Historical past is meant to information us towards a greater future; not less than, that’s the argument for Anya Kamanetz’s new e-book “The Stolen 12 months: How COVID Modified Kids’s Lives, and The place We Go Now.” We definitely want a greater future! The pandemic’s results on youngsters proceed to frustrate and scare us: along with illness, there’s quarantining, there’s masks, there’s social and emotional affect, there’s educational losses.
Two and a half years in, with the BA.5 COVID variant sweeping by way of the nation, it may well really feel like we’re not in vaccinated past-pandemic restoration, however fairly a newly everlasting state of crappiness.
Why? The implicit argument of “The Stolen 12 months” is that the issues dealing with schooling are usually not truly about COVID. “Our nation has continued failing to place youngsters on the heart of our determination making,” writes Kamenetz.
Observe her use of the phrase “continued.” Hers is a kind of historical past of March 2020 to February 2021, however she’s actually much more involved with continuities with what got here earlier than the pandemic, and why America has so little assist for youngsters and households even now.
The e-book is structured in chapters about matters like “starvation,” “childcare,” and “psychological well being.” Every is an indictment of our lack of a purposeful social security web, which led to a lot distress when faculties—the one common assist we provide youngsters and oldsters—closed in March 2020. She quotes one psychological well being supplier on the disaster: “Admissions haven’t gone up, as a result of we’re all the time at capability.”
On baby care, she writes, “Our tattered system hurts caregivers. And it hurts youngsters.”
That’s actually the theme of the e-book: “That was the established order previous to 2020. The pandemic made every little thing worse.”
Essentially the most arresting particulars seem within the particular person tales of kids she follows, just like the seven-year-old in St. Louis who was shot in Might 2020 whereas roaming his neighborhood on a Tuesday with nothing else to do whereas faculties had been closed. However Kamenetz, a former NPR reporter, appears extra invested in ranging by way of historical past and politics, broadly surveying the varied techniques, applications and adults meant to assist youngsters.
The draw back of that method is that, in a e-book about “how COVID modified youngsters’s lives,” the pandemic typically really feel absent. She breaks little new floor together with her accounts of motherhood, racism, the historical past of public faculties and different themes; I want she had spent much less time within the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and extra on something after October 2020.
She’s finest when she focuses on essentially the most weak, as in a chapter on foster care and juvenile justice. However her kitchen-sink method (she begins nearly each chapter with a wacky quote from President Trump reminiscent of “particular person girl man digicam TV”) is exhausting.
The e-book is most irritating when Kamenetz addresses the controversy at its coronary heart: America’s prolonged college closures. She writes that “the US closed most lecture rooms for a complete of fifty-eight weeks, in contrast with thirty-three weeks in Finland, twenty-seven weeks in each the UK and China, eleven weeks in Japan, and simply 9 weeks in New Zealand.”
Why had been we, amongst wealthy nations, such an outlier?
She doesn’t actually have a solution. Kamenetz calls her e-book The Stolen 12 months. The “12 months” half is smart: these fifty-eight weeks of closed lecture rooms. The “stolen” half is tougher. Kamenetz writes, in a passive voice, that college “was taken away.” Taken by whom? If this was a 12 months stolen from American youngsters, who stole it? In the event you’re searching for precise thieves, not a senseless virus, responsible, you’ve come to the incorrect e-book. Kamanetz has numerous explanations for the prolonged closures, however she’s cautious to not blame lecturers, or directors, or unions or anybody, actually.
I sense that even the writer has ambivalence about her personal method: she says her chapter on faculties “picks aside how the US didn’t get so many college students again in lecture rooms for therefore lengthy,” however later says, “My intention right here on this chapter is to not relitigate this mess or level fingers.” If distant college was a catastrophe, reopening lengthy delayed, and a full 12 months stolen, then I, for one, need this e-book to level some fingers!
We be taught rather a lot from this e-book about child-related coverage in the US, however what about our nation led to crucial facet of the pandemic for most youngsters—they didn’t go to high school for greater than a 12 months—stays unexplained.
Right here’s my clarification. President Trump made seriousness about COVID a politically polarized concern: his grew to become the coalition towards warning, towards masks, towards vaccines. And a part of his agenda was re-opening faculties. So anti-Trump states and cities—together with big-district leaders and union officers—determined that to take COVID significantly included not re-opening. The anti-Trump coalition took half in making faculties a part of our polarized politics. Trump and his antagonists stole the 12 months.
How, then, can this historical past information these of us who care about the way forward for public schooling?
The lesson is to battle for public schooling in as inclusive and big-tented a means as attainable. Certain, there are those that actually don’t like public faculties. (Identical to there have been those that actually did reduce COVID) However as Individuals develop ever extra polarized, public schooling wants the assist of these in each coalitions. We will’t react to assaults on our schooling system by closing the tent towards those that don’t share Kamenetz’s progressive values (or mine). It’ll simply result in extra shutting down.
There’s plenty of acceptable anger on this e-book. There’s anger all over the place in our society lately, it appears, together with round youngsters—from college board conferences to continued on-line arguments over whether or not faculties ought to have been closed for therefore lengthy.
There’s a lot anger, partly as a result of it’s laborious to seek out somebody responsible. Nobody’s chargeable for America’s youngsters and the buildings that fail to serve them, which additionally implies that no saviors are coming. We ourselves, all of us, are chargeable for what has occurred, and what’s going to occur, to our kids.
Regardless of Kamenetz’s first draft of historical past, the story of the pandemic’s affect on youngsters has but to be informed. Partially, that’s as a result of we’re so removed from understanding the way it ends.