Working Paper: Already In Your Home–Wave Two And K-16 Schools

For millions of Americans, Wave Two of the coronavirus pandemic is already here. It’s in their homes. I’m referring to education, kindergarten through college-age, and the reality of students Zooming to their craft tables, classrooms, and lecture halls. Wave Two is already here for them and the adults who are part of their lives.

Millions and millions of them. Wave Two is now and Zoom is the sign.

Think about it for a second. In very early spring 2020, coronavirus hits. Numbers of cases and deaths rise. At the same time, schools across all age groups respond with closures and shutdowns. It’s all hope and no plan for understandable reasons. It was supposed to go until spring break. Then, all of spring break. OK, a patchwork of plans appears next with take-home packets and cobbled-together online tasks. Soon, the wind blows, the straw walls collapse, and the white flag goes up. Because there’s only a slice left of the semester calendar, everything’s canceled. Back at home and free by Memorial Day weekend.

Everything I just described corresponds to our Wave One of actual cases and deaths in specific American communities and states.

An interlude begins. Summer break from school comes. There is some preparatory work for fall behind the scenes. But it’s not clear how much and it’s likely that the extent of work was uneven. That’s not a criticism, it just feels like a statement of reality. The most embraced part of the summer was the unknowability of the fall. The strongest impulse of the season was the desire to see spring in the mirror.

Then, sneaking up, summer’s over. Interlude done. The reality is clear: from an educational perspective, the ingredients for a Wave Two are fixed, school begins one way or the other. Rolling up from the backdrop and environment of a continuing pandemic, a Wave Two washing over the schools is inevitable, inescapable. Indeed, it’s happening now, all around us. The only question is whether it’s at-school in number of cases and deaths, or at-home with expressions of social deformity and dispiritedness. The actual facts of coronavirus are almost secondary; fears drive the decision. Some of the fears are justified, some imagined, some a shield for something else. So the doors open on campus or the internet routers light up next to the bedroom. From both directions the educational world starts spinning on its own axis, pulling into the magnetic field a long roster of people: parents, guardians, siblings, students, students-as-athletes, teachers, professors, administrators, bureaucrats, bus drivers, facilities staff, kitchen staff, volunteer staff, coaches, union representatives, board members, and on and on. And for many of them, each one affects a separate employer, another workplace, a further set of team members. Everything floats at collision speed, everything travels in random motion. While the physical morbidity will likely not increase, the social morbidity will be a different story entirely. The greatest scars of our Wave Two could be in how we see one another.

In 1918’s pandemic, the harshest costs came in Wave Two. The rate of cases and deaths soar to astronomical proportions, making autumn of that year the single deadliest season in all of recorded American history. The only thing to rival it would be an unknown—the death seasons of smallpox among Native Americans in a particular year of the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. But aside from these tragic chapters, nothing else comes close to autumn 1918.

I’d like you to consider a broader fact from 1918’s Wave Two because it will certainly be true for us in the Wave Two now covering American education. Some of you reading this Working Paper know where I’m going.

Americans in 1918 dealt with more than influenza. They dealt with influenza as it seeped and soaked into the dominant public issue of the day—the World War under way since 1914 and which, for Americans, had only commenced fully in 1917. American coped with the illness at the same time they coped with the World War. Therefore, I recommend that you and I think of their pandemic as “Warfluenza.”

Warfluenza raged at its worst in autumn 1918. In autumn the various tensions and controversies of the World War reached their harshest and most destructive levels among Americans at exactly the same time that influenza was killing and afflicting the most Americans. Throughout the fall, the rate of illness tracked point by point alongside the build-up and execution of the largest Allied/American military offensive of the World War. As both sickness and bloodshed, Warfluenza overwhelmed American life in the stifling air of September, the golden leaves of October, and the early chills of November. The worst behaviors, along with the worst fatalities, occurred in this awful season.

The same thing is happening to us in a very particular way. The struggles over who should be in class, who should learn from home, who should be in the halls, lunch rooms, dining centers, and hundred other places are cracking our capacity to set rules and render judgments. Bitterness, resentments, and assumptions of the worst about the other person and the other side are rife in our disputes over pandemic schooling. Welcome to our Wave Two—aligned to the explosive task of K-16 education and not the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and Armistice Agreement. And welcome to our Warfluenza—flowing from our politics, election campaign, and election day and aftermath of World War Trump (raging for three years) and not World War One.

The Questions They Know How To Answer

So, if we know where Wave Two already exists—in schools and with the people and practices linked to them—let’s allow a few questions from 1918’s Wave Two help deepen your perspective now:

*Are the arguments and disputes presented as total opposites, as if by people occupying different planets?

*Are the scenes where people once tended or expected to set a common direction now the spaces where deep-rooted clashes occur?

*Are facts and rumors difficult to decipher from one another?

*Is changing one’s mind seen as a near-impossibility?

*Does the problem just seem to crawl into every crevice and corner of life?

The answer to each was yes in Wave Two 1918. They crashed against these same questions that we’re crashing against in 2020. I know such a realization might be deflating. But if you step back, you can see a chance to go a little easier on yourself and, I hope, on someone else.

Their Best Behaviors

I’ve studied those people who were effective leaders in the 1918-1920 pandemic. They range from government officials to elected office-holders to volunteers to ordinary employed men and women. I’ve distilled from their behavior a handful of simple suggestions for you. The more of these you can hold in the top of your mind, the better things can go as the waters of Wave Two overtake the K-16s:

**checking your personal leadership for what you do well and what you don’t do well in handling difficult conflicts;

**keeping your focus on revisiting your own arguments and of those arguing against you—do so with the sole purpose of staying open to change without making it into a cage-match battle over principles or values;

**putting humility and at least a measure of modesty front-and-center before righteousness, self-certainty, and determinations of another’s bad faith;

**maintaining a willingness to look above and get above and envision above yourself;

**getting out of a total immersion in your group and tribe on a regular basis—listen to others on their own terms;

**resisting the draw to hunker down and pull within—give an extra thought to trying a new approach and finding the purest pleasure of just helping another person or group;

**knowing that an end is out there and we will get there—it is likely a combination of vaccine, evolving treatments, a form of herd immunity, and a loose consensus on handling the issue as the latest type of fluctuating illness.

That’s it. A practical list for your leadership in Wave Two. Hope you’re doing well, given the circumstances. Thanks for reading. All the best, Dan