Whiplash On Masks, Pensions, People Disagree!

The only mask I want to see this time of year

Whiplash anyone? Here in Virginia, just a few weeks ago, really a couple of weeks, anyone who questioned masking in schools was regarded as indifferent to public health at best, straight up racist at worst. It was a big issue! Yesterday, the legislature passed bipartisan legislation that will prohibit school districts from mandating masking. That’s right, in a short period of time we’ve gone from debating if a mask mandate made sense to enacting a ban on even localities requiring masking.

Maybe you remember February 2020. You might recall that a lot of schools in places like Prince Edward, King William, and elsewhere in Virginia were closing because of a virulent respiratory infection. It was bad. It was the seasonal flu. And 2020 wasn’t an outlier. Same thing happens a lot of years.

Most people agree there has been too much Covid theater, schools stayed closed too long, and some of the mask requirements are divorced from the evidence. And it’s questionable whether statewide mask mandates make a lot of sense in large states where conditions can vary quite a bit. It seems like a good case for local decisions, you know, local control. That’s why taking away the ability of school officials to make those decisions seems ill-considered one-size-fits all, too. A singular policy relieves the pressure on school board members, sure. But is toggling between mandates and mandate prohibitions really the best we can do? Maybe sometimes masks will make sense on a local basis? They would have in February of 2020 when most people still had not heard of Covid-19. It will in some places now.

Meanwhile, here come the lawyers. The mask wars are moving to the courtroom with special education emerging as a flashpoint. The ACLU is suing in Virginia. Special education advocate are raising concerns more generally.

If it is any consolation, they argued about masks in 1918, too.

An interesting feature of the Biden Covid relief bill – The 2021 American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion package the President is inexplicably not touting on the road a few days a week rather than playing a mug’s game with the Senate – are its pension features. The law included assistance for private pension plans but expressly prohibited states from using the funds for public employee pensions, a category that includes teacher pensions. On the Hill there is concern about open-ended pension bailouts – especially from Republicans. It’s one reason grand bargains on reform don’t get beyond the ideas stage.

Yet it looks like Connecticut is testing just how fungible the money is, and whether it can be used to address pension debt. As a stimulative measure – which is not what we need right now – paying down debt like this is not an effective policy. And just paying down debt to run it back up again because of unsustainable systems is not good policy either, obviously. But a money for reform deal seems attractive – especially given the open secret that there is too much money sloshing around right now.

Along those lines, superintendents and the building trades are hoping to see deadlines extended for expenditures on capital projects and HVAC. Another thing you could do with this money is diversify your teaching force.

Something we talk about around here is that people just disagree on things and that’s OK. There is a weird, and growing, bad faith tendency to always want to find some nefarious cause for what’s perceived as wrong think. It can’t just be people disagree with you, see things differently, or that you’re experiencing this tendency. Rather, they must not know what’s “good for them” or have been duped. Here’s Jay Caspian Kang on a present aspect of that:

The effects of this aphasia have bled out into other parts of our daily interactions. Big Disinfo now shapes how we think about our fellow citizens, especially those we think are in thrall to a magical Facebook post. After the 2020 election, the news was filled with stories about how minority communities, particularly Asian American and Latino ones, had been bombarded with foreign language disinformation campaigns.

This particular disinformation panic coincided with a shift in both of those demographics to the Republican Party, one that has mostly continued over the past two years. The implication was that these voters had somehow been tricked by right-wing messaging to abandon the Democratic Party or, at the very least, its ideals. A 2018 paper from the UCLA Civil Rights Project, for example, argued that Asian American voters who opposed affirmative action had fallen for misinformation. That idea implies that if we just shut down the sources of misinfo, everyone will suddenly line up to vote for progressive candidates. It is also a broken way to think about our neighbors and fellow citizens.

There may very well be some misinformation about race-based preferences in college admissions floating around somewhere on the internet, but it’s far more likely that Asian Americans, many of whom believe that elite colleges are discriminating against them, simply oppose racial preferences out of pure self-interest. In these instances, the charge of misinformation obscures more than it illuminates.

If you’re trying to understand the political landscape around education, this matters. The one group of voters who did not shift toward Trump in 2020 was white guys. The voting patterns in VA were more complicated than you heard on Twitter. And Republicans are making inroads with non-white voters. You wouldn’t know any of that from attending the myriad meetings around the education sector…Again the point isn’t right or wrongness on things, it’s just an accurate assessment of the landscape around us. Today’s dialogue often obscures more than it illuminates. Julia Galef recently wrote a whole book about this.

Feel like a stranger? I’m not going to say who…but you can find education leaders in this 1990 documentary.

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