Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Sep 6: Wildfires in California surpass the record for the most land scorched in the state in a single year. Los Angeles County records its highest temperature on record. New coronavirus cases are on the rise in 22 states

Sep 7: Joe Biden picks up a presidential endorsement from the AFL-CIO. President Trump (arguably accurately) accuses U.S. military leaders of pushing wars to increase profits for the defense industry. 

Sep 8: The Justice Department moves to take over President Trump’s defense in a defamation suit filed by author E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her in a Manhattan department store dressing room during the 1990s. Deadlock continues in Congress over the next coronavirus relief bill. According to a study released by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, last month’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota was a coronavirus “superspreader event” linked to more than 266,000 cases.

From the Cutting Room Floor ...

It would be easy enough to be angry at our educational leaders and teachers themselves for failing to have a good system in place for our children as they head back to school. However, all the evidence seems to show that educators did not spend the summer wasting time or vacationing. They have been working hard. We must be careful not to fall into the Nirvana fallacy, which holds up an idealized and unattainable vision of what the solution should be, which then allows us to attack anything other than that ideal. This seems to be one of those moments when there simply is no perfect solution.

School leaders have turned to new software companies like “Schoology” to develop curriculum and provide centralized spaces for teaching.[1] It makes sense. Superintendents and principals have to find a way to offer standardized instruction and are limited by the tools that are available. At the same time, the tools require strong internet, can be difficult to master, and, truth be told, don’t make effective pedagogy any easier.

In part because parents do have to work and in part out of concern for their children’s mental health, families across the country are building “schooling pods” for their kids, wherein a few families allow their children to meet in alternating houses for school or homework each day. It makes sense. It provides needed contact with other kids and a chance to pool resources. At the same time, it does present a Covid risk and it assumes that each parent has the ability to be a schoolteacher. Another colleague of mine, who has a son in middle school, confessed that the pod at his house has evolved into a full Dungeons & Dragons campaign in part because he has to be in the other room working and in part because their internet connection went down. No one is quite sure what schoolwork is getting done, and because all the parents work full time, no one can monitor it much.

A debate rages on the internet and on parent forums over whether or not to send our children to school when they open in five weeks. Neither decision is ideal. Either you send your child to school where they can have structured class time, contact with friends, a much-needed sense of normalcy, and a real chance of contracting Covid-19 and bringing it home with them. Or, you keep your child at home for the entire semester whey they and your family are kept safe from the virus, where you or your spouse cannot go to work, where your child continues to receive sketchy online instruction and suffers from the searing isolation that can only come from watching their friends have a social life.

My own teaching has also required a careful reckoning with the Nirvana fallacy. The University of Alabama has decided to reopen with students on campus this semester. They have also elected not to postpone or cancel the football season, as other prestigious programs have. The financial pull just feels too strong. Prior to coming to campus, each student must show a negative COVID test, but there is little way that they control its spread, given that the school does not exist in a bubble and that false-negative test results are common.

On the one hand, this is infuriating. In the first few days after opening the campus, students posted photographs of each other neither wearing masks nor standing six feet apart. Several warnings from the university president and other officials made little difference. The university has not disclosed its Covid numbers to the faculty. And the number of tests given—supposedly in the tens of thousands—has been kept off the Alabama Department of Public Health’s count for either the county or the state. The reported number of infections was so high in the first week of school that the University of Alabama became national news as a case study for the country.[2] Unlike University of North Carolina, which switched its courses to full-online after less than 150 cases, the University of Alabama continues full-steam ahead with hundreds of cases each week and entire dorms being cleared in order to quarantine the growing number of students with COVID.[3]


[1] H. L. and Evolving Ed, “Defining the Teacher’s Role in Hybrid Education,” Schoology Exchange (blog), September 4, 2020,

[2] Michael Casagrande, “UA Counts More than 500 Confirmed COVID-19 Cases,”, August 24, 2020,

[3] Juliana Kaplan, Allana Akhtar, and Taylor Borden, “How the University of North Carolina Went from a Leader in College Reopenings to What the Student Paper Called a ‘clusterf—’ with 135 Coronavirus Cases in Just 7 Days,” Business Insider, August 24, 2020, Connor Sheets, “‘You Don’t Exist’: Inside UA’s COVID-19 Isolation Dorms,”, September 4, 2020,

Read more
Infamous UNC student newspaper
UNC journalism students were not happy with how their university was responding. So UNC sent everyone home.

“Watch this before Going Back to School – COVID School Reopening Video,” Dr. SMART Team, September 3, 2020,

“School Reopening 2020: Preliminary Framework,” Chicago Public Schools, July 17, 2020,

“Reopening Schools is a Terrible Idea,” Second Thought, July 24, 2020,

Patty Culhane, “US Schools Starting to Reopen,” Al Jezeera English, August 12, 2020,

“Reopening Massachusetts Public Schools, 2020-2021,” Massachusetts DESE, August 4, 2020,

Armitage, Richard, and Laura B. Nellums. “Considering Inequalities in the School Closure Response to COVID-19.” The Lancet Global Health 8, no. 5 (May 1, 2020): e644.
Fink, Jack. “Some Technology-Related Glitches Mark Dallas ISD’s First Day Of School Online,” September 8, 2020.
L., H., and Evolving Ed. “Defining the Teacher’s Role in Hybrid Education.” Schoology Exchange (blog), September 4, 2020.
Lancker, Wim Van, and Zachary Parolin. “COVID-19, School Closures, and Child Poverty: A Social Crisis in the Making.” The Lancet Public Health 5, no. 5 (May 1, 2020): e243–44.
Natanson, Hannah. “Back to School, but Not Back to Normal: Students and Teachers in Northern Virginia Launch Online Learning.” Washington Post, September 8, 2020.
Schulte, Sarah, and Alexis McAdams. “Chicago Public School Students, Teachers Return to Virtual Learning Tuesday.” ABC7 Chicago, September 8, 2020.
Stein, Perry. “As Neighborhood Public School Buildings Remain Closed, Charters Begin Offering in-Person Learning for Small Groups.” Washington Post, September 8, 2020.
Marfice, Christina. “Botched Gender Reveal Sparks 10,000-Acre Wildfire In California.” Scary Mommy, September 8, 2020.
Robbins, Rebecca, Adam Feuerstein, and Helen Branswell. “AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine Study Is Put on Hold.” STAT (blog), September 8, 2020.
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