People sometimes like to brag on social media that they “don’t read the comments.” I like to brag that I do. In this post, I’ve posted nearly a dozen screenshots of comments by ordinary commenters at The New York Times website, demolishing David Brooks’s ignorant, self-righteous, shaming defense of in-person teaching in K-12 public schools.
I’ll refrain from extensive commentary on these comments, but I will say this: I stand in awe at the pathetic quality of the parenting in our country, largely populated by middle class people. Such is the job that American parents have done that they’re falling apart over the dire prospect of leaving their kids home alone in their well-stocked, heated, accoutrement-centered homes. And the kids themselves are so not all right, that faced with the supposedly overwhelming prospect of not learning what they supposedly learn in school, they can’t bring themselves to get off their asses and do some learning on their own steam–not even with the beneficent resources of the Internet, Khan Academy, and the entire paraphernalia of high-tech learning at their finger-tips, so loudly valorized by ideologues until people actually had to rely on the much-hyped technologies to get anything done.
No, the teachers have to be the helpmeets of these incompetent parents and infantilized children, functioning simultaneously as babysitters, mental health counselors, nurses, clean-up crew, life coaches, and teachers. When the kids don’t learn, it’s the teachers’ fault. When the kids get depressed or anxious, it’s the teachers’ fault. When the kids get lonely, it’s the teachers’ fault. When the kids commit suicide, it’s the teachers’ fault. Meanwhile, the teachers are supposed to risk getting COVID in the bargain, mostly at the behest of safe, sit-at-home white collar people who are themselves facing no risks whatsoever.
I’m not talking about the underprivileged children of the poor, or children with special needs, or very young children. Special accommodation can be made to give them what they need (on a means-tested basis). I’m talking about children above the age of ten in middle class to upper-middle class homes whose parents are blaming their own parental inadequacies on teachers, and wringing their hands over their childrens’ inability to survive life at home. If these kids can’t survive life at home–in American homes, at an American standard of living–how fit for the challenges of life are they? And whose fault is it that they’re not? Maybe it’s time to start training for the fitness challenge?
No one can tell me that I’m not facing risks. I work in, clean up, and disinfect hospital ORs for a living. In other words, I walk into rooms infected with MRSA, VRE, hepatitis, HIV, Clostridioides difficile, and COVID just about every day, take the trash and hazardous waste out of the room (blood, urine, feces, etc.), then wipe the infection off the surfaces, and mop it off the floor. I did that before I got the Pfizer-Biontech shot, and with greater peace of mind, do it now that I’ve gotten both doses of the shot. But I wouldn’t dream of forcing or even cajoling unvaccinated teachers into infection-laden classrooms, much less blaming them for the “dire consequences on children” of refusing to do so. But don’t just listen to me. Listen to the people I’ve showcased below.
I’m with the teachers’ unions on this one–the very ones being so loudly execrated (and sued) by these entitled administrators, parents, and “influencers.” I hope the unions finally stand up, and teach these entitled people a lesson they never forget. And never underestimate the intelligence and common sense of educated laypeople like the commenters below. We’re lost without them; indeed, our very lives depend on them.
“People sometimes like to brag on social media that they ‘don’t read the comments.’ I like to brag that I do.”
Well, your tolerance for aggravation and despair is higher than for most of us. :-p
(In this case the comments — at least the ones you’ve quoted — are better than what’s being commented on, but that’s not generally true.)
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I think it’s an overgeneralization to say that comments are generally not worth reading, or not as good as the original post. Considering the vastness of the Internet, any one person’s experiences are bound to be extremely limited and unrepresentative of the whole.
I’ve certainly encountered my share of sites where the comments were dreck (or worse), but I’ve also seen real gems–not just individual comments, but whole threads–scattered throughout the Internet, Sometimes, it’s the comments rather than the original post that make the reading experience worthwhile. Even while trawling through some seriously dismal discussions, e.g., on Facebook and LinkedIn, I’ve encountered exceptional contributors I might never have otherwise encountered, and been glad for it. This just recently happened to me on Linked In. Much of the discussion on this news item was dumb as hell (may be gated for Premium members), but the comments of a handful of informed commenters made it worthwhile, not just as a reading experience but as a networking opportunity (Jacqueline Heslin, Cynthia Lapointe):
Though this is not precisely “reading the comments,” there are utterly obscure sites on WordPress where people are doing incredibly interesting, creative things–without formal credentials or status, or access to mainstream outlets.
So I’m willing to put up with aggravation to encounter things like that. I think professional intellectuals have a tendency to underestimate the intellectual contributions that non-professional intellectuals are capable of making to public discourse. But without them, professional intellectuals would be lost. Ordinary educated laypeople in non-academic and non-journalistic fields are where the action is; we aren’t. Without their input, we cut ourselves off from the world we’re commenting on. We’re then left indulging one of two illusions: that our armchair-bound intuitions are all we need to theorize about the world, and/or that social science will tell us all we need to know. The denigration of ordinary “lay” experience, it seems to me, is the gateway drug to elitism.
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