When Do We Decide to Persevere or Change?

gordian knotAs I write this in August 2020, the schools are planning how to open in the fall. And, the various college sports are trying to decide how or if they will play.

How do we decide to persevere or to change?

Schools fulfill many vital roles in a child’s life. The younger the child, the more the child needs hands-on work with a teacher or a pod of other children. Even children who can read on their own need have specific needs—to socialize in school and learn with each other.

What about school-as-childcare? I don’t think we can ignore that. When my children were young, I sent them to afterschool “daycare” even though I was home much of the time. Parents cannot work (remote or in-person) if they’re worried about their children’s safety.

We need to protect our children’s learning and health and safety.

I don’t envy any parent right now.

What about sports? While I recognize the role sports plays in many people’s lives, I rank sports as lower than academics. That’s me and I might not know what role sports teams (especially football) plays in the future of a person’s life.

However, I will always focus on academics first. (That’s me.) If sports can prevent academics from proceeding, I would eliminate sports.

My preferences: persevere on school (at all levels). Change sports and possibly eliminate them for now.

And, I have no skin in this game. I have no children in school, and they’re not playing organized sports.

I would like to see more nuanced conversations about these problems. As always, I ask questions.

Consider These Questions to See Nuances

These questions are not just about school and sports. We need to go meta and ask context-free questions:

  • What does success look like?
  • Why are these results desirable?
  • What is the solution worth to you?
  • What problems does this system solve?
  • What problems could this system create?

I suspect that many people would say success looks like:

  • Parents can return to work and not worry about their children.
  • Parents can then make money.
  • University athletic programs can help their participants gain more experience and possibly gain the notice of a scout for a professional team.
  • University towns can gain some of the income they expect with the football season.

Notice that the success questions are a balance of health and money. That’s why—in my opinion—we need to create more options, where we’re not trading off one of these options against the other.

I might be right in my ranking. I might be wrong. And, until we find an “and” option, where we create the academics + sports + health for everyone, we have not thought enough about this problem. I am sure we need to apply the Rule of Three to create more options. We need to prevent fear from limiting our options.

When do we persevere with school openings? With sports? Can we separate the impact of one on the other? How do each of those affect a parent’s ability to work, to pay for college, and more?

These questions challenge each of us and our society. The questions are worth discussing in depth, not in offhand comments. Especially not using “of course” language. I am sure I have barely scratched the surface of the issues under each question.

That’s the question this week: When do we decide to persevere or change?

5 thoughts on “When Do We Decide to Persevere or Change?

  1. Pingback: Five Blogs – 14 August 2020 – 5blogs

  2. John

    Hi Johanna. I (in Australia) have two school-aged sons who love their sport (soccer and cricket). As restrictions have been relaxed they’ve been able to participate again. Whilst I agree with you that academic activities trump sport in terms of importance, there is more to sport than sport!
    – physical and mental health
    – sense of purpose and accomplishment
    – expand social circles/cameraderie
    When sport was not possible due to COVID restrictions both my boys suffered due the loss of connection etc. I really don’t care if the professional sports competitions are suspended, but community/school sports really do help in so many ways,

    1. Johanna Post author

      Hi John, I agree with you about school-age sports and what those activities offer children. And, Australia is in a totally different state than almost anywhere in the US, in terms of the number of cases and community spread. I checked https://ncov2019.live/ this morning. Australia has had a total of 22,743 cases (as of 9:45 am Eastern, according to that site). Total. You’ve had about 375 deaths and at the time I checked, you had just over 9,000 active cases. According to Wikipedia, you have a population of about 25.6 million people.

      Here, in the US, we have a population of about 331 million people. Call it 12-13 times your population. (I’m being intentionally vague.) We’ve had almost 5.5 million cases, 170,000 deaths, and we might have 2.4 million active cases. By any measure, the US response to the virus is not comparable to the Australian response.

      I love the fact that you raised the non-physical parts of sports. Yes, I agree with you, those aspects of sports are vital for most children.

      I wonder if we’re shaking the wrong end of this stick. I suspect we should start with the youngest children and see about creating some kind of normalcy for them for school and sports and arts. Instead, here in the US, we’re starting with professional sports and college sports. That’s because they generate the most money for society.

      I suspect that by trying to be direct in our solutions, we are missing a substantial part of the societal good we could do with obliquity. (See Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly)

  3. Marsha

    Johanna, the simplest answer to your question, “When do we decide to persevere or change?” is this: We reach the decision based on the value we perceive in either direction. If we are on a course that has reached a dead end, or worse, a diminishing return, the answer is obvious. We change. If we are on a course that still imparts some greater value than cost to us, then we persevere.

    There are nuanced responses, however. Some people will change if they believe there is greater reward available from some other course of action (more, in the USA, always seems to drive decision-making), leading them to abandon modest gains in the current course for the promise of greater gains from the change. Others think that if they give up “too soon” and change course, even if they are losing ground steadily, they might miss out on an opportunity, so they persevere despite the evidence of losses. I think those may be the outliers on the scale, however.

    Regarding the issues of trying to decide how to handle the situation of putting children back in schools, and possibly have them participate in organized sports or other extracurricular activities, I truly believe that we (again, the USA) are trying to push forward on a return to “normal” before we have collected enough data to make a fully or even reasonably informed decision. Every day, we are learning more about the longer-term damages and effects the virus has on everyone, including children, when mere weeks ago, we were convinced by overly optimistic politicians and newscasters that children were simply carriers, rather than victims. We are learning that this is absolutely untrue. Given that we don’t yet know the longer-term effects of contracting the virus (for example, are young internal organs permanently damaged? are young people who get the virus more susceptible to other types of virus? are the immuno-responses somehow compromised?), in the absence of enough data to do an actual trend analysis, I’d suggest that taking any action that puts children in situations where exposure is more likely (closed classrooms with windows that don’t open, inadequate supervision of social distancing and sanitation procedures, not requiring masks, parents and guardians who “game the system” by dosing their darlings with Tylenol or other symptom-masking medication before handing the children off to the care of the school, is nothing but a crap shoot, and little more than wishful thinking.

    I am not unsympathetic to the plight of parents who are facing a multitude of issues that not having a daily routine like going to school for the children produce, and at the same time, I keep asking myself what’s most important? Getting the children back into schools and the capable hands of trained educators, or keeping the children safe, until we actually understand the extent of the threat?

    I think that there is middle ground, and part of establishing that middle ground is to look at where we are with open, honest eyes and understand that for now, the “back to normal” we desire with all our hearts is not realistic. We need to pave new paths for learning and education — and also for the way we work and how we live. Sometimes “persevere” is nothing more than a pipe dream.

    1. Johanna Post author

      Marsha, your comment about “return to ‘normal'” is the key idea.

      We (as a country) have defined “return to normal” as what success means. IMNHO, a “return to normal” is not a good definition of success. Return is not possible. Normal has and will continue to change. And, possibly most importantly, we don’t know the long-term effects of the virus on children. This virus does not (yet) appear to be like polio. It appears to be a respiratory disease. The cytokine storm reaction in some patients bothers me a lot.

      And, the younger the child, the more the child needs school. I’m not sure if you saw Gov Baker’s Aug 20 press conference. Right now, here in Massachusetts, many communities have very low virus incidence and transmission. If people keep their distance, wear masks, wash their hands, etc, the risks for children and their teachers are pretty low. Not nonexistent. But low.

      Let me address how we might think about a definition of success. I prefer to think about success in these ways:
      1. Now, for the rest of August. (Here in MA, kids don’t start school until September.)
      2. For September-October. The weather tends to be reasonable for Sept-Oct, where it’s possible to have out-of-classroom learning and experiences.
      3. November-December. It’s too cold for almost any person to sit outside for long. If we didn’t prepare the classrooms’ air filtration by this time, we’re SOL.
      4. January-April. We need to make sure everyone in contact with children has a flu shot, to decrease the incidence of flu while we see what we have for vaccine candidates and who gets them.

      These various time horizons allow us to do rolling wave planning and replan when we know more or better.

      I’m not sure I would call this a “project” because while our circumstances are emergent, I’m not sure I see the end result. However, if we could discuss what success means at various timeframes, we might see better ways to proceed.

      Your middle ground incorporates my tip for adaptability: See your reality. When we don’t acknowledge our reality, we can’t create options to move forward.

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