Roger Marolt: Cutting a stacked deck
If you closed the schools for a year while this coronavirus clears out, the worst that could happen is our kids might fall a year behind in their educations, athletics and social development, teachers get so damned tired of trying to teach effectively on Zoom that they all start looking for new careers — which might become more plentiful as lots of parents have to quit theirs to stay home to try to half-ass home-school their kids with the aid of said career replacement candidates frustratingly trying to guide them along a template-less digital lesson plan — and then we go back to normal the following year.
On the other hand, if we send the kids back to school in-person, I think someone might die in our community as a result of live schooling, directly or indirectly. It could be more than one, maybe more than a few. At least one, though; that I think is a pretty safe bet.
How bad that outcome is comes down to matter of perspective. If the dead person happens to be someone you know, it stinks. If not, well, then we are just looking at statistics. A lot of people are starting to rationalize COVID-19 morbidity by saying things like, “you know, 150,000 people dead really isn’t all that bad in a country of almost 350 million. Lots of them were old. Most of the others had other health problems that would have gotten them eventually anyway.” It’s not meant to offend. It’s meant to reassure themselves that fitness pays; at least enough to justify a $5,000 mountain bike.
With this slanted view, you can simply discount one more death as a rounding error in balancing the books of life. It is astonishingly easy to get anesthetized to mass casualties. Anybody care to guess how many people die each year from cigarettes?* Bor-ing. We’re more annoyed by butts flicked into gutters or whiffs of secondhand smoke on the mall. We read the Johns Hopkins’ coronavirus death count in the news every morning, exclaiming how terrible it is and then head to town like any ordinary day.
Whether to open the schools live is a tough call, kind of like trying to count cards at a black jack table. We are really just playing the odds. Nobody knows the right answer and everyone will second guess whatever decision is made because the only certainty is that either way things will go wrong, most likely a lot of them.
It seems like most of the things that could go haywire with keeping the kids home for the school year could be made up for. I’m not suggesting it would be easy, but some focus on education during the universal gap year along with another year of maturity would allow kids to make for lost time in the ultimate pursuit of knowledge pretty quickly, I feel. It also would ease the pain a little to know that most students around the globe would be facing the same challenges. The economy will eventually recover and more jobs will be created. Even teachers will get over the frustration of online teaching and may become more invigorated than ever with the challenge of getting kids back up to speed when this is over.
The flip side of the coin, opening the doors to the schoolhouse wide, the one that results in death, would be harder to reconcile. We don’t get a second chance at life. Death is not something you ever get over, only used to. It’s a permanent adjustment. Death is the ultimate fact of life and we all have to deal with it, but it is a very, very difficult calculus to make an acceptable level of death come out as the correct answer, especially at the local level. Even hindsight usually doesn’t do a good job of smoothing things over in cases where lives are lost. More often than not we look back at calculated risks with death in things like war and skiing powder in an avalanche chute and end up bowing our heads, swinging them back and forth saying things like, “it all seems so senseless now.”
I know it doesn’t seem like it at the moment, but this pandemic will be a memory. We should try to make our recollections of it as interesting as possible and prevent as much sadness as possible, too. I think the worst legacy we can leave is an example of what not to do. No regrets.
*About 450,000 people die of smoking related death in the U.S. every year. Around 45,000 are estimated to be from secondhand exposure. Email Roger Marolt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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