Back to school in a changing world

by Walt Maguire
Posted 8/19/21

Another thing lost in the pandemic year: We will never again be able to tell our children We Had It Worse In My Day.

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Back to school in a changing world

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Sending a child off to school for a new year is always a time of mixed emotions for everyone. For parents, there is the trepidation of another step away from childhood into a more independent human, with all the trials and possibilities the new year can bring, balanced against ending an entire summer driving their kids around and picking up chips and wet towels off the couch while they wrestle over bingeing NetFlix on the big tv or a phone. For the child, there is a reunion with classmates in a safe environment, but also bullies, and tough coaches, social landmines, and most of all math. A satire piece in a high school paper fretted returning students would be out of condition for lugging 50 lb. backpacks up and down the stairs.

Another thing lost in the pandemic year: We will never again be able to tell our children We Had It Worse In My Day. A mutating virus, climate change, plus the usual violence, inequality and inescapable exposure to terrible dad jokes means our bragging rights might be confined to knowing how to read analog clocks and refinance a mortgage. 

Whatever the reasons some have for avoiding vaccination, there is one group that has no choice right now: children under twelve. Their risk factor was considered low in the early days of the coronavirus, but the Delta Variant has changed that calculation, and we’re still learning how much. We do know it’s more infectious. We do know that the August 12 American Academy of Pediatrics report said that in the first week of July there were 12,000 cases nationwide among children from newborn to 17. In the first week of August, the number was 96,000, or about 15% of all new infections. And the curve is still rising.

Last Spring, I walked past a school during recess. There was a group of middle-schoolers playing. Except for one girl. She stood off in a corner, hidden from them but visible from the sidewalk. She wore a dark mask. She looked terrified. There could be many reasons to be unhappy in a schoolyard at recess, but my first thought was she was afraid to be so close to everyone.

But we do what we can. School years are still a time of discovery for all members of the family, from the student to the younger ones looking up, and the parents trying to be helpful and pretending they can tell Phoebe Bridgers from Clairo. Everyone is wondering what is coming next.

Soon the leaves will start to turn, the air and airwaves will fill with pumpkin spice, the heavy schoolbags will be hoisted and lunches will be traded or skipped because they’re in too much of a rush to get outside and talk. After last year, they have a lot to talk about.

Walt Maguire

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