CDC Education Guidelines are a Disaster for Children

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The latest CDC guidelines for education will put America’s children even further behind the rest of the world in basic learning.  Teachers have long known how important it is for children to learn together.  After ordering schools closed for over a year, the CDC is finally allowing them to be reopened.  Yet now, the CDC is pressuring schools to arrange classrooms so that all the pupils are “socially distanced” as well as masked and — it is suggested — also shielded from one another, as well as from their teacher.  Shall we now throw out the window everything we know about child development in favor of social correctness?

Toward the end of his career, an obscure Russian psychologist named Lev Vygotsky discovered an extremely important truth about learning: that children absolutely need to work together in order to learn.  He called this “scaffolding.”  American teachers learned of his ideas from Mind in Society, a collection of Vygotsky’s essays translated into English in 1980.  Since then, a generation of teachers have applied his theory of the Zone of Proximal Development with great success, seating their pupils in pairs and small groups for lessons that included cooperative activities the students completed together.

Enter the appalling “learning environment” being imposed by the CDC upon the American classroom in the name of “social distancing.”  Pupils are to be masked — there goes any opportunity for real communication.  It also greatly complicates learning for autistic, ESL, and hearing-deprived students.  Students are to be spaced “at least” three or even six feet apart (depending upon the CDC publication) and sit only in their assigned seats — there goes any real chance for group work.  Desks are to face in the same direction rather than facing each other — there goes any opportunity for pair work.  No amount of “colorful tape X’s” on the floor can help, especially since children are to be admonished “not to sit in X zones” — there goes any chance of getting children out of their seats for large-group discovery.  Not even equipment or supplies are to be shared — there goes any opportunity for discovery stations with computers or microscopes or hands-on materials.  Woe to any child who does not come to school fully prepared; sharing is to be strictly limited, an exceedingly difficult situation for underprivileged children whose parents do not tend to provide so much as a pencil.  Indeed, in my experience very few children come to school fully prepared, so that this rule impacts them all.

What is worse is the fact that these restrictions are to be imposed upon children who have long been absent from their classrooms.  In the United States at its peak, at least 55.1 million students in 124,000 public and private schools were kept from attending school in person.  Yet 1 in 10 of America’s poorest children have no access to online learning, the supposed substitute for school.  Nor have children been allowed to play with the children down the street.  Half of American schools remain closed, and others are only partially open.  As a retired teacher, I can say with confidence that this also means our country’s  children have been held back in their social and cognitive development — both of which depend upon contact, play, and learning with other children.  They desperately need to rejoin their peers, not sit isolated in a classroom, looking longingly at one another. 

The excuse?  The CDC continues to spin the fiction that to do so is to risk disease, and even death.  Yet a Public Health England (PHE) study found that children are far more likely to catch coronavirus at home than at school.  Discussing the study results, Professor Russell Viner of the UK’s Royal College of Pediatricians concludes that children have a “near zero” risk of catching coronavirus at school.

Stating the obvious, UNICEF advises, “As we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, no effort should be spared to keep schools open or prioritize them in reopening plans.  Children cannot afford another year of school closures.”  I would add that the returning students absolutely need to return to the warm, inclusive, collaborative classrooms of the past with their paired desks, group tables, shared learning stations and all.  Children need each other.  To follow the CDC guidelines, to me, amounts to nothing less than child abuse of the most damaging kind.

Lynn Corum is a retired classroom teacher with thirty years of experience working with all ages, from three-year-olds through adults.  Her favorite years were spent working with elementary students from many different countries as the International Teacher of Miina Härma Gümnaasium in Tartu, Estonia.

Inage: Janko Ferlin, Pexels

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