This disheartening commentary from The Hill observes that the responses to the pandemic and a faltering economy are increasingly becoming defined simplistically by partisan affiliations rather than by science, evidence or circumstance. From where I sit, this is a dangerous development that could lead us down a self-destructive path that will make recovery all the more distant and difficult. And suddenly schooling has been thrust into middle of this political debate over how to protect public health while reinvigorating the economy.
As CNN reports, “ … The reality is that nobody — not governors or the White House — can completely reopen the economy if the schools are still shut.” To be sure, education has always been a politically driven enterprise and has often served as a proxy for larger policy issues such as the separation of church and state, the role of markets in distributing services, and the advancement of civil and human rights. But now the pandemic has exposed yet another big, but not-well-understood, political issue for education relating to the relationship between schooling and working and its connection to our current health and economic aspirations.
Managing this complex debate over recovery should not devolve to either-or propositions. Rather a much more nuanced and incremental approach is needed to take into account the multiple systemic challenges in simultaneously addressing current and future schooling, working, and health challenges. To navigate the interwoven complexities of recovery we need strong leadership to guide the way. That leadership should emanate from the state houses and city halls where front line decisions can and should be made. The leadership at the national level should emphasize unity of purpose, guarantee constitutional protections and provide needed logistical and scientific support for local and state problem-solving and decision making. The next few weeks will be an ultimate test of the political process that needs to come to grips with a complex set of evidence-informed solutions in education, public health, and economic activity. It will also be an ultimate test for our democracy.