We’re far from the normalcy all deserve
I understand when I hear cries for a return to normalcy. But we cannot return to a normalcy that accepts the forced homelessness of millions of poor people and families, and that forces millions to choose between health care and feeding their children. We cannot accept a normalcy that keeps more than half the population living paycheck to paycheck, teetering on the edge of poverty and despair. We cannot accept the normalcy of workers treated as disposable cogs in the wheels of commerce, whether in supermarkets, in nursing homes, in offices, or on the farms and in the factories that provide the nation with food. We cannot accept a normalcy where millions of students leave school under the crushing weight of bank debt. We cannot return to a normalcy that endorses the caging of more adults than any other nation.
Even as we move through this period of chaos, we must insist that we cannot return to that normal as though it was, and is, the so-called natural order of things.
So much for the myth of American exceptionalism
For most Americans, 2020 was a terrible year in so many respects. But hopefully there is one particular good that is hard to deny: The falseness of the myth of American exceptionalism has been revealed.
Perhaps now we can begin the work of freeing ourselves from that myth by acknowledging and dealing with, at least, 10 plagues that weigh upon our land and that have only become more virulent and obvious during the pandemic of 2020:
1. Systemic racism that has pervaded all our institutions since before the founding of the Republic.
2. The authoritarian streak within a surprisingly fragile American democracy — the weaknesses of our federal system revealed,
3. Our ignorance of science, whether addressing climate change or the current pandemic.
4. The weakness of our public health system.
5. Our gross economic disparities, not seen since the days of the robber barons.
6. The prevalence of food and housing insecurity.
7. The mythic might of the American military, exposed in the face of cyberattacks and asymmetrical warfare.
8. Our susceptibility to misinformation, hoaxes, lies, and demagoguery.
9. Our lack of leadership and trustworthiness in international diplomacy and trade relations.
10. Our unwillingness to live up to our founding documents in their concern for the general welfare that allows individual liberty to flourish.
I hope the pandemic serves as a chastisement from which we will become a better people.
These times demand a full commitment to the teaching of social studies
As we try to understand how the insurrection at the Capitol came to pass last week, and try to determine how to combat the huge network of disinformation growing in the “alternative information ecosystems” of conspiracy theory websites, I urge sincere recommitment to fully funded social studies education in our public schools (”The information ecosystem that led to the Capitol attack,” Opinion, Jan. 9).
How can we cast the biggest net to reach and teach the children of this nation to distinguish between fact and opinion? How can we teach about the mistakes of the past in order not to repeat them? How can we encourage children to collaborate with people of different backgrounds to find common values and goals and to combat fear of the “other”? By relying on trained and licensed social studies teachers. By funding our schools enough to allow those teachers to focus on social studies and the history of humankind.
This era in history demands it, and it won’t be quick work. It will require years of rebuilding the blocks of democracy.
The writer is a teacher in the Winthrop Public Schools.