School-related ethical idea #1.
Whenever I have a lot on my plate and try to figure out what’s more important, one strategy I try to use is “2-for-1.” Which items on this list are both important once for themselves, and also valuable for what they enable me/my organization to do down the road?
So as I think about the urgent need to make the opening of school successful in all ways this fall, I thought of this 2-for-1 approach to deciding when, whether, and how to be with other people for, say, the next 6-8 weeks.
(This is very contextual. I live in New Hampshire, where the infection rate has been very low recently compared to the country as a whole. There are possibilities for the opening of schools here that don’t exist in many if not most other places in the U.S.)
Here is a four-part ethical maxim, first draft, a kind of emergency ethical order:
- We will go out in public around people (in accordance with the recommended health/safety guidelines) if it is for something that could help our community learn how to open schools safely and successful for students, teachers, staff, and families.
- We will share whatever we learn with those responsible for opening schools and with each other.
- We will go out in public around people for something that is urgent for someone’s wellbeing (myself or someone else) and can’t be put off.
- Otherwise, we will not go out where other people are even if it’s considered safe and permitted, because not being with other people is the surest way to block the spread of the virus, and every pathway blocked makes it more likely that schools can operate safely and successful in my community.
As an ethical approach, this puts care (including self-care) at the center and focuses our action on one of the top social solidarity issues at hand right now, which is schooling.
I should say that I am proposing this as a collective action. It doesn’t make much sense as an individual maxim; it wouldn’t hurt but it wouldn’t make that much impact. My whole point is to think about social solidarity, what we can all do for the public good
I am leading a synagogue, and this intrigues me because it gives a purpose for some of the things we are working on for in-person gathering. We focused first on care – stretching for funerals and shiva (mourning). Our outdoor, small group parking lot services have tested out procedures and refinements, and have yielded observations about what works and what doesn’t (for adults; no kids involved yet). What we learn as we plan and pilot for the Jewish high holy days in mid-September can be very valuable for schools in a number of ways.
In fact as I write this, I think about making this a kind of prayer/kavvanah/intention for any in-person gatherings we have: “Behold, I am here today for the sake of the children in our community, their parents, their teachers and all who support the education of our youth in every way.” This could itself be the test of an action right now – if one can make that statement one is about to do something worthwhile, and if one can’t make the statement one should reconsider.