Liewe Nadhim Zahawi, your praise for teachers is just hooey

On 2 January you getwiet: “Teachers and support staff across the country have put in a Herculean effort over the past 18 months and more, and I know we can count on their steadfast support in the coming weeks as we weather this storm.” I’m a great fan of metaphors but when it comes to pandemics, we have to be pretty careful to choose appropriate ones. Is a Covid pandemic a “storm”? I’ll put it like this: we breathe on each other. That’s how we get Covid. Storms come from up there in the clouds. We don’t breathe storms on each other.

More on metaphor and analogies later. In the meantime: on both parts of that sentence, you’re absolutely right. It has been a Herculean effort and we can all count on teachers in the future. So it’s annoying to reflect how little teachers have been helped or praised by your government for their hard work throughout the pandemic. Partly as a result, insults and idiotic comments have appeared about them being workshy or having it easy.

You also wrote: “I have asked former teachers who have either left the profession or retired to come forward to temporarily support workforces for the new term. I know many have stepped forward and it’s this blitz spirit that will be essential in turning the tide on Covid.”

Have you read the responses to this tweet? I’ll summarise the points that people make, while saving you from the anger. They remind you that people who retire are among the most vulnerable to Covid on account of their age. Though you’ve introduced the requirement that secondary school students wear masks, primary schools are largely mask-free zones. Wat meer is, schools have many unventilated places that are often full of people very near to each other. These specific conditions are what are sometimes called “super-spreaders”.

What is the government’s problem with ventilation? Once scientists had explained to your government that this was an airborne virus, you could have figured out that one way to hinder it from circulating in the atmosphere surrounding a group of people would have been to do all you could to enable fresh and/or filtered air to circulate instead.

You appear to know this, because the government has now offered to provide 7,000 air cleaning units for education settings. This number was of course greeted with hysterical and derisory laughter. Many took the figure of 7,000 as a cue to do some arithmetic. It went like this: how many classrooms are there in England? A common estimate seemed to be around 300,000, though some came in at quite a few more, and I don’t know. But whatever the real answer is, it’s clearly not 7,000, or anything like it. I’ll leave you to do the percentages on how many classrooms will be reached by your offer.

So what was this announcement for? Who was supposed to be fooled by it? Teachers? Other school staff? Children? Older school students? Parents? Or the British public who don’t have a sense of how many classrooms there are? Did you think that the vast majority of the population would say to themselves: “7000? Wow, this government is really rolling up its sleeves and fighting the virus now!” Did you?

Let’s go back to the first tweet I quoted. It’s full of praise. But if you can only come up with 7,000 air filters, the praise is just hooey, is dit nie? And asking retired teachers to go into schools without one of the 7,000 air filters is both unkind and dangerous.

Then you invoked the “blitz spirit”. Do you really want to make an analogy between a living human enemy trying to kill us and a virus that has no human intentions?

Our main source of help to curb the numbers killed or maimed by Covid is medical science, not self-sacrifice – if that’s what you mean by the blitz spirit. The advice or help from government has repeatedly been confusing, wrong or inadequate – . So whatever this blitz spirit was, how will it be “essential” in “turning the tide” on Covid?

My parents told me about the blitz: like getting into shelters that couldn’t withstand a hit. Come to think of it, that could be a bit like you sending retired teachers into unventilated schools. My mother told me that she did try to follow government instructions. One time when she was out and heard a doodlebug in the sky, she knew that the guidelines were to find a gutter and lie in it. She did just that. It was by White City station. If it was the blitz spirit that made her lie down in the gutter, I’m not sure that her doing it turned back the Nazi tide – if that was the tide you were talking about.

So, I’ll sign off this letter with:

Yours, annoyed, bekommerd, but mostly confused, Michael Rosen

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