In states and localities across the country, officials are planning for how to open schools for the nation’s kids in the fall — or in some, are deciding whether to open them at all. Meanwhile, sports organizations from Pop Warner to the pros are also seeking to poke their heads out from under the pandemic lockdown. In both cases, we must ask to open up these major institutions fully, as fast as possible.
The case for opening schools is the easier of the two to make, though neither is a particularly heavy lift. Put bluntly, educating our children is like a top-five function of government. What happened in districts that closed in March and recently saw their school years end was a nightmare. The sudden switch to remote learning left parents, teachers, and more importantly students scrambling and falling behind.
For most American parents, there is simply no good alternative to their kids physically going to school. Even the relatively small percentage of Americans who homeschool rely on gatherings, outings, classroom settings, and more to ensure their kids learn not only facts and figures, but socialization. Keeping kids cooped up at home again in the fall would be a disaster that would begin to permanently set back millions of American children.
Meanwhile, evidence shows that children are at very low risk even to get sick from the Wuhan virus, let alone be hospitalized or die. It also does not appear that they are particularly dangerous spreaders of the virus. If there is one area of American social life we can most safely return to normal, it is our schools, and there is no group of Americans more in need of normalcy than our children who are looking up around them at a world that seems to be spinning out of control.
We need more than just school though; we also need sports. Sports are often dismissed (especially by those who never played or enjoyed watching them) as somewhat frivolous. Organized sports, however, are one of only a handful of human institutions that appear to be universal in all societies, across most of human history.
That isn’t an accident. Sports is not merely entertainment, but a metaphor and training for life itself, with its ups and downs, its things we can and cannot control, and its forced understanding and acceptance of our actual abilities. It is also one of very few things left in our culture that brings entire communities together regardless of politics. When you show up at a baseball game, nobody cares who you voted for; they want to know what team’s hat you wear.
There is a not unreasonable fear among some on the right that should Joe Biden win the presidency in November, the next day fears about the coronavirus will begin to wane and life will begin a march back to normal. That is possible, but there is also a far worse alternative. What could also happen is that Democrats and others who favor strong government control of our lives will find this “post-social” world more pliant and easy to control.
It’s a direction we have already moved. Fewer people attend church than used to. Organizations such as lodges and clubs have declined. Schools and sporting events are two of the last places where friends and strangers meet in person and get to know each other and to rely on each other. What will we become if we succumb fully to this new world order of Zoom happy hours and dinner-kit deliveries?
I suspect we don’t want to find out the answer to that question. We don’t want kids to lose a year out of the 12 they spend preparing for literally how to live and function in society, how to win and lose with grace, and how to work through interpersonal problems when they can’t just click the “leave meeting” button on their mouse.
Our nation’s entire response to the coronavirus pandemic has failed time and again to take into account the very real costs of our actions. We see it in the destruction of so many small businesses, we see it in protests from a bored populace pouring into the streets, and we see it in our failure to educate and prepare our kids for their eventual time as the nation’s leaders.
On June 26, fewer than 400 Americans died of the virus. As more younger Americans contract and shrug off the disease, the mortality rate is dropping, just as Donald Trump had a “hunch” it would months ago. It is time to reopen everything. In fact, it is well past time, but schools and sports would be a great place to start, and would be a huge help for millions and millions of students and their parents.