 dead.
The pushback from teachers, their unions, and parents to school openings, and the track of the virus itself, has made school starts futile for hundreds of school districts around the country, including the majority of big cities. About half of elementary and secondary school students in the U.S. already are committed to virtual learning for the fall, with plans for the other half not yet cast in stone. Colleges and universities experienced similar results when attempting to re-open, with the University of Notre Dame, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Michigan State University each reversing course to engage only in remote learning or to delay reopening indefinitely.
A Washington Post poll indicated that two-thirds of parents, including many Republican parents, disapproved of Trump’s handling of the school-opening portion of his Covid response.
Teachers, too, and have been outspoken on the issue. Sensing the rush to be unsafe in many locations, the American Federation of Teachers authorized local unions to strike, if needed, to prevent the infection from spreading to both children and staff. Polling in Chicago reflected that 80 percent of Chicago’s teachers feel uncomfortable and uncertain about going back into the buildings for instruction.
Trump’s failure to address the contagion in the first place, and then his denial of it, set the stage for massive infections and the meltdown of medical facilities & personnel coast-to-coast. Following upon that fiasco, his bellicose insistence that schools re-open was his attempt to save his political hide. The consequences of these acts are grim.
Despite extreme misgivings by many, the position of the ruling class expressed through their surrogates continues to be that schools must reopen. If moms and dads are busy with home schooling or childcare, they may be working fewer hours if at all. And if the working class is not working, capitalism as a system is missing out on their wage exploitation and the value of their work being usurped by the ruling class to line their pockets.
To capitalist businesses of all stripes that is the cardinal rule. Workers on the job mean profits; lack of workers means sluggish survival, and to some smaller businesses especially, possibly extinction. The unspoken implication of this imperative of the ruling economic order is that if some kids should die, or pass along the disease to those at home, that is just the collateral damage to saving the economy, a higher-ranking consideration. Back in March and April, capitalist economists were actually discussing this conundrum before their deliberations were silenced by the major media.
Hardest hit among children have been those of the oppressed minorities whose populations continue to die from the coronavirus at significantly higher rates than whites. Children of color have been hospitalized with COVID-19 at rates five to eight times higher than white children. Centuries of systemic racism have relegated the Black communities of America to substandard and crowded housing, lack of economic opportunity, and higher unemployment rates than whites. More often than not, the inner cities also lack adequate medical access and even grocery stores where fresh foods can be obtained, contributing to Black adults suffering higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and asthma – underlying factors that contribute to infection susceptibility.
The likelihood of coming down with the coronavirus is not only enhanced by the disadvantaged state of Black America, but also by what types of work many African Americans perform. They are overrepresented among workers found in such essential areas as public transportation, nurses’ aides, and grocery clerks. Workers in such jobs cannot telecommute from home, as whites are more likely able to do, but must be face-to-face with the public, making them additionally vulnerable.
The bottom line is that Blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to come down with the coronavirus, and African Americans account for one-quarter of all Covid-19 deaths.
Adding to the social stress placed on these communities is the racial trauma originating from police discrimination, brutality, and killings. There is likely not a single Black family in the nation which has not had “the talk” with their children about what to do to stay safe when encountering the police – a family event in itself which adds to the trauma.
It is called “systemic” racism because it is entrenched in the very fabric of society. At nearly every level of interaction with others, such as at the workplace, schools, financial institutions, and government, disparate treatment is noted. The most blatant example has been what law enforcement does in its interactions with Blacks.
So similar has the behavior been — coast-to-coast, police department to police department, killing of one unarmed Black person to the next – that you would think that cops as a group are a cabal, or organized crime, or a murderous fraternity. You are not far off the mark.
The role of the police is to defend private property relations. Individual cops live under the psychology and legal framework of capitalism, compounded by centuries of the ingrained mantra that Black people (and other oppressed minorities) are inferior to Whites. If someone “breaks the law” – capitalist law, often unjust – they are to be “brought to justice.” In the minds of cops, if a Black person is alleged to have committed a crime, they are guilty. Or if a Black is even in the vicinity when the law is broken, they are police suspects, de facto, because they are Black. Contrary to police denials, this the reality.
George Floyd of Minneapolis is detained and killed by cops over an alleged passing of a bogus $20 bill. Breonna Taylor of Louisville is shot in her own home by a group of police breaking down her door, mistakenly. Rayshard Brooks of Atlanta, whose “crime” is sleeping in a fast food parking lot, is gunned down by cops while running away. Jacob Blake of Kenosha, Wisconsin is shot 7 times by the cops in front of his own children, entering his car, and is paralyzed from the waist down. The sordid list is lengthy and constitutes the proof.
In each and every instance of police murder brought to public attention through someone’s cell phone video, it is a case of death by being Black. These deadly racist attacks against Black people are part and parcel of life for African Americans in capitalist America. The pandemic of disease has been joined the lethal pandemic of police brutality and murder.
We have yet to see what will result from the system’s gamble of sending children back to school in Covidland, despite reservations and strenuous objections of parents and teachers who are on guard. Similarly, the demands of millions that the police be brought under control to stop their killing rampages has achieved mostly token outcomes to date, if that, but the sentiment for Black justice has widely deepened and continues. What we also have observed, however, is a newly awakened belief by masses of working people engaged in independent action that such methods are necessary to achieve their just demands.
We realize that sometimes mass movements win and sometimes they lose. But the stakes are high, and the outcome is uncertain until all the cards are played.