No species on the planet does panic better than humans. We are incredibly reactive, in spite of the giant cortex evolution has gifted us. All that brain up there and you think we’d lean into logic and reason a little more.
But we’re just animals really, and animals were designed to react. Especially when we’re under the low-level, long-term stress of quarantine.
There’s an alarmist post going viral on social with the title Here We Go: New CDC Guidelines for Reopening Schools. It appears to encapsulate the highlights from a 60-page document the CDC released with suggestions about opening schools, daycares, restaurants, and businesses. This post, shared thousands of times on social media, purports to “condense” the CDC’s recommendations and appears to be a list of hard and fast rules about what school will undoubtedly look like this fall. It includes many bullet points of anxiety-inducing suggestions like no field trips, assemblies, or external organizations, no communal shared spaces – cafeterias, playgrounds, and wear masks over the age of 2.
It takes very little additional research to discover that the meme is filled with falsehoods and misleading information, twisting the words of the CDC’s original document. The title Here We Go is so successful at triggering the alarm in our brain, few people notice that the word guidelines is actually misspelled, a clear indication that this is not an official document. In fact, the CDC does not make and enforce policy, but instead makes suggestions to help counsel local school administrators as they look to reopen our schools. The original CDC document states that schools should, “be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community.”
But people aren’t having it. I was flabbergasted to see so many people personally respond within hours of seeing that post stating unequivocally that they would be homeschooling their children. I was invited to join two private Facebook groups, one about enrolling my daughter in a school co-op that doesn’t yet exist and one that was touted as a resource for parents looking to homeschool high school students. A few parents wrote that they had called their schools that very day to unroll their children from the public school system.
We need to take a collective breath.
I’m not anti-homeschooling in any way. I know many parents crushing it on that front. But I also know that it takes enormous amounts of time, energy, and knowledge to do it well. Maybe, as parents, we need to really consider what that reality looks like before we allow a single meme to alter the trajectory of our children’s education. Why would we base a huge, life-changing decision like homeschooling – which is a full-time and unpaid position – on one anonymous, unsubstantiated meme that was clearly designed to work us up?
Here’s what I know about humans. We are very reactive, biologically designed to assume the worst-case scenario.
But we are also resourceful, resilient, and adaptive. The fear of what the future looks like causes us far more stress than the reality of that new normal. Across millennia, humans have found themselves in what feels like untenable situations and have yet adapted and adjusted. The expectation of an experience is almost always worse than the actual experience itself. The very essence of life is change. Why do we allow the reactive animal brain to drive our life bus? Why do we rail against change and cause ourselves so much suffering?
Our schools have some tough choices ahead to be sure. Ensuring the safety of our students and staff won’t be easy. It will undoubtedly be hard for parents as well, as we navigate NTI or altered schedules.
But I have total faith that our school system will rise to the challenge. Our teachers will do what they have always done and love our children. They will look out for their mental and social wellbeing in addition to teaching them French and Algebra. Teaching is a calling, and the teachers I know did not accept that job lightly.
And, as Governor Beshear reminds us almost daily, we are in this together. It isn’t an us against the sinister school system situation. There are better uses of our time and energy than reacting on social. Let’s ask ourselves how we should respond. Izzie just took part in an online webcast with the Prichard Committee about her experiences with NTI during the COVID-19 crisis. The suggestions that the attending students made will be shared at the August meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education to help drive policy. As parents, we should be talking to our school board reps, attending school board meetings, or taking surveys to help our policy makers know where we stand on the reopening of local schools.
We are designed to react, but we have the choice to respond. Let’s choose wisely.