Notes from the Covid Classroom
My experience in corona-crazy private schools
We shuffled into the gymnasium for day one of orientation. New teachers met old teachers with smiles hidden behind covered faces. Voices forced through cloth bounced off basketball backboards. Unread lips and strained ears. Unheard words lost in a muffled cacophony. Darting eyes searched for a speaker.
Welcoming glances and distanced bodies, a pandemic performance. We sat down to hear our head of school speak about the year to come, another year in the covid theater of the absurd.
After a greeting and some platitudes, the covid conversation began. “We are still very much in a pandemic,” our portly, barefaced and bearded chieftain said. “But we can get through this. Masks are amazing; the vaccines are amazing!” The audience sat silently.
I thought: how could he honestly state such a contradiction? The masks couldn’t be amazing. If they were, we wouldn't need them anymore; they would have “stopped the spread.” And the vaccines couldn’t be amazing. If they were, we wouldn’t need the masks. He was gaslighting from the get go.
I’m a new teacher at an affluent progressive private school. As far as I can tell, my colleagues have fully accepted the pathological new normal. Rarely does a mask slip below the nose when indoors. Hand sanitizer stations abound.
When we approached lunchtime on day one of orientation, teachers stood in line masked up waiting for their food before sitting down to eat in a rare moment of pre-pandemic like normalcy. We ate for thirty minutes or so with faces free of cloth, conversing together at our tables. However, when someone needed to get up for a napkin, or to use the restroom, they put their mask back on as if the act of walking made one a covid carpet bomber. I pointed out the lunacy of this to those at my table - and those that dined with me agreed. But they did the same when they stood up and walked to the dessert station. Compliance is a virtue; they earned their cookies.
I made some of my feelings known to my principal at the start of the school year, and I am now known as a Covid Cult dissident. I told him in a meeting that I believe forcing children to wear masks all day at school is entirely unethical and nonsensical. I explained that all studies done on mask wearing up to 2020 determined that masks did not prevent the spread of respiratory pathogens. I informed him that not only are masks useless, but they harm the children, too. I cited the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) mask study which determined that school children who wore masks all day breathed in six times the acceptable level of carbon dioxide. The authors of the study affirmed that children should not be forced to wear masks.
The editors of JAMA decided to retract this study just days after publication. They did not refute the methodology of this peer-reviewed paper, which led the authors of the study to determine that political motivations played a role in the retraction decision. I explained this fact to my principal. His response: “Will you still enforce our covid mask policy with the students?” Regardless of the evidence I presented to him, he still only considered the CDC’s guidance legitimate. I was not surprised. Nevertheless, I told him I would discontentedly go along with what I considered an elaborate charade. But in my heart I cannot bring myself to enforce something I know perpetuates fear and causes children harm.
Fortunately for me, I haven’t had to fill the role of a covid cop; unfortunately, though, this is because the obedience training at my new school has succeeded in keeping the kids in line with the anti-scientific chicanery coming from the CDC. Ultimately, the administration is covering their asses by covering the kid’s faces; nobody wants to seem like they’re not taking the Delta variant seriously in liberal circles. Just uttering the fact that kids aren’t at risk could lead the ignorant to allege that I am a covid denying conspiracy theorist.
On day three of the orientation week, we had a breakout session to go over some teaching strategy or other and for some reason I got placed with a few female teachers who taught preschool (the school is a pre-k through eighth grade) even though I teach seventh grade. I decided to ask a taboo question to the mild mannered lady to my left: “Did any of the parents last year object to the preschool kids having to wear masks?” Her brow furrowed, her eyes tightened: “No, of course not,” she responded. I felt dejected. How couldn’t they? Did they really want their child’s olfactory abilities hampered all day long? Did they not consider the impact masking could have on social and emotional development?
Besides the hypercapnia that children experience after a full day of masking, they also can inhale a myriad of disgusting, disease-causing bacteria, fungi, and parasites. We know this because parents in Gainesville, Florida sent their children’s masks to a lab at the University of Florida to have them examined for contaminants. The researchers discovered pneumonia causing bacteria and meningitis causing bacteria on the masks. These concerned parents correctly suspected that masking kids posed a risk to their health. Throughout my time teaching during the “pandemic” I have seen kids take off their mask, drop them on the ground, often in dirt, and then place them back over their faces. Cloth masks are breeding grounds for bacteria. People remain willfully ignorant to this fact.
I suppose the aforementioned risks to a child’s health would not really matter if they were at risk from a killer virus. It would be a simple cost-benefit analysis: if the virus can kill the kid, let him inhale a little bacteria or carbon dioxide, right? But covid-19 does not kill children. The large majority of those who contract this common cold causing virus have nothing more than a common cold.
Masks carry a significant amount of cultural capital for liberals. Donning one makes the wearer a carer. If someone chooses not to wear a mask, one assumes that person does not care about others. Making everyone wear a mask functions as forced egalitarianism. And the mask proponents in schools have indoctrinated students into believing that wearing a mask is a virtue.
How could somebody question masking when it is connected to “being a good human,” like it is on signs at my school? These signs are a not so subtle form of ideological indoctrination. If wearing a mask is associated with “being a good human,” the implication, then, is that not wearing a mask makes one a “bad human.” This divisive messaging is obviously problematic. If only I could hand the students the glasses that John Nada found in that seminal 1980’s science fiction film, They Live. The truth behind the sign would be revealed.
There is a mythology of critical thinking in primary and secondary schools. I’ve sat through several professional developments that expounded upon the importance of teaching students skills which would allow them to assess the world through multiple perspectives. But it’s all hogwash. Teachers like myself have to self censor constantly. Multiple perspectives about the pertinent issues of the day rarely get discussed. Because if a particular point of view goes against the dominant narrative or discourse, and if certain ideas challenge institutional orthodoxy, teachers must shun them or else face repercussions. This applies to more than just covid.
A good teacher, though, wants to guide students in honing their abilities in how to think about complex topics, not what to think about them. Teaching students what to think is brainwashing; teaching them how to think would allow them to consider different ideas and draw their own conclusions. Without question, most educators teach students what to think, and in the covid era, the dominant institutional narrative has become so pathologically ingrained that if I decided to bring to light the contradictions or alternative views in a critical manner concerning masks, or lockdowns, or - the most controversial - vaccines and vaccine mandates, I’d be called into the office immediately.
Last year at my previous school, however, I did ask my eighth grade students to think critically about certain aspects of the dominant covid narrative. We talked about the censorship of prominent public health experts, such as Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University, Drs. Jay Bhattacharya and Scott Atlas of Stanford University, and Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis held a roundtable conference with these experts; YouTube, acting as thought police, decided to remove the video on grounds of “misinformation.”
I had the students consider the justification for such censorship and what it might mean for the greater conversation around public health when individuals of such stature get barred from sharing their views. I found this to function as a solid lesson in critical thinking about current events, but I know I toed the line. I was, after all, working in a school that initially asked the teachers to have a pair of school shoes to wear only to and from the building, since we could drag the virus in the building on our feet!
My former school propagated the sanitation insanity to extreme degrees at the start of the school year, which created bizarre situations that forced students to adapt to the new school normal. The students, for instance, could not use balls in the schoolyard for fear of contamination. The boys couldn't play football, and they really wanted to play football. Therefore, they began using walnuts they found laying around the campus as a substitute for pigskin. Football games ensued with this tiny nut. The quarterback would drop back, survey the field, and toss a walnut sky high in the air to his receiver.
This was overlooked for months; everyone seemed to turn a blind eye to the walnut “football” games. Apparently the administration thought tree nuts possessed some magical defense from covid contamination - unlike footballs.
Some children have a completely distorted perspective of risk. It does not help that most “progressive” parents do not understand covid does not impact kids at all. It’s almost as if they would rather keep children in perpetual fear as a projection of their own insecurities around the virus. But this obviously impacts the psychological wellbeing of the young.
The CDC has acknowledged that children ages 5-14 are more likely to die from flu, or to commit suicide, then die from covid. Indeed, covid has not killed a single child who did not have a significant co-morbidity; therefore, children should never have been kept out of school, should never have had to wear masks, and should have never had to play football with a walnut.
Ultimately, children should be encouraged to play with friends, and if they catch this disease they would develop long lasting natural immunity. Their lives could go on uninterrupted. But media propaganda altered the consciousness of many parents by turning child isolation and mask wearing suffocation into a virtue and a political statement. Otherwise so-called progressive parents would demand that schools stop forcing their kids to wear masks, like those in more conservative areas of America have done.
It’s a daunting task convincing the zealots to remove the masks from children’s faces, and to drop all of the nonsensical, ineffective mitigation measures. Data and evidence does not sway the conviction of cult members. Feelings trump facts. And political tribalism rules over scientific reality.
As a teacher and a student of history, I believe we have entered a new dark age. But one in which rays of light still sneak through the darkness. Sanity, at the end of the day, must prevail. A future free of tyranny and fear depends on it. Indeed, the future of today’s students, today’s children, depends on it.