The small package, delivered in my mail, opened up a variety of thoughts and memories — and a few questions — when I opened it.
Its contents were simple and not particularly interesting to an outsider, but were meaningful to me and some others. Therein were pictures of two of my grandchildren.
Many of us can remember the days when school pictures arrived, marking milestones in our developing years, a panorama of change for parents, grandparents and others who kept up annually with the “School Days” photos.
Many parents can remember mornings scrambling eggs while scrambling for suitable clothes for their children to wear on the day the cameras did their work, hoping their children’s proper attire would last at least until the picture was taken. Weeks or months later, families would pass judgment as to whether the photo-snapper had succeeded in producing a satisfactory portrait.
I am happy to report my newly arrived photos passed muster. And here I was reminded by one of my daughters of the historic nature of this year’s photos, which we received well into the school calendar. She had written a note included along with the pictures in the small package. “We finally got new school photos of the grandchildren,” she wrote. And, she added, as recorded for history, that one was from the sixth grade and one from the seventh.
Then she pointed out the unique story of the academic year. “They will always remember it as the year of the virtual school.”
Certainly, it will be remembered for this time of virtual school, especially for those directly caught up in this unforgettable episode. All of us have been touched in some way by this crisis, and in a significant number of cases, young or old, we have suffered terrible consequences. There are, however, promising signs for better days ahead — although we are constantly warned, as we should be, about the importance of wearing masks and about not letting our guard down. That applies not just to students but to virtual, in-person or hybrid learning — far more complicated than past practice. In other cases, it’s much more a matter of rearranging those school-days chairs and desks. And we have a variety of factors to consider related to health and safety concerns, particularly for students.
A new education secretary, Miguel Cardona, has been nominated by the Biden Administration and confirmed by the Senate. He represents a sharp contrast to Trump’s education secretary, Betsy De Vos, who was a strong advocate of school choice.
Cardona is expected to play a major role in supporting school reopening efforts, including President Biden’s goal of having a majority of elementary schools open five days a week. Cardona drew notice for his efforts in Connecticut to reopen schools, and he vows to make reopening schools his top priority. The debate over reopening continues to stir controversy with powerful teachers unions, a significant force.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend schools reopen. Republicans have been critical of Cardona for not moving to reopen schools quicker. Cardona has considerable on-the-job experience within the schools, beginning as a fourth-grade teacher. Cardona sees himself as a unifier at a time unifiers are in short supply, particularly in some education circles. Cardona also echoes Biden’s call for increased education funding.
More than was the case during the decades of yesterday, the schooldays photos illustrate the fits and starts of the reopening saga. Many, probably most, believe students can safely get back to the school-days traditions, even in these digital days.
In general terms, there is broad support for reopening schools, but there continues to be doubts in some quarters from those who say the risks are too great.
Are decisions on reopening based more on politics than on public health concerns?
U.S. Sen. John Boozman says Arkansas students have returned successfully to classes. The rest of the nation should follow, he believes, as Arkansas sets an example of how it can be done safely. Boozman urges returning students to pursue in-person covid classroom protocols.
We should recognize the necessity of following guidelines even though a remarkable number of activities, including sports, cheer and band, have managed to perform and get in lots of school day photos with appropriate school uniforms. We have watched and heard student participation in these activities, though not without some significant disruption. Providing education and ancillary activities has always been a fundamental component and distinctive characteristic of American society.
Clearly, much is at stake for the traditional school-days experience in this current debate about education.
It is still good to see these school-days photos, even in these challenging times.
Hoyt Purvis is an emeritus professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas. Email him at [email protected] .