Thanks to emails published last week, we know the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) caved to pressure from the National Educational Association to reverse a recommendation on school masking. On May 14, a day before the CDC recommended continued masking at schools, the NEA threatened to publish a letter complaining that not mandating masks in schools makes “it hard for school boards and leaders of institutions of higher education to do the right thing by maintaining mitigation measures.”
This brings up a few questions. Why did the NEA go against scientific authorities to push for more masking? Are they really scared that teachers and students are at greater risk of infection? Do they simply want to use the inconvenience of masking to motivate more people to take a vaccine? Or do they want people to mask up because they like what masking does to the school environment?
Having worked as a teacher through the dumpster fire that was the 2020-2021 school year, I strongly suspect that the NEA wants the masks because of the atmosphere it creates. While there’s little hard evidence that masks do much to stop or slow the spread of the virus, there’s strong evidence they are an effective symbol. Joy Pullmann elaborates on this idea, writing that universal masking “communicates that the entire world should look like a hospital, a fearful and sad place where people are desperately sick, even if they don’t know it.”
COVID Hysteria Dissipates Normal Responsibilities
Such an atmosphere has important benefits and drawbacks for educators. On one hand, it brings the downsides of muffled voices, stifled breathing, and limited connection between people. On the other hand, it has the upside of eliminating any real accountability.
One must remember that last school year brought many new concerns for teachers and administrators: spacing out desks, keeping class sizes tiny, cleaning desks between each class period, coordinating periods and lunches, overhauling instructional material to be compatible with remote learning, contact-tracing infected students, trying to take attendance while excusing two-week quarantine absences, and of course, telling students to keep their masks on throughout
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