As we know, public and private schools from all across the United States from Pre-K to 12 are currently implementing online learning as opposed to the traditional in-class approach due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The school closure brings various pros and cons that couldn’t be ignored, especially in today’s society. In this paper, I apply the utilitarianism viewto the issue of prolonging distance learning or reopening schools during this Covid-19 pandemic. I start in paragraph 2 and 3 by summarizing the dilemma as well as pros and cons our country now faces about whether schools should stay closed or be reopened for in-class learning. I then describe the theory of Utilitarianism as vocalized by philosopher Alastair Norcross in his writing “Great Harms from Small Benefits Grow: How Death Can be Outweighed by Headaches”on paragraph 4. Finally, I apply the aforementioned theory to the issue in paragraph 5 and write my argument on what should be done on paragraph 6.
According to the article posted on the Scientific American website titled “Schools Have No Good Options for Reopening during Covid-19” by Sophie Bushwick, either options whether to reopen schools or to prolong distance learning each “carries a risk of harm to students, their families, and the adults who work with them.” Though a study published in Nature Medicine had found that those younger than 20 has a significantly lower risk of being infected by the Covid-19 virus, they are not entirely immune to the disease. Thus, having the potential to spread the virus to their peers, school staff, their families, and the general public at large. In addition to that, though severe cases on children are rare, they tend to be asymptomatic and thus harder to detect before people around them can take precautions. Bushwick also mentioned in the article that reopening schools prematurely, though with some safety precautions, have been detrimental to Israel in battling the spread of Covid-19, as mentioned in the news published by Wall Street Journal.
However, further closing schools and prolonging online learning brings dangerous developmental risk as schools play a huge part in children’s lives, as mentioned by Danielle Dooley in Bushwick’s article. Dooley believes that “being around your peers (and) being in a community of supportive adults (is) really critical for a child’s development” (Bushwick). In addition to that, there are lots of families, especially those of lower income, who could not afford the facilities for online learning, nor have the time or accommodation to assist their younger children with schoolwork. Students with disabilities and special needs are also not receiving the specialized attention and facilities they need to excel which they would otherwise get in an in-class environment. Bushwick’s article mentions that in order to get the best of both worlds, schools can reopen with stern safety precautions, such as: having frequent rapid testing, improving school ventilation, sanitizing throughout the day, having strict mask mandates, and limiting students to small groups. However, according to the article, most schools could not afford these procedures, which forces them to continue online learning.
By definition, utilitarianismis a theory that advocates means or actions that produce “the most pleasure” in an equation of “pleasure” minus “pain”. In other words, the “goodness” of a consequence depends entirely on the total quantity of pleasure and pain that that consequence involves. Alastair Norcross in his writing “Great Harms from Small Benefits Grow: How Death Can be Outweighed by Headaches” defends the utilitarianism view through giving out example scenarios, one that I found most prevalent is on how 1 death is better than 5 one-in-a-million risk of dying. Norcross believes so because the “Number of Lives” sacrificed would be less in the first choice than the latter, therefore produce more “pleasure” in the equation to choose the 1 death and not the 5 one-in-a-million risk.
I believe that in order to solve the dilemma of whether we should reopen schools or prolong online learning, we need to apply the utilitarianism theory in light of Norcross’ view as presented in previous paragraph. We can adopt his“Number of Lives”view and choose to prolong online learning for the sake of minimizing deaths due to Covid-19. According to statistics, in the United States as of Fall 2020, there are 56.4 million children who go to school (PK-12), with 50.7 million going to public school and 5.7 million in private school. Most of which are being affected by online learning. United States’ total population as of October 18, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, are 330.4 million. I argue that we should continue distance learning for the sake of 274 million Americans whose lives are at stake, by being even further exposed therefore pose higher risk of getting the virus with school reopening. Based on the data reported by New York Times, the pandemic has caused 220 thousand deaths in the United States alone, even with online learning and social distancing mandates in place most times since March 2020 until today. I believe we should not further risk the country’s public health by reopening schools because it would most likely result in even more deaths and further spread of virus that would prolong the pandemic. Not only that, our economy has been very negatively impacted by the pandemic, causing countless businesses to close and millions being laid-off. Even prolonging the pandemic’s “airtime” would further cripple Americans and the economy. With those in mind, once again we can highlight Norcross’ utilitarianism view, that we should delay reopening schools, because prematurely doing so would further stretch out the pandemic’s duration and cause greater damage.
However, as mentioned previously in Bushwick’s article, prolonging distance learning puts children’s developments at risk. Even though I believe that we cannot turn a blind eye on them, there are things that could be done about that “from a safe distance”, without reopening schools and risking public health. For instance, schools could hire more teachers and/or teacher assistants to further assist the children’s learning experience and give specialized attention and support to neurodiverse children and children with disabilities. If hiring additional faculty members are deemed too costly, schools can look for volunteers or request additional funds from the government. Governments should also give more support to schools during this difficult time because children are our future engineers, doctors, presidents, and most importantly members of humanity. Other than those, care packages containing basic needs such as pre-packaged nutritious meals or groceries, stationeries, or even coupons could also be distributed to families with lower income to help foster their children’s education. Brands could also take actions by providing discounts on internet services, devices, and other facilities needed to support online learning. I have seen this particular effort done in Indonesia where internet providers give out free data allowance forall students (from pre-K touniversity) to use for their school work, and it has given tremendous support for students across the country. I believe if we implement these solutions to schools in the United States, our children will be able to avoid or lessen the negative effects of prolonged distance learning in their developments.
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