Reopening schools is immoral and undermines educational values.
Before I say more, allow me to qualify myself. As I enter my 30th year of life, nearly every year has been spent in a school. From pre-school, elementary, middle, high school, college, high school teacher, and now full-time graduate student living in a first-year resident dorm, nearly every waking year of my life has been spent in a school building. Beyond that experience with schools, as a human being, I believe returning to in-person learning is immoral.
Let’s first look at the numbers. In March, when schools closed, there were only a few thousand reported cases of Coronavirus in the United States. Now, months later, and just a few days before schools are set to welcome students back into the buildings, the United States reports over 60,000 new cases a day. If it was not safe with a few thousand total cases, how is it safe with a few million total cases?
In the past few months, we have seen how quickly Coronavirus can spread, especially in places like nursing homes and prisons, where people live in close quarters and frequently congregate for meals and social gatherings. Living on a college campus is insignificantly different. Students live in small rooms, share common restrooms and showers, have limited and crowded dining facilities, and attend regular gatherings (classes, clubs, bars, parties, etc.). If Coronavirus can spread quickly in nursing homes and prisons where mobility and activities are limited, imagine how quickly the virus might spread with an unfettered community.
I understand the desire to return to school. Online education is a difficult transition, and it is not comparable to in-person learning. Yet, online school is working, it is effective, and people are adapting.
Schools are much more than learning institutions. Schools teach civility. Schools instill values. Schools establish community bonds and foster friendships. Schools are safe environments for all people to feel welcomed. These broader aspects of schools cannot be undermined. Schools must continue to be mission-driven institutions that create welcoming environments for all people to grow, develop lasting relationships, and have a passion for learning.
By opening schools, institutions are immediately unraveling the fabric of schools. By opening schools, institutions are placing profits over people. By opening schools, institutions are contradicting their own values. By opening schools, institutions are creating unsafe working, learning, and living conditions. By opening schools, institutions are undermining their mission-driven charisms.
For institutions that pride themselves with “caring for the whole person,” how careful are you considering the safety of the whole person over the safety of your endowment?
For institutions that pride themselves for their liberal arts education, what philosophical ethical system are you using to determine your decision to reopen? The greatest good for the greatest number of people? Nope, not utilitarian ethics. Is there a categorical imperative for reopening everything? Nope, not deontological ethics. If you cannot justify the greatest good, nor recognize a categorical imperative, how can you justify reopening your schools?
For institutions that pride themselves on “community first,” how will you justify when your community becomes the first to have widespread coronavirus infection?
As a teacher and student, the idea of returning to on-campus learning is, in short, terrifying. For far too long, education has been placed on the back-burner. For far too long, schools have received limited resources. For far too long, education budgets have been cut for other projects. For far too long, teachers have worked exceptionally long hours with little compensation. For far too long, students have paid exorbitant tuition costs that never seem to stop rising. To expect students and teachers to be guinea pigs in uncharted and unsafe territory is asinine, degrading, and cowardice.
Other options exist that do not involve bringing the entire student body to campus. Those options require creative and potentially uncomfortable solutions. However, by welcoming back your entire student body to campus, you are clearly revealing that the only solutions you are willing to make are those that immorally and comfortably line your pocketbooks.
 Below, I have included two citations for articles that might illuminate the effectiveness of online education.
- Sharon Jeffcoat Bartley, and Jennifer H. Golek. “Evaluating the Cost Effectiveness of Online and Face-to-Face Instruction.” Journal of Educational Technology & Society 7, no. 4 (2004): 167-75. Accessed August 1, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/jeductechsoci.7.4.167.
- Ni, Anna Ya. “Comparing the Effectiveness of Classroom and Online Learning: Teaching Research Methods.” Journal of Public Affairs Education 19, no. 2 (2013): 199-215. Accessed August 1, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23608947.