Streetwise Professor

July 18, 2020

School’s Out Forever?

Filed under: CoronaCrisis,Economics,Politics — cpirrong @ 4:04 pm

As summer marches inexorably towards fall, the latest battle in the Covid Wars is being fought over the reopening of primary and secondary schools. Democratic politicians, and teachers unions, are leading the charge to forestall face-to-face instruction. The battle cry among teachers appears to be “I don’t wanna die.”

Er, you’re not gonna die. Nor are the children.

One of the few pieces of almost uncontested evidence about Covid-19 is that children are at very low risk of contracting the illness, let alone dying from it. Nor do they pose major threats to passing the virus on to adults.

In the back-and-forth over “is Covid-19 worse than a bad flu,” when it comes to school-age children, the answer is that flu is worse than Covid-19, not the other way around. Yet schools have remained open, flu season after flu season.

Recognizing this, many nations have reopened schools, with no reports of resurgences tied to schools.

But in the US, the education establishment, and Democratic politicians, are largely united in opposing reopening. Some school districts (e.g., in Houston) have postponed resumption of normal instruction until November. (Right when the flu season kicks in. Smart!) Others are suggesting that school’s out, if not forever, for 2020-21.

Given the hectoring and lecturing about SCIENCE! from these very same people, the utter disregard for the evidence is striking.

There is only one rational justification for this refusal to run such a slight risk (and again, a risk that is likely less than during normal winters): traditional instruction provides virtually no value! Revealed preference at work, boys and girls.

Are the education establishment and Democratic politicians willing to stipulate to that? If so, we can save a helluva lot of money paying for teachers and brick-and-mortar schools. For the distance learning model is essentially home schooling plus (and not plus very much). Given the histrionics over home schooling emanating from the education establishment, this haste to adopt the home schooling plus model to avoid an immaterial risk is rather amusing.

In fact, although home schooling does work for some (I know several examples, including a home school family that produced a Harvard physics PhD, a Princeton BA and MA, and another Princeton grad who was a world-known ornithologist at age 13), for most Americans it is impractical because parents are employed, and even for families with a stay-at-home parent, less effective than in-person instruction for myriad reasons.

Meaning that the education establishment is willing to sacrifice the educations and futures of millions of American kids, to avoid . . . pretty much nothing.

In other words there is a huge disconnect between the rhetoric regarding the importance of public education that we are usually bombarded with, and the unseemly eagerness of the public education establishment and its political handmaidens to dispense with the core functions of public education. The disconnect is all the more glaring because the justification offered by the supposed followers of the SCIENCE! is flatly contradicted by the actual science.

So what is to explain this disconnect? I have two hypotheses.

  1. This is all about the 2020 election. The Democrats believe that preventing a return to a semblance of normalcy (and you can stick “the new normal” up a warm, moist, orifice) will boost the odds of defeating Trump. Relatedly, they also believe that keeping the panic alive by stoking fears enhances their electoral prospects.
  2. Teachers really like getting paid their full salaries while getting to stay home, assigning some YouTube videos, and calling it teaching.

These hypotheses are of course not mutually exclusive.

Regardless of the explanation, a failure to reopen schools will damage the educations of millions of American children, stunt their social and emotional development, and in some cases inflict serious psychological harm. Moreover, it will inflict substantial stress, distress, and economic harm on adults trying to earn a living now forced to divert time and effort to monitoring their children, and trying to teach them.

It is utterly cynical, and frankly, quite vile. Objectively the case for reopening schools is solid. Certainly far more solid than the cases for various Covid-19 measures, including masks (FFS) or social distancing or lockdowns that have been imposed over the last 4 months. Yet those forcing these latter measures adamantly oppose opening schools.

Like I said. Cynical. And vile.

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  1. It’s international. The teaching unions in Britain are misbehaving in just the same way. If our PM had balls he’d tell the local authorities that if their schools don’t open in the autumn he’ll turn off the flow of taxpayers’ money to them. He should also announce emergency legislation cutting teachers’ pay and pensions. Let ’em strike – it would make no difference.

    Comment by dearieme — July 18, 2020 @ 4:52 pm

  2. Maybe the Democrats are taking the long-term view: the worse the education, the less likely are the victims to question the assorted “science” pushed to justify tyranny. There is a reason “scientific communism” used to be a thing elsewhere.

    Comment by Ivan — July 18, 2020 @ 5:46 pm

  3. The ONS (Office for National Statistics) in the UK has reported that for the third week running total deaths have been less than the five-yearly average.

    Total deaths in care homes and hospitals are way below average. Deaths in family homes are up.

    People denied treatment by the “Envy of the world” to protect the twerking tik-tokkers are consequently dying at home in increasing numbers.

    The virus is no longer a risk, the consequences of mis-managing it are deadly.

    No health service worker has lost a single penny of their state-funded salary as a result of this sh1tshow. The same immunity from consequence will apply to our state-funded teachers during their ongoing period of wilful inaction.

    Comment by John — July 19, 2020 @ 12:47 am

  4. According to Save the Children, half a billion schoolchildren will have an interrupted, so worse education. Of these 77 million will NEVER go back to school.
    The educational establishment has scored a direct hit on the future.Coupled with their success in giving primacy to feelings above knowledge, society is F···d.

    Comment by philip — July 19, 2020 @ 9:29 am

  5. I think, if teachers don’t want to go back in the classroom they shouldn’t have to. But then, they shouldn’t get paid. I know they have unions and contracts and under their version, they must be paid. I think the argument is well worth having however, putting them in a position of defending the indefensible.

    Comment by Donald Wolfe — July 19, 2020 @ 9:42 am

  6. @Donald. That’s right. They should quit.

    And yes, it is very revealing, is it not?

    Comment by cpirrong — July 19, 2020 @ 4:28 pm

  7. @phillip–yes. That’s exactly the point. Feelings above knowledge. The primacy of the subjective. This triggers a cascade. I’M MORE OFFENDED THAN YOU! I MATTER MORE THAN YOU! NO YOU DON’T! I’M MORE OFFENDED. UH-UH! MY FEELINGS MATTER MORE BECAUSE I HAVE X IDENTITY! . . . . and on and on and on.

    When asked how he felt about something, my grandfather would say “What I feel about it doesn’t matter. Here’s what I think about it.” How archaic.

    There’s no arguing with feelings. And that’s exactly the point. To cut off discussion, and turn everything into issues of feeling and identity. Such debates are about status, and in particular how elements of identity (race, sexuality, gender, class etc.) translate into status. Once upon a time it was King, Prince, Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, Baron. Now it is the hierarchy of intersectionality

    Comment by cpirrong — July 19, 2020 @ 4:47 pm

  8. And yet we expect that supermarket workers continue to stack shelves and man (person?) checkouts. I’m sure the teachers would be horrified to think those people should be allowed to not work and get paid.

    Comment by Daniel Foster — July 20, 2020 @ 12:32 am

  9. And of course ICE were most definitely not playing politics when they made their announcement. Some genius obviously thought the best way to go about resolving the issue was to once again play the immigration card.

    As for “..many nations have reopened schools, with no reports of resurgences tied to schools”, I refer you to recent events in Hong Kong. Once again you’re assuming everything knowable is known about this virus.

    @Deari – love ‘em or hate ‘em, you’ve got to admire the unions for playing a blinder on this. They’re forcing our government to be more left-wing than the one we would have experienced under Corbyn…

    Comment by David Mercer — July 20, 2020 @ 5:00 am

  10. Hi Craig,

    I’ve been reading some of your past work on the impacts of clearing (eg. and how you argue that by redistributing the losses from derivative counter parties to junior debt systematic risk isn’t reduced. While the size of the losses aren’t shrunk; it seems that short term debt investors are much better able to bear default then a counter party that doesn’t know if it’s hedges will get paid out or not. Rolling over short term debt could be much more expensive in this case of near-default, leading to bankruptcies, but this process would occur over a much longer time than say a another bank A that sold a bunch of options to retail thinking it’s long vol swap with the potentially bankrupted B won’t pay out, so A needs to unwind and then find bank C so that it’s position is hedged. The former takes weeks, the later hours.

    Comment by KarterB — July 20, 2020 @ 8:32 am

  11. If there’s anything to Johnson he’ll crush them. If.

    Comment by dearieme — July 20, 2020 @ 10:46 am

  12. @Karter – arrgh you cheap-skate! Why don’t you sign up for one of the Prof’s courses? He even offering online tuition ATM, save you the trouble of travelling to one of the latest Covid hotspots…

    Comment by David Mercer — July 22, 2020 @ 11:58 am

  13. David Mercer
    Ok, absence of evidence isn’t… etc. But in the real world not a single teacher has been infected by a schoolchild. (there’s a possible case in Australia but it is ambiguous.)

    Back in the day, mothers used to scare their children with threats of the (Buonaparte). What will future generations use to terrorise adult bed-wetters? “There are covids under the bed!”

    Comment by philip — July 22, 2020 @ 12:37 pm

  14. Hi Street Prof,

    I want to donate to a Civil War battlefield preservation trust, but I am not sure which one.

    Do you have any suggestions?


    Comment by Joe Walker — July 22, 2020 @ 3:50 pm

  15. @Joe–American Battlefield Trust is the premier national organization. There are some local organizations that do some good work too.

    Comment by cpirrong — July 23, 2020 @ 5:17 pm

  16. Thank you!

    Comment by Joe Walker — July 24, 2020 @ 4:24 pm

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