Generally speaking, it could be said that Australian politics has been pleasantly bipartisan for the last couple of months. We haven’t had the opposition sprouting any completely nihilistic viewpoints just so that they can prove how oppositional they are (I hate to say it but maybe that’s because the opposition isn’t the Coalition – I tend to find them much keener to throw dirt). What I mean is, the reality of a pandemic has squashed the desire to be political in a way that the THREAT of climate change (which will have amazingly similar economic and global impacts) never has.
But ONE question has had the Federal politicians and the State Premiers dancing around in paroxysms of undecided disagreement.
Should our children be at school or not?
Honestly, I had pinned the whole debate on the Coalition’s obsession with Capitalism and the economy. I figured that ScoMo wanted the kids at school so that their parents would be free to work hard and keep the capitalist machinery ticking over. I still definitely think that’s part of it. And, although I write this with a tone of disapproval (Capitalism is not my favourite thing), I can’t say the idea is bad. We do need things to keep working. We are a society used to having the garbage taken away, the supermarket shelves stocked, the pharmacies open, the milk fresh, the water potable from the tap, etc. So yes, okay. That’s argument number one.
And then, yesterday, I had a schooling meltdown. And yes it was me … not my kids. I got so confused between all the different platforms and timetables and communication methods that I totally missed my son’s one-on-one meeting with his teacher. I was very upset with myself and with the muddle that is my brain. This prompted an online conversation with a friend about the insanity of so much screen-time for primary school aged children. I told my friend about how I had heard, before the state actually locked down, that there was already debate on national television about how to maintain education equity. I was arguing that schools are trying to produce work that can be done with a minimum of input from the carers at home and that’s why so much of it is on computer. Coincidentally, later in the evening as I compiled some dessert, I listened to a podcast produced by the Sydney Morning Herald/Age staff on exactly this question. It turns out that our Prime Minister has waxed quite emotional on this topic. He is extremely concerned about poor/disadvantaged students being severely set back by an extended period of schools being closed. (I am always astonished when I hear about ScoMo getting emotional. Apparently he also teared up when thinking about people losing loved ones and only being able to invite 10 people to the funeral. I am not laughing at him. I am genuinely surprised. He mostly seems so completely empty of all human emotion.) I can’t argue with that anxiety. Our kids aren’t too badly off. We have unlimited internet, we have a good selection of books and I am free to spend the whole school day beside them. But I’m sure there are kids out there who struggle to get the internet access, the parental input or the access to books. And while I am so privileged I don’t actually KNOW of any of those kids, I feel deeply for them and can’t disagree with our PM on that score.
This SMH podcast also quoted another surprisingly clever thing: apparently ScoMo was also heard to say something along the lines of “It’s not the classrooms that are dangerous. It’s the staff rooms.” This, of course, relates to the current research which indicates that the virus is not shared easily by children under 15. So I guess the question is, how do you have full classrooms and empty staff rooms? And what happens to teachers who may be vulnerable because of their age or pre-existing underlying medical issues? And what about the senior years in which students are over 15?
I haven’t heard the state politicians quoted saying anything quite as pithy as what was quoted above. Maybe they just don’t get the air time. So I am guessing a bit as to their arguments. I suspect it’s mainly about ICU beds, health care funding, ventilator availability… ie; the fear that the virus will get out of control and it will be the states who have to deal with it as best they can with little help from their Federal cousins.
I am beginning to think perhaps the Feds have a point. But, like the state Premiers I am pretty terrified of ending up the way of Italy, France, Spain or the UK (let alone America). I don’t want our medical staff to be put through that. I don’t want to be a part of that. I would rather hide out here in our little home for years than see that.
It is a worthwhile debate, right? Both sides have pretty pertinent and big issues to toss around.
So I have to trust to the experts on this one. More on experts tomorrow…