The Perils of Pauline (1914) | GoldPoster
Tied to the railroad tracks.

While history remembers that neither the 1914 serial nor the 1947 movie featuring Pearl White in the starring role actually had a scene in which the heroine was tied to the railroad tracks, it is nevertheless true that popular culture has picked up on the trope and replicated it across many instances of comedy and song. For example, see here and here.

As the dog days of summer roll in, maybe we can forgive teachers and other staff for feeling like they have been tied down to the railroad tracks, like the trope of old, as school systems decide in what manner to resume instruction for the new school year.

Ah, yes, we are indeed talking about how to resume instruction, not whether to reopen schools. If you are a churchgoer, perhaps you remember a simple song about what the church truly is. If not, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) will give you the short version: the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, … the church is its people.

Schools will reopen. Every single school system in America plans to open and begin a new year, either in August or September. While some systems, like those in Florida upended by a confusing order issued by the Commissioner of Education, in which he told everyone (with the concurrence of a governor now trying to avoid responsibility for it) that they must open schools for in-person training as if the pandemic had never happened, are scrambling to adjust their plans, others have published their arrangements.

School at its most deepest essence is the people. It is teachers and students, supported by staff and administrators, wandering down the challenging paths of illumination and discovery.

The people count. A school is its people.

Not the building. We don’t need to open buildings to provide instruction, keep children learning, and provide for the needs of all. (Yes, GOT is aware that remote learning is ill-suited for some children with special needs. However, if we got serious about how to overcome those hurdles, we will find this a solvable problem.)

It’s like universal health care. Many people say it can’t be done, but that’s not true. It isn’t that we can’t do it; we don’t want to do it because those of us who have the means don’t want to pay for those who don’t.

Stark, perhaps brutal, but true.

However, when the train is coming down the tracks, only raw honesty counts.

We don’t need a building to teach. And that is what we are arguing over–not about schools reopening, but whether we should open our school buildings for children to cluster in.

If we stop throwing sand in each other’s eyes so as to place a sucker punch in the gut, we can gather together and create solutions that will meet the needs of all children, even as we keep our buildings closed.

But the train is coming–hear its whistle! It’s time for school boards to stop dithering, including GOT’s board and its superintendent. At this point, a no-decision decision is a decision.

Make it a good one.

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