Add It Up: Students need to go on strike

Add It Up: Students need to go on strike July 17, 2020

Test Positivity is 31% for Florida Kids.” This is from Josh Marshall at TPM:

This is a remarkable statistic I had not seen. 31.1% of Florida children (people under 18) who have been tested for COVID have been positive. That is about three times higher than the rest of the population.

It’s not entirely clear what to make of this statistic. Only about 50,000 people under the age of 18 have been tested, out of about 2.8 million tests in the state. So it seems quite possible that the percentage is so high because the kids who are being tested are either clearly symptomatic or living with parents who are positive. In other words, an artifact of the testing protocol itself. Still, it’s a high number. And the public health director in Palm Beach County is warning that we simply don’t know what kind of long term damage these infections could be doing.

Dr. Alina Alonso, Palm Beach County’s health department director told county commissioners: “They are seeing there is damage to the lungs in these asymptomatic children. … We don’t know how that is going to manifest a year from now or two years from now. Is that child going to have chronic pulmonary problems or not?”

And yet, across the country, school boards are still planning for, and in some cases mandating, re-opening K-12 schools next month for in-person classes. This seems unwise and very, very dangerous.

There’s a lot of talk about how reopening schools is necessary to keep these students from “falling behind,” but that doesn’t quite make sense — falling behind who? Behind the students of Earth 2, the alternate universe in which there isn’t a global pandemic? This is not about the students. It’s about their parents’ jobs. If kids don’t go to school then it’s a lot harder for their parents to go to work (even if those parents are working from home). The real push to re-open schools has to do with the desire to make “the economy” — a slippery abstraction — profitable again by getting all those workers back in the office.

So the wants and needs of “business” are outweighing the safety of millions of children who are being asked to risk their lives, to risk damage to their lungs and other organs, to risk developing “chronic pulmonary problems,” just so “the economy” might rebound enough to benefit “pro-business” politicians in November’s election.

I appreciate that those parents themselves want and need to go back to work. Since this country decided that a begrudging, one-time payment of $1,200 was all it was going to offer to enable us to behave responsibly, people need to get back to work to get the paychecks that will keep the lights on, the rent paid, and food on the table. Our political system is apparently incapable of acting responsibly — providing citizens with the cash, loan forgiveness and PPE they need to stay at home and apart until the pandemic is under control. Every other developed nation has been able to address this, but here in America, we’d rather risk our children’s lives than risk even such temporary “socialism.”

This is also going to put teachers’ lives and health at risk. I’m a teacher’s kid and I remember catching every bug and cold and flu that circulated through my mom’s classroom. I can only imagine the concern those teachers are feeling now for themselves, their families, and their students. That’s why we’re starting to hear talk of teachers strikes in response to states and school boards ordering them back into the classroom under these terrifying conditions.

But it shouldn’t fall entirely to teachers to protect themselves and their students in the face of irresponsible decisions by elected officials. Particularly not where teachers strikes are legally prohibited with vindictive laws that threaten their certification, pensions, and health insurance.

So I think we also need students to go on strike.

There’s precedent for this. The Stoneman Douglas kids showed us that students are capable of organizing walk-outs in response to dangerous situations that elected adults refuse to address. That’s one reason I think America’s school students might be capable of striking — of acting more responsibly than the grown-ups around them. The other reason is because of the first Violent Femmes album.

See, the challenge here is that the kids who most urgently need to refuse to attend in-person school this fall are children in hot-spot states governed by people like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott and Brian Kemp, and those kids are more likely to have parents who support those irresponsible Trumpublican regimes, their policies, and their Fox-drunk alternate epistemology. So the kids who most need to refuse to enter petri-dish classrooms in the fall are kids whose parents are less likely to support such action, and whose parents are less likely to allow them access to the information they would need to even begin to understand their situation.

But kids with parents like that — Fox-watching, Trump-loving, DeSantis-voting, mask-refusing parents — tend to develop work-arounds. Like, for example, my friend Amy.

Amy went to the same fundamentalist church and fundamentalist private Christian school that I did. And her parents were a lot more strict than mine were about what TV and movies she was allowed to watch, what books she was allowed to read, and what music she was allowed to listen to. Yet Amy was my source for the best new music, such as when she gave me a copy of the first Femmes album in the spring of 1983. I still have it, because when you’re a 15-year-old fundy kid whose world consists of youth min lectures about lust and purity and how God wants us all to re-elect Ronald Reagan, that album hits hard.

Technically, I don’t own that album. It’s Amy’s — I’m just holding it for her. Still. She bought records like that and I’d record them for her onto blank cassettes that I’d write fake labels for. That Violent Femmes cassette was labeled “More Than Wonderful: Sandy Patti’s Greatest Hits.” The label I wrote for “London Calling” made it look like Evie’s Christmas album.

So Amy was my secret back-channel to a whole universe of pop culture and art and information that my world and my parents’ world otherwise prevented me from accessing. I still have no idea what Amy’s secret back-channels were but, however it worked, she managed to learn about all the coolest, forbidden, necessary music despite having parents who considered Amy Grant’s “Age to Age” over the line.

That’s part of why I think student strikes might actually happen — and that they might just happen in places, led by kids, who might surprise us.

In any case, if you’re a student being ordered back to school this fall in some location where the pandemic is still rising out of control — which is to say, in most of the U.S. — then my advice and plea to you is, in the words of Mr. Gordon Gano, please, please, please do not go.

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