Sadly, Santa Claus won’t be bringing California children what they really need, a return to school. It’s hard to calculate the educational and social loss experienced by children this year, but Zocalo commentator Joe Mathews says it’s severe, and likely to be long lasting. Mathews’ is steamed that adults in California appear to be more concerned with eating outdoors and having cocktails than addressing the plight of the state’s children. And that’s why he’s recommending barstools under the tree this year.
Read Mathews’ column below:
A seat at the bar
Santa, California children need more this Christmas than you can fit in the sleigh. But could you at least give every Californian under 18 their very own barstool?
Why barstools? If our kids are going to return to education and socialization anytime soon, their best shot lies in restaurants and bars—the places that adults fight hardest to open up these days.
Yes, St. Nick, turning the bars into havens for those too young to drink legally is not a great idea. But it’s way better than anything California has offered its kids during this pandemic.
Our state’s grown-up Scrooges, giving short shrift to data showing low COVID transmission rates for kids, have closed schools and imposed distance learning that produces academic regression, screen addiction, and mental health troubles. We’ve shut down youth sports. We’re keeping children away from friends, coaches, and even beloved grandparents.
With California adults and their representatives brazenly flouting their own COVID rules, it’s clear that adult wish lists are what matter this COVID season.
This dismissal of child interests isn’t new. It’s seen in government budgets that favor seniors, in public indifference to school shootings, and in our go-slow approach on climate. And it’s not going away. So our best hope for saving kids is to smuggle their interests into policies that protect adults first.
Which is why my three sons and other kids need those barstools for Christmas.
(Yes, restaurants and bars are now closed by state order. But with business lawsuits and local governments protesting closures, you will see these establishments open before schools do.)
Under a kids-in-bars policy, BYOB—bring your own barstools—would make sanitation a cinch. School lunch funds would cover whatever kids order. Outdoor dining space could be used for study halls or for teachers to hold classes. For online lessons, eateries often offer better Wi-Fi that kids can get at home. And restaurant wait staff, while untrained as educators, would provide long-sought adult supervision for California children now left home alone.
Now, Santa, adults will protest you that the COVID chaos is winding down, and that kids’ lives will soon be back to normal. But that talking point is a monstrous lie.
Even after the pandemic concludes, the damage to children will remain, and adults aren’t about to repair it. Santa, perhaps you could bring California real plans to compensate for lost instruction time, to assist the majority of kids performing below grade level, to address declining social skills and soaring anxiety (including an escalating suicide rate), and to find all the student dropouts.
Because we don’t have any plans. Instead, our leaders use the pandemic to justify doing less for kids.
The most blatant example, the new Master Plan for Early Learning and Care, is supposed to enact Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature promise of a “cradle to career” system for child development, But it’s actually a betrayal of 25 years of promises for universal child care and preschool. The master plan offers no real plan for universal programs, instead proposing a disruptive consolidation of existing programs. And it identifies no way of funding an expansion of early childhood services, other than imposing complicated new fees on struggling families.
If California put its kids first, we’d be enforcing mask mandates, and vaccinating teachers first. And we’d be planning to compensate for this useless year with free tutoring for all and a new schedule to keep schools open for the next four summers, until students have recovered all the instructional time lost in 2020.
But in California, land of progressive promises and regressive realities, such ideas will be dismissed as unrealistic.
In that case, Santa, I have one request. Could your elves design a new version of our state seal? It would look like the old one, except for replacing “Eureka” with our real motto: “Screw the Kids.”
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.