Sunday, October 10, 2021

Nobody's Rules

UPDATE: As of Oct. 14, teachers are allowed to wear their own quality masks, no more suspensions for that, but still have to wear board-mandated floppy masks on top because... reasons (likely to satisfy a backroom deal with suppliers). Still no access to rapid tests, and I have a class with a Covid confirmed (but officially no contact with others since having it), and several others absent because of "illness." No test = no covid spread!! I suggested the rest of the class notice the number of empty desks in the room and get a rapid test just in case.  


We're becoming subject to unrest in our schools and hospitals, with anti-vax picketers yelling at cancer patients and school children alike: "Stop being sheep! Take off your mask!" It's not the fault of our government, not directly, although the province next door somehow managed to draft a bill to end the protests while ours was still on vacation. It's Nobody's fault. That's how this works. It's hard to live through it when you're on the receiving end of rules that make no sense and Nobody will answer for it. Just close your eyes and think of England.

In her shortest book, On Violence, philosopher and journalist Hannah Arendt describes the problem with our bureaucratic system: 
 "The latest and perhaps most formidable form of dominion: bureaucracy or the rule of an intricate system of bureaus in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called rule by Nobody. If we identify tyranny as government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs, making it impossible to localize responsibility and to identify the enemy, that is among the most potent causes of the current worldwide rebellious unrest, its chaotic nature, and its dangerous tendency to get out of control" (38-9). 
Educators are witness to these effects.

In our school, we have brand new, beautiful floor to ceiling windows in classrooms, but curtains on backorder means they're covered with a collage of torn posters dug out from the bottom of the craft table so students can see the projected lesson on sunny days. And the third floor still has a cordoned off garbage pail catching the drips on rainy days. Buildings are crumbling and services unusable while the surface is made ornate. It's one way to cover the chaos: "Look what we've done for you!" Yes, it's beautiful, but… That's Nobody's fault too. The rule is, It's vital to project a good image regardless of what may be happening underneath it all.

My awareness of my own cog-status started with a simple rule that teachers must be in the building even when not in class or teaching online. Key cards track our coming and going, and the new program we were made to learn on top of adjusting to the start of the pandemic can watch when we log on and off. I've been in the profession longer than most administrators, but this level of surveillance is suddenly paramount to education. Don't try to understood it; just do what you're told. In my overcrowded school, I worked on a board of wood set gingerly on a broken radiator under a leaky window because I might not be as efficient at my kitchen table.

The social distance rules originally said we're all safe beyond 6' until it became clear that a cohort of 15 students couldn't fit in a room with that spread, so 3' is the actual safe distance; it was never 6'. Teaching 15 in the room and 15 at home also wasn't hybrid because of course we never taught hybrid because we all know it's awful. We could teach them asynchronistically, in twice the time, so we voluntarily taught hybrid that wasn't officially hybrid because of course they won't make us do that. Even after studies clarified that this virus spreads through aerosol transmission and will fill a room like smoke sending fatal molecules clear across 30' in just a few minutes, and even after it was made overt repeatedly that distance and table washing had to be replaced with masks and ventilation, the rule still said masks could come off inside with distancing, but the clever monkeys willfully neglected to post a specific distance. With 34 in a room, we're down to 18" as the maximum possibility. It's safe because Public Health says it's safe.

And then the masks come off for lunch. All 1500 at once. While some of us seek refuge in stairwells and offices watching the daily case numbers rise, others put all their faith in vaccination rates and track their hopeful ascent instead. Close to 78% today means there are likely only seven unvaccinated kids in the room! Some teachers play the odds and think that's enough to sit comfortably with a naked face and hopefully the window opened a crack to help dissipate any virus from hanging in the air for hours as it is wont to do, then insist the kids use hand sanitizer after they eat. If things go well I'll be seen as paranoid. If our luck runs out, they'll be seen as negligent. I really hope I'm paranoid. Reading about people lying prone, fighting for each breath, before dying alone, devoid of touch with loved ones on a screen, makes it difficult to walk into the building much less eat there. Seven hours without food or drink is a small price to pay for functioning lungs.

The board mandates masks that are thin accordions that touch my lips and gape at the cheeks and under the chin. Students re-cover their nose every time they speak and their jaw pulls it down. Employers prioritize the better quality and staff can't buy their own in case they're worse - not even the ones Lecce gave away to private schools, with talk of potential litigation and liability being the real crisis (sometimes overlaid with talk of equity as if everyone's better off if we all have equally useless masks), so the masks we wear must be the lesser quality but not outrageously bad version. Teachers are being suspended for wearing masks that actually work! Companies have caught wind of this and started providing high quality masks the exact same colour as board-issued masks so we can better hide them underneath. That's smart marketing in crazy times! Anti-vaxxers are accommodated, but any talk of breaking the bad-mask rule is met with accusations of insubordination.

Then they repossessed our rapid tests, offering only symptom reporting that at best might catch half the carriers. After so many teachers found a way to access and distribute tests to kids to help keep us all safe, we got caught red handed with contraband. The tests are for businesses, not for children. They're for immediate economic growth, not for the protection of our future. Not to keep kids from spreading the virus to their parents. Not to reduce the number of deaths and disabilities this disease causes. This is about the bottom line, people! Get with the program! Read the memo! Follow the rules, the ones that fit the narrative that covid doesn't spread in schools and that line some pockets.

This isn't inevitable. There were boards who went above the provincial mandates to enforce mandatory vaccination of all staff in the summer, while other boards had meetings to discuss future meetings that might discuss the idea of talking about this possibility a few months from now. Some boards working above the fray even want to have mandatory vaccination of the kids! There were provinces that gave rapid test right to schools while we scrounged to pick up and distribute a few extra boxes from allied businesses. And then there's New Zealand. Get a brand new mom in charge of the place and just watch how well cared for we'd be!

I live in a privileged space in time with children old enough to be vaxxed, parents dead before the Long Term Care genocide could kill them, and my own breast cancer treatment completed just before the hospitals filled up. But I selfishly don't want to hear of another student dying before graduation. I've written letters to elites, naively expecting results from my well-sourced documentation of facts cited from high ranking science journals. But the principal is just doing what the board says, and the board and union are just doing what the government says, and the government is just following the will of the people, and the people are corrupted by the media, and the loudest people want freedom without responsibility. Teachers should be doing what the principal says: re-read that memo and follow the rules, but we're on the front lines. Some of us watch the coughing start in the back corner, worry about empty desks to follow, and hide our home-made filter systems each night. The buck stops with us, if we want it to. We can make them keep their masks on and eat outside and open the windows. They'll hate us for it, but they'll survive to complain.

I've already been approached for breaking the rules: "I just need some clarity here," he said. "You're not actually preventing them from having a drink of water in class, are you?" Of course not. They can have a drink outside halfway through. Taking extra precautions gets us in more trouble than taking fewer precautions because it makes them appear careless. When did sipping water (or lattés or soda or coffee) every few minutes become a human right? Nestlé has trained us well. The convenience of eating and drinking all class has to take a back seat to the imperative of containing this deadly, disabling virus. A third of all cases here are in schools!!

Arendt explains why reasoning goes nowhere: "In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one can argue, to whom one can present grievances, on whom the pressures of power can be exerted." And then, "The greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater will be the attraction of violence" (81). We continue to struggle under the oppressive burden of incompetence. And it is a burden. We fight each other to figure out what's true and right when we have cowardly leadership navigating the storm. There's no place to turn to stop the madness, so people yell at cancer patients and children.

One final line from Arendt encapsulates the conundrum: "It goes against the very nature of self-interest to be enlightened" (78). Understanding the whole and having concern for all is antithetical to our immediate gains. For the elites, it affects their profit margin. And for the plebs, like me, it creates an internal struggle. Still in the initiation phase of this cult, it's possible to break free, but it will never be possible to tear it all down. Walking away is just another type of negligence, though. It's still our fault even if we follow all the rules and permit tragedies. It's only a few that die, right? Only a couple little ones are in the hospital here so far. What number of deaths is too many? What number crosses the line and forces us to shake off the inanity and take more care with what we know to be true. Five million deaths out of 7 billion people is just a drop in the bucket, but it's still 5 million lost. And you're not immune, neither from the virus nor from your part in this mess. We need better ventilation, rapid tests, and masks that stay on whenever we're in the building. Let's be courageous enough to stand up to the bureaucracy and say, "I am not Nobody. It ends here!"

ETA other voices:

Now, watch the finger-pointing begin.

And yes, the worst bit, remember to take time for yourself (but also get everything done as if mass deaths aren't going on in the world, and as if you didn't notice the eleven unexplained absences in your class today).

And for the love of God can we just put "morning or afternoon" on our absence form????  I was so confused by what quarter we're in (since we're not quadmestered) that I forgot to check "yes" for supervision. Luckily I remembered to add my supervision schedule to the TWO other forms we have to complete when we're too sick to go into the building. Redundant paperwork is a tool of bureaucracies that want to keep us so busy with mundane tasks that we don't have time to unite and fight back.

And THEN, the heat turned on because it's October even though it's 22 degrees outside, and all our windows are open.

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