As my beleaguered teaching colleagues and I try to get our school communities into the swing of things once again this new academic year, I find myself to be merely, powerlessly wishing that no more grotesque permutations of the Covid Madness return for a third consecutive winter. ‘Home-learning’ in particular was, of course, disastrous for children in a myriad of ways. On a purely practical level, it was fairly tricky for the teachers too, so I do believe that most of the profession hopes to avoid the insidious perfidy of forced absences or outright closures. Granted, I would prefer my colleagues to be motivated in these desires by an understanding of the abhorrent, casual neglect of children’s fundamental needs over which we were forced to preside for two years. But I’ll have to be content if the Department for Education will just let us stay open.
Belatedly, conventional wisdom has it that Covid doesn’t tend to seriously affect the school-aged population. Perhaps if the undistorted version of that truism was more widely accepted – that Covid doesn’t tend to seriously affect the healthy population – some teachers (and their unions) might find that their selfish and flawed but unending clamour for ‘more to be done’ lost its sympathisers.
It’s been a typically warm and sunny September thus far, but a small number of our students remain curiously attached to their face-coverings, sporting them lesson in, lesson out, as I look on aghast but unable to order their removal. The so-called harmless, cost-free non-pharmaceutical intervention continues to wreak its harms.
For those of us who have, by now, long fought Covid restrictions, it might feel like a further, renewed battle this Autumn to see off the prospect of the Return of the Madness. After all the hammer-blows of Spring 2020, we ordered our thoughts, picked our battles, identified our sacrifices, practised our polemics, marshalled our arguments and, eventually, took to the fray. For many of us with little or no previous experience in politicking, we may even have learnt some tricks about the art of discourse and debate along the way.
I am not referring here to my professional life of course. In my professional life I am – quite rightly – not permitted to express my personal or political ideologies or opinions to students. No good and proper teacher would dream of doing so – unless of course you suddenly, naively found that your beliefs fell in line with the government propaganda of the day. If you happened to support the mantra “Hands, Face, Space”, you could plaster it across every TV screen and vacant stretch of wall in the whole place. If you were minded to promote social distancing, or face coverings, or bubbles, or ‘don’t kill granny’, or healthy 12 year-olds giving their own consent to being tested for Covid before entering the building, or any other similar paean to the dreaded virus – exhort it from the corridors, folks! If you were an Assistant Head, you might even have the surprising chutzpah to lead a series of science-themed assemblies (to 1,200 impressionable young minds) in which you vaingloriously celebrated the disingenuous and risible proposition that Professor Sarah Gilbert’s AstraZeneca vaccine “saved 2 billion lives”.
No – when I refer to my endeavouring anew to muster awareness of the risk of restrictions this winter, I’m talking about in my personal life, away from school.
There is a danger for those of us who have resisted the mainstream Covid narrative for two-and-a-half years that we forget quite how completely and devastatingly uninterested the compliant majority are in our version of events. Many may have shifted their positions slightly, faced with ever more piles of evidence (from their own preferred sources) of the damage needlessly done. Surely, it would be hard to find someone who would embrace it all quite so gleefully all over again.
But the big arguments are not won; the wider population are still just not listening. Family members try to gently talk us down; friends tactlessly avoid the subject altogether or just silently disappear from view; some colleagues regard me warily and with increasing wryness as a bit of a crank. They all seem to manage to tell themselves that none of it really affects them and, with a special kind of inward-looking perspective, I suppose they can make that be true.
So we keep talking and waiting and wondering where the socially palatable prima facie evidence to incontrovertibly back us up and help us definitively put a stop to all this might come from. I continue to posit theories, based on my understanding of basic principles of human decency and common sense. Anecdotes, ideas and experiences should be part of our arguments and, after all, when that single piece of elusive, critical, confirmatory data lands – why should anybody ever believe what any expert says these days anyway?
Some older adults – I overhear them in crowded cafes – are delightedly and obediently getting in line for their fifth (count ‘em!) Covid jab, and some disconcerting individuals in the High Street and park remain devotedly wedded to their face-covering. They don’t seem one bit ashamed or embarrassed by the many peculiar and ridiculous things their Government forced them to do for a good while there. Is that just it for them? Over and Out, Shut Up, Move On. Are these things, this history, these awful, ungodly consequences we’re all living with, just a permanent feature of the rest of their lives, no questions asked?
There are certainly those who seemed to revel in the whole drama of it all, those who still reel performatively, sanctimoniously backwards in doorways when you dare to step near; those who complied without thought and still appear blissfully ignorant of any possibility of error or mishap or downside and who probably watch too much TV; those who spewed the new terminologies of their epoch with uneasy, faltering confidence: ‘flatten the curve’, ‘viral load’, ‘third wave’, and – my personal favourite – ‘asymptomatic’.
Is it possible that this merry, obstinate lot are the very same people who seem in recent times also to be lurching emptily but enthusiastically from one cause to another? ‘Stay Safe everyone!’ ‘Respect this virus!’, bang a kitchen pan and ‘Save the NHS!’, erect a flag and ‘Stand with Ukraine!’, buy some frozen Chicken Kievs, close everything when it’s hot and etcetera and blah, ad infinitum.
Could it be that the common thread which connects all the headline-followers, the unquestioning, the frighteningly readily compliant, is a lack of something raw, true, local, deep and meaningful in their lives? Might there be a link between the modern world’s malaise, the tragic lack of connection and community, and a very public hankering after connection and community? You don’t know your neighbour, you’re not invested in your town, you couldn’t possibly overcome the awkwardness involved in helping the elderly lady down the road – why not get your phone out instead to prove how good you are at Joining In and Helping Out?
If people don’t have a potentially perilous stake in something close, precious and valuable, or anything at all to believe in which reaches them viscerally, it seems as though they might just keep scrambling around, somewhat manically and pathetically, for Another Good Cause to get behind.
And if I’m right about all of that, then the solution to the real Covid problem lies with people and professionals who don’t know they’ve got a problem.
Get a life. Get a community. Get some meaning. And do not force a single school kid to stay at home again this year.
Fraser Krats is a secondary school teacher.