As an anthropologist, I wonder: How did they come to this conclusion, because I see a much more complex societal picture than the one sketched by (among others) the tiny Foundation for Working Parents (Stichting Voor Werkende Ouders) that “they’ll be celebrating and that parents would be overwhelmingly happy that kids are going back to school again, so that parents can work from home in a normal way again.”

I have been researching the corona epidemic in the Netherlands since April, and sure enough, those who are “looking forward to children being able to go back to school” are parents who I also come across in my research. But worry and dismay really prevail here. Especially with the rise of the British variant. Moreover, there are plenty of social problems associated with the risk of children bringing the virus home which you never hear anything about in the media.

School is a panacea

I regularly hear the criticism that I never mention the presumed learning disadvantages, the rise in suicide attempts, the proliferation of serious eating disorders and other problems that young people, in particular, are said to experience as a result of the corona measures. 

However, these problems are already being highlighted ad nauseam and what we conveniently forget is that there is no interest whatsoever in the children and young people who are doing just fine during this pandemic.  A distorted picture of the plight of children is created and those who later want to write the history of the pandemic can only conclude that all of the children of the Netherlands are doing very poorly.  And that image is something that I do not see confirmed in actual practice.

In fact, research carried out by the Netherlands Youth Institute (Nederlands Jeuginstituut) reveals that 76 percent of children experienced last year’s intelligent lockdown as beneficial, while 54 percent of parents experienced more stress. All in all, not too bad. Plus, the fact that just under half of the parents did not experience more stress is also worth noting.

The older a young person is, the more difficult the corona crisis is for them

In the 13 to 18 age group, their studies and their progress (40 percent) and social life (44 percent) are the main concerns. Many young people (85 percent) from the MBO vocational college find the corona measures difficult. Primarily because of the impact of the measures on their social life and because tensions at home can escalate.

Not only school and studies pose a substantial problem for young people, but their social lives in particular have come to a standstill, and on top of that they are being hit hard economically. Unemployment among young people has risen by 3.8 percent compared to January 2020 before corona. The longer the pandemic lasts and the longer there are restrictions on the general public, the greater the problems for young people will become. These problems cannot be resolved by throwing open (primary) schools. Because as long as they are unable to find a job or a part-time job due to the fact that so many sectors are still in lockdown and because employment opportunities are dwindling for them, they will face challenges in their development towards self-reliance and independence. Young people or young adults over 18 can even end up in serious financial problems.

Testing and vaccinating teaching staff

At the current rates of infection and with the threat of the British variant, which moreover makes protection against the disease through vaccination more uncertain, more than anything else, the reopening of primary schools actually brings more problems with it.

Vulnerable children were already allowed to go to the emergency daycare centers. The numbers of children in families with a vulnerable parent, who need care from a grandparent, who live under the same roof with their grandparents, who live with parents who are caregivers for an elderly person with fragile health or who may become ill themselves, are many times greater than the number of vulnerable primary school-aged children who are “out of sight.” Just over half of parents find it taxing, but given the level of contentment of the children, it seems that they are doing a good job of it all the same.

Measures in education are pretty well-thought-out, but a bit of extra testing and prioritizing vaccinations will not prevent corona from spreading through schools. In the first place, because those vaccines are obviously not yet widely available. But aside from that, neither testing nor vaccinations will guarantee a safer work environment. Testing and vaccinations both fail to protect against infection and consequently – to throw in an old favorite term- offer a false sense of security. They will prevent a teacher from having to sit at home for ages on end. Or – in the case of a vaccine – from becoming seriously ill themselves. But neither of these measures offer any prevention. Testing does not prevent infection and neither does a vaccine. An infected teacher will then quickly know whether or not they have been infected and will not become seriously ill themselves, but they will still be able to pass it on to their family members, who may suffer serious symptoms. And they can unwittingly pass it on to others. For example, through informal care for elderly parents, visiting an elderly person in a nursing home or a sister or brother who lives in an institution.

Corona factory in the Netherlands

If infection rates do rise again, it is a realistic scenario that schools will first have open-shut-open-shut and maybe even all shut down again. In that case, no education could be provided then even for vulnerable students. The longer the virus has a chance to mutate, the more likely it is that the current vaccines will at least need an update. Or who knows, they may soon simply be ineffective against new variants. And then everything will start all over again from square one.

Living with the virus

The longer the pandemic lasts, the greater the problems will become. More unrest, more stress, more burn-outs (especially in healthcare settings), more grief, more trauma, more personal tragedies whenever family members are no longer allowed to stay living in the home of a deceased partner/parent, to name one example, more bankruptcies, more unemployment, more riots, more polarization. No matter what, children may no longer have a learning disadvantage, but they are entering a society where they will stumble into misery and problems.

And what about their future path to higher education? Because that is where things will start to stagnate. After having to work through everything now at school only to be confronted with a diploma deflation at the end of their studies? This will most likely already be the case for those young people who are presently following further education. We are making a lot of sacrifices when it comes to education in schools. Where the OMT sees a very alarming state of affairs at the (bio)medical level, I see one at the societal level. And indeed, there is ‘urgent scope for some perspective,’ albeit with a long-term vision. Not the kind of perspective that is based on the hypes seen in the media and that politicians think they can exploit to rake in some voters.

With the reopening of primary schools without any genuinely adequate measures, the Netherlands will soon become one big corona factory. Working together on the human capital of the future, while that future human capital now has to borrow money to pay for their education or studies and is wasting away for an indefinite period of time. There is a lot of capital, both human and non-human, in the shut-down sectors that are in danger of being lost.

‘Dead wood’

The outgoing cabinet will have to make a choice. It is no coincidence that together with the news about the reopening of primary schools, the discussion about “dead wood” has flared up again. After all, that is exactly what the cabinet is projecting. ‘Living with the virus’ as the cabinet calls it. Or as the strategy was originally called: ‘Letting the virus rage in a controlled manner.’ That was already a very ill-advised decision, but with the various variants lurking around about to take over society and perhaps mutate even further, it really is no longer an option.

This article is a summary of the long-read version The Corona Factory. Read the full version in Dutch here.

Bare Bones 1968 Style

While white boy was busy using his career connections to oust Elsa Lurie from her East Harlem principalship, here is a snapshot of what he and his cronies were supporting.

Really study this photo and deeply meditate on the dead boring destruction these kids had to endure every damn day. This is precisely what systemic racism looks like in action. It is a starvation diet and it is extremely deliberate. No one on God’s Green Earth ever thought this outrage was okay. The visitors should have removed everyone from that classroom and taken sledgehammers to those turn of the century desks bolted down to the creaking, decrepit wooden floors. This Fact Finding Committee must have seethed with righteous anger, mutating into action.

Because action finally did come their way in the form of Lillian Weber and the Open Corridors movement. Teachers and parents met, researched, thought, talked and watched films of schools where the learning life was NOT the equivalent of a Soviet Gulag. One fine day the desks were unbolted and in their place came this.

Nancy Nilson from “Parents In The Corridor” was a witness. Meaningfulness went as follows. Parents got busy bringing in the comfortable sofas and chairs. Rugs arrived as did lamps and bookcases. We all learned to walk the streets with an eye out for rubbish bins and to search friends’ apartments for likely discards. Parents helped make learning games and materials for use by students.

Parents built and painted storage units, painted classroom walls and provided pots, pans, measuring utensils, tools for workbenches, typewriters – all those many things never EVER found before in these schools.

Wardrobe trunks were fitted with casters and filled with colorful costumes. Incubators, sandboxes and indoor ponds were built. Animal cages and animal feed were donated. It is hard now to remember that an early parent victory had been to push the idea that the school’s textbook budget could also be used to purchase materials!

Teachers went south for Freedom Summer and Freedom Schools. They returned with fire in their bellies and many songs in their hearts. Most of them the songs taught and fought on the endless marches, pickets, boycotts, sit-ins and mass incarcerations. That unbridled energy devoured the opportunity offered by Open Corridors.

We really wanted our school to be the center of the community. So we arranged to use our school kitchen.

The Puerto Rican parents cooked for the Italian parents one day. One mother remarked, “You know, when I was invited to eat in a Spanish restaurant I said I would not because to me Spanish food represented those people whom I didn’t know and didn’t understand. I actually thought they were pigs. But now I am here. I saw the food being cooked. I liked it and I am going to cook it for my own family!”

What followed was a kind of cultural exchange that many teachers could profit from for they need to be honest about this with parents. Do not code it over with words like “tolerance” because tolerance is a poor substitute for acceptance, understanding and celebrating individuality + commonality.

Mrs. Lurie, the principal of this East Harlem elementary school, was herself native born Puerto Rican. Freely and legally selected by decentralized, District 4 Community School Board, she took her Puerto Rican school parents and her Italian school parents into an active partnership in behalf of every child’s education. Quite an accomplishment! One would think the Board of Education and NYC would rejoice at such a bridging of rich cultural differences. But Oh No! 

Because this Puerto Rican woman principal was quickly replaced with a white non-Hispanic man who claimed he was the victim of reverse discrimination. He charged that he had been passed over for the principalship by a heavily Puerto Rican community school board and he claimed the post was rightfully and “white fully” his. The argument went that his qualifications were superior to Mrs. Lurie’s and that she had received the job based solely on ethnic grounds. Lurie actually held the same qualifications as white boy, but never mind. It went all the way to the NYC Commissioner of Human Rights who ruled that the complainer had indeed been passed over because of his national origin( White Land) and Mrs. Lurie was removed. Sound familiar? Sound like 2021?

Eventually, white boy died of old age and his obituary was quick to mention that he took up Financial Advisor as his post educator career path. After all, he had certainly kept his eye on his OWN bottom line. The obit also stated that our human rights victim was always passionate about social justice. But not so passionate that he felt moved to allow legally selected Principal Lurie to lead her Puerto Rican and Italian school parents in a classroom movement squarely centered on children.

And so we continued to cripple youth and destroy their spirits and their hungry minds. It was how the “system” worked. That was how the cookie crumbled in White Land. 

The 1970’s Open Corridors program meant opening minds and buildings to parent participation and to new ways of doing things. Black and Brown students marginalized, alienated and diminished by centralized, bigoted pedagogy finally stood a chance of being seen and nurtured. But there were many company men and women who were having none of it. They were comfortable with the old way of “doing business”. They put in their years, got the correct credentials, kissed the appropriate asses and believed themselves ENTITLED to a position of personal preference, current liberating movement be damned.

White boy and his friends had spent decades presiding over East Harlem schools, steering them to the widely regarded designation of Worst Ever! They were dead last on standardized reading tests, plagued with chronic absenteeism, raging gang violence, drug deals in the boy’s bathroom. A regular Blackboard Jungle. This was the proud legacy, the manufactured crisis that the “victims” of reverse discrimination wished to maintain.

He/They never “bungled” or “fumbled” or misunderstood anything. Every step of the way was a deliberate act, tweet, decision, allocation, misdirection. With one eye or both eyes on Wall Street, He/They did everything they could to placate and pacify the markets in a heat-seeking hope that victory would be theirs. A Coronavirus body count did not matter. These were not bodies that voted for them, therefore they cared not. They were busy carrying money out the backdoor of the White House in wheelbarrows so why spend any of it on saving lives or preventing infection spread. Cheaper to kill them off.
And so they did, just as brazenly and blatantly as they could. And just in case a Pandemic Chaos ensued, well all the better to manage and manipulate. A tumultuous smokescreen behind which they would try but fail to snatch victory from the jaws of almost certain defeat because somewhere in those pea brains they actually knew We The People had firmly decided that they had to GO. We would mask up and stand for hours in infectious voter lines or drive long distances to mail or drop off an “absentee” ballot. We did whatever it took in response to their murderous campaign and once again, way too many of us died to keep the rest of us FREE.

And now even more have died or been injured in a riot staged and enacted in our nation’s capitol, Washington DC. Bought and paid for, over decades, by the monied interests, family foundations, dark donations and power mad plutocrats who refused to accept that We The People don’t want them, won’t have them, can’t stand the sight of them.

For the moment, they have gathered up their nooses, gallows, long guns, sabers, smoke bombs and pepper spray. They have gone home or gone to ground, re-stocking their supply of deadly devices, determined to have it their way. Jesus does not BLESS them and neither do we.

Great Alphabet Book. Loaded with geography and interesting place words that could be drawn from a map. Author invites reader to ADD to the story.

Trapper Tom has three frozen trout. He tripped over his toboggan as he was tramping through the snow to his trap line. TTTTTTTTT Story!

Ted Harrison is one of Canada’s most popular artists. His love of the land and people of the Yukon has brought him national acclaim. His distinctive style of painting is both colourful and sophisticated yet retains an innocent charm, and appeals to young and old alike. 

Students will be at home staring at inferior excuses for education flitting across computer screens, hungering for an assignment that calls forth their creative juices. I suggest a homemade version of Ted Harrison’s A Northern Alphabet. Grab some paper, paints, crayons, markers, colored pencils, road maps, state maps, world atlas or city maps and get cranking. Don’t forget a thesaurus!

WOLE SOYINKA

THE CHILDREN OF THIS LAND

The children of this land are old.
Their eyes are fixed on maps in place of land.
Their feet must learn to follow
Distant contours traced by alien minds.
Their present sense has faded into past.
The children of this land are proud
But only seeming so. They tread on air but—
Note—the land it was that first withdrew
From touch of love their bare feet offered. Once,
It was the earth of their belonging.
Their pointed chins are aimed,
Proud seeming, at horizons filled with crows.
The clouds are swarms of locusts.
The children of this land grow the largest eyes
Within head sockets. Their heads are crowns
On neat fish spines, whose meat has passed
Through swing doors to the chill of conversation
And chilled wine. But the eyes stare dead.
They pierce beyond the present through dim passages
Across the world of living.
These are the offspring of the dispossessed,
The hope and land deprived. Contempt replaces
Filial bonds. The children of this land
Are castaways in holed crafts, all tortoise skin
And scales—the callus of their afterbirth.
Their hands are clawed for rooting, their tongues
Propagate new social codes, and laws.
A new race will supersede the present—
Where love is banished stranger, lonely
Wanderer in forests prowled by lust
On feral pads of power,
Where love is a hidden, ancient ruin, crushed
By memory, in this present
Robbed of presence.
But the children of this land embrace the void
As lovers. The spores of their conjunction move
To people once human spaces, stepping nimbly
Over ghosts of parenthood. The children of this land
Are robed as judges, their gaze rejects
All measures of the past. A gleam
Invades their dead eyes briefly, lacerates the air
But with one sole demand:
Who sold our youth?

It all began with rambles where we studied things as we came upon them.

When Elwyn S. Richardson first came to New Zealand’s Oruaiti School he stopped to examine the green clays in the neighboring creek beds. One day he and his students found a seam of grey clay that they thought looked promising so they dug and carried several loads back to an outdoor patio area. They watered it, chopped it and worked it with hands and feet and finally got it into a workable consistency.

Next came a series of clay samples brought from home on a regular basis for testing and selecting. One day a boy named Rex wheeled his mother’s wheelbarrow one mile up the valley to the school loaded with bricks to make a kiln.

“The clay we used in the first months was not good. So we used the scientific method to solve the problem. We dried some pieces rapidly in the stove and these all cracked badly. Those that were sun-dried also cracked but those which were placed in the dark of the store room cupboard and dried slowly did not crack at all. We found that bottoms cracked unless we turned the pots early in the process of drying.”

The children at this school were real people to their teacher and to each other. Coronavirus could not distance nor defeat them because the vaccine against infectious anomie was their creative community. They were not reduced to social security numbers or login ID’s. Together everyone opened up to the immediate world, examining and uncovering it as if they had recently arrived from some other dimension. And maybe they had. Fresh eyes that fell in love with the work undertaken.

There was a romance involving GRASS and here is how Clifton-10 years expressed it. “I saw the clip of the grass gently move. the long dry wind, bending ticklish grass. The sticky heat of the paspallum walk. The mown grass breath of the wind. The sharp needle of the prickly gorse sticking into grass tops. They sat and watched the blinking sheep and the long bent grass waves. The long silent grass blows over the hill. On the top of the hill is the grass bending over like me bowing.“

The blue heron stands in the early world,
Looking like a freezing blue cloud in the morning.
Irene

George Joseph Cons was a dreamer. He was a man who said NO to combat during WWI. As you might imagine, that did not go over well and he was sent to prison for awhile, a farm prison where he grew food for the war effort. When it was all over he was not the favorite candidate for a teaching job in many districts but he made his way through the patriotic pettiness and ended up at Goldsmiths College University of London.

Postman As Curriculum


There he went into neighborhood schools where the children of working people were enrolled and brought the immediate community into classrooms. Students met their parents and their neighbors in an entirely heightened light. Suddenly the postman, a dustman, a sewer man or a fireman became the subject for intense and respected study. No one was ashamed to say, “My Mum is a washerwoman.” That mother was standing at the front of the class delivering a lecture and fielding questions on the business of send out laundry.

G.J. Cons and Catherine Fletcher wrote a book about their educational experiment and entitled it, ACTUALITY IN SCHOOL. A favorite section is the Q&A session with Mr. W. the local postman. It went something like this.

Please sir, when you’re going up the street and can’t see the numbers, what do you do? We have a little electric lamp which we switch on when we need to.

There is a man who lives in Palestine, who’s a great friend of my father and my father sends him letters. How would he get them? They would be sorted at the office and put into the “foreign section” of the General Post Office. There, there are sorting boxes for all parts of the world. Your father’s letter is put in the Palestine division.

Not only did this classroom meet with their postman, they also visited the sorting office where he worked. At age 9 and 10 they stayed in that area for over one hour, curious about and interested in all that transpired. On two different Thursday afternoons these youth boarded the city tram and arrived at the G.P.O. St. Martin Lee Grand for a proper look-see. As many of us have experienced as center city teachers, these kids had no idea that the big river running right before their eyes was a tributary known as The Thames. A free tram opened their lives up to an entirely new waterway subject of study which they could share with their impoverished families on a weekend jaunt.

Cons got hold of some documentary films to further expand post office investigations. One of his favorites was entitled “Night Mail”. Porters at Crewe are seen slinging giant mailbags into the train. The train steams through the Midlands, past factories and across the lowlands of Scotland, finally arriving in the misty morning at Edinburgh filled with letters and parcels of all description. Very visual.

But Mr. Cons and Ms. Fletcher were after something much more important than a deep, cognitive understanding of the postal system. As a man who said NO to war, he was a lover of peace, community, prosperity and sympathy. Yes, sympathy or empathy or whatever else one might call it. He wanted the children and their teacher to see that the postman lived a life of drama, holding his breath until a parcel recipient made it to the front door in time for a hand-off. Dashing into the shelter of a building, a tree or a storefront just as a drenching rain broke out. Losing a registered letter full of money and having to solve the mystery of where it went and how to retrieve it. This postman was a man of intelligence and energy and bravery and as a result of this big group inquiry, the world was once again endowed with delight, value and significance.

This is what real teachers do. They use curriculum to develop civic consciousness. They broaden individual worlds so people feel alive and excited in their place of existence. No one sleep walks through life or bounces about in a cocoon, careening off others, believing they are the only ones in the universe. No caste system is erected or maintained in which postmen and trash men and sewer men or washerwoman or lunchroom woman don’t count as citizens or as intellects. What we do matters and other human beings matter and we are the better for it, all thanks to a real teacher.

We do not stand back and watch a monster walk into the White House, claiming it as his own simply because he feels the need for power. We do not permit tyranny to run rampant like a contagious infection through a populace, filling them with fear and frustration. We need smart, active citizenship and this is how George Joseph Cons envisioned it happening in schools.

Coronavirus is requiring something of everyone. Beyond masks, testing, social distancing and political street protest, it is demanding that we wake up and begin to invoke our imaginations. We need to imagine that the bungling of the Pandemic is no accident but a quite deliberate ploy to infect and murder people in the name of re-election for pathological power.

We need to imagine that the greed, which is the foundational appetite of racism, really is completely insatiable and is capable and culpable of every atrocity in its own name, from centuries back.

We need to imagine that Sinclair Lewis was not halucinating because Buzz Windrip has arrived and is currently presiding over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Elwyn Richardson was an inciter of imaginations. He and the Universe chose New Zealand as his base of operations and school children were his foot soldiers. Together they marched into clay banks, beaches, ponds, wasp nests, handmade kilns, paint pots, fertile fields and terrariums to do battle with the idea that education should be confined to desks, chairs, buildings or 2020 drill&kill, computer technology.

One can see from the photos that it was a riotous existence at Oruaiti School. A daily disruption of normal, dead-boring, state-imposed, soul-killing, standardized, test-driven dribble. It was an ALIVE place where courage and creativity walked hand-in-hand.

No one graduating from Oruaiti would allow themselves to be subject to a regime preaching avarice and incarcerating combat with impoverished/displaced migrants, all people of color, moms in yellow, dads with leaf blowers, nursing home residents and vulnerable students.

Instead, they would dream up an improved arrangement and begin building it with the help of their immediate community. Because Elwyn began his work exactly where he was, using what was at hand, developing himself as an instrument through which liberating energies could be invoked, developed and celebrated.

We are in a death spiral and many shiny ones are very busy trying to turn that defeated world view in a life-affirming direction. They know The Secret and they are our Way Ahead. May we follow their Lead.

Nobody at the 1935 Chicago Board Of Education thought their publication on Correlated Handwork was revolutionary. In fact, if you’d asked them they would have told you that they were about 35 years behind.

Lots of women and men knew how to work with their hands back in 1935 and students were often taught these skills at school.

But as early as 1900 children in classrooms were elegantly busy with detailed hand-eye-brain finger work that was the foundation for replica house and farm building 35 years later.

Give This A Go
Perforation Work
Folding and Cutting

No wonder 1935 educators thought it perfectly reasonable for first grade children to build houses, farms, city parks and later foreign country studies. At home with minimal intervention or instruction from adults was customary because Kindergarten had gotten them more than ready.

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