Two years ago, UTLA went out on strike for a 6% pay increase and Vista Middle School was selected as one of the sites for a picket line. As a neighbor and husband of a teacher, I walked up there in an act of skeptical solidarity, to see how the shakedown of Los Angeles taxpayers was progressing.
What struck me at the time was the amount of honking support they received from passing cars in working-class Latino Van Nuys.
The outcome was preordained. The union banged the spoon and L.A. surrendered everything it wanted. Plus seconds. And dessert. What followed was Soviet-era astroturfed propaganda from UTLA bathing in the adulation of a grateful public, paid for by…the same public, who had no say in the matter.
Fast forward to 2020, and to the Wuhan virus. In a time of shared sacrifice and difficulty, guess who didn’t want to report to work and had the power not to do so and to be paid anyway?
Only 36% of students in L.A. Unified regularly engaged in distance learning, i.e. turned in homework and completed tests, i.e., received an education. This is desertion in the face of the enemy. It would be bad to do this to kids for a semester. For three semesters in a row, across two academic years?
Suffice to say, this is not what schools are doing in China. Or Korea. Or Europe. Or Texas. This is not what is happening at the prep school where Mrs. UpintheValley teaches.
What if Wuhan isn’t killing people so much as breaking America as we once understood it? What if the pandemic is a political toxin in medical drag?
To judge it by its works, if you were told a year ago that one-third of small businesses would be put to death by government policy, would you have believed me? What if I said the richest men in America would see their fortunes expand by 50%, also due to government policy? That the educational divide between public and private schools would become unbridgeable? That the tectonic plates between those who could telecommute and the service class who delivered their comforts would shift to the point they no longer touched? That the chief beneficiary of these changes would be China itself, which would exercise a veto over the discussion of pandemic origins by dangling the carrot of access to its markets? That the infrastructure of think tanks and academic departments which might serve as a bulwark of market critique would be revealed to be funded by China? That Zoom would become indispensable to our work life and TikTok embedded in our play and both would be Chinese owned? That teenagers in Wuhan would be throwing Lollapalooza-sized pool parties while Americans cowered in masks in the outdoors, fearing a scold of Karens. That bureaucrats would presume extra-constitutional powers. That the first amendment would become fully fungible to corporate diktats. That every cable network would maintain a death clock that magically disappeared with the departure of Trump, the first president to renegotiate trade agreements with China in terms more favorable to American workers, if only slightly.
That’s a lot of damage for 12 months. We can’t do much about geopolitical arrangements, but we can do something about Vista Middle School. We know a few things we didn’t know a year ago. Children are not at risk and are low vectors of transmission. Teachers are not retail workers. They can temp check every child who enters the building. They can demand plexiglass barriers and daily disinfection of classrooms. They can also accept the reciprocal obligations of public service to the working-class Van Nuysians who supported them when they were banging the spoon for more money.