Who's Going to Tell Schools We're in a Pandemic?

teachers, students, parents, voters, this is your rally call

ROCK PAPER RADIO is a dispatch for misfits & unlikely optimists by your favorite hapa haole, beet-pickling, public radio nerd. It’s a weekly email newsletter that shares three curiosities every Thursday - something to hold on to, something to read, and something to listen to. Themes include but are not limited to: rebel violinists, neighborhood spies, revolution. Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word.
Award-winning Texas high school teacher Aletha Williams stands for a portrait wearing a Black Educators Matter t-shirt. Photo courtesy of Aletha Williams, 2020.


Back-to-school is here and teachers are afraid, parents are overwhelmed, and my own middle schooler is uncharacteristically surly.

If last spring was hard on the school-aged set or anyone who cares for a student (or hundreds of them), then the wind up to this fall has been an absolute disaster of dread and chaos.

I have been talking with Texas high school teacher Aletha Williams since the early days of Covid-19 in an effort to capture a slice of what it’s like to love your work and your students, but be afraid for your life. The result is this EdSurge story and 6-minute audio feature: ‘We Signed Up to Be Teachers. We Didn’t Sign Up for a Death Sentence.’.

Like the rest of the American school system, I have no perfect solutions to offer, but I do know this: teachers need support right now. One place to start is by making sure their voices from the frontlines are heard. Please listen and share.


Expecting nearly 17,000 hormonal and newly-liberated young people in their late teens/early 20’s to practice social distancing is hilarious. However, Baylor University, a private Christian university also in Texas, did not think this was funny when they invited students back to campus to kick off the new school year amidst a global health crisis.

If the rise of positive cases of Covid-19 that spread across the school last month started to clue Baylor in on the joke, then the University is really laughing now: their two Brand Ambassadors(!?)—Mormon twin undergrads named Brooklyn and Bailey—have both contracted the virus.

Anne Helen Petersen’s welcome the covid influencer is a fascinating deep dive into both the prickly world of universities #sponsoring students, and also into the ways that some schools are putting profit over people during a literal pandemic.


Teachers, students, parents, voters, residents of the United States of America, if you were waiting for things to hit a certain fever pitch in order to speak up, that time has arrived.

This animated 7-minute TED-Ed lesson on how to understand power by Citizen University founder Eric Liu is your rally call. Let’s go.


That’s a wrap for issue number 6. Thanks for listening/reading/holding on. We’re building a community of misfits and unlikely optimists and all of you are part of what’s getting me through this Uncertain Time™ for sure. If it’s helping you get through too, please share this issue with your curious friends or tweet us some love.

See you next Thursday.



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