Anti-mask, Anti-vaxx Parents and Magical Thinking

Like Reasoning with Spoiled Children

I have posted on this blog before about how baffling it is for educators to try to reason with parents who want schools open, but are opposed to getting vaccines for themselves or their children, but are also opposed to having their children wear masks while at school. Not unlike toddlers who refuse to put on their shoes, but then also refuse to put on their sandals — but then complain when they aren’t allowed to go outside. It’s almost like they want to pretend that COVID doesn’t exist. Or they want to wave a magic wand and transport themselves back to February 2020 so they can go back to living the lives they had in the “before times.”

Image source: Strategies for Healing

What Are Their Demands Really About?

Many of these Karen types will clutch their pearls and cry, “but what about the children?” They will go on about how their children deserve “normal childhoods” and about the “mental health” and suicide rates of children kept out of school — never mind that mental health and suicide rates were already high before February 2020. They seem to forget that for millenia, the primary unit of socialization was the family — going to school for 8 hours a day wasn’t common in most communities until a little over 100 years ago. These parents will insist that there is no evidence that wearing masks in schools reduces rates of COVID transmission when there is a lot of evidence. They will argue that closing schools or quarantining children hurts all those “other” children who need school lunches or other services provide, never mind that many students of color and their families have preferred learning at home. It’s almost like some more privileged parents don’t want to admit the real reason they want schools to stay open with NO requirements for vaccines or masks: their sense of exceptionalism, their entitlement, their political ideology resulting from brainwashing from far-right echo chambers, their personal preference and convenience, and — let’s say it for what it is — the desire for free babysitting. Everyone else’s health and safety be damned.

Why Many Americans Cannot Handle Any Situation That Doesn’t Make Them Feel In Control

In yet another Twitter thread in which nice white parents insisted that schools stay open — with no vaccines or mandates or COVID testing — because their children DESERVE a “normal childhood” (and having to learn at home, online and/or with their parents, is apparently just too psychologically damaging). But it’s not really about their spurious arguments; this is about magical thinking. America’s consumerist culture, coupled with its culture of “I got mine” hyper-individualism, has brought up generations of people to believe that they deserve to get whatever they want, whenever they want it, and that they should never be inconvenienced or required to change their own behavior. If that means that other people, like teachers, have to absorb the costs, the risks, or take their abuse, that’s another feature of the system. They are used to — and feel entitled to — a consumerist system where there is always a convenient scapegoat who has less money and power that they can blame. The decades-long underfunding of public schools and media attacks on public school teachers have ensured that teachers now get the same kind of low pay and abusive treatment that service workers do.

Magical Thinking — Deny COVID Exists, and It Will Go Away

The reasons for these entitled parents’ unreasonable demands become apparent in these parents’ child-like magical thinking. They can’t process the endless risk fluctuations of being in a global pandemic, or the fact that it has created inconveniences for them and asked them to change their behavior. So they demand a “return to normal.” If they don’t get their way, they demand to talk to the principal, then go above that person’s head and storm school board meetings and make threats . Or they fret about the “mental health” of the children (most of whom are adjusting just fine) as a form of narcissistic projection that’s really about the fragility of their own mental health and their inability to adapt. As if a global pandemic is going to capitulate to their shaking fists and their all-caps demands on social media. As if other workers who serve them and their families should feel obligated to do what supports their delusions and makes them feel safe and comfortable even as we all deal with COVID.

Twitter post reading: “I asked my 3 kids last night and asked IF we could move and go to a school where ZERO kids are in masks, should we do it? Initially, all 3 kids yelled YES PLEASE. 3rd grader thought about it and said he’d miss his friends too much. 1st graders want to get away from masked kids.”
From “Concerned Parent” thread on Twitter

When Denial Doesn’t Work, Blame Someone Else

When people who think like children are not able to reconcile their discomfort or fears, they look for someone to blame. I blamed my parents for putting up the smoke alarms. Similarly, parents and Republicans (with no push-back from Democrats) are returning to a familiar scapegoat and blaming public schools and teachers. None of this is surprising given that they have been blaming teachers for every social ill for the past three decades. COVID provided the perfect set-up for them to attack or blame schools no matter what they did or didn’t do. Following the same pattern of making ever-increasing demands, while cutting funding, and then blaming teachers for “not doing their jobs,” schools were told to open during a pandemic, but given no resources for the ventilation, sanitation, social distancing, or wearing masks that the CPC had recommended. Worse,our national and most state governments refused to be proactive about making policies, and punted to schools to fight the battles they didn’t have the backbone or political will to fight. Then Republicans politicized mask wearing and vaccines, so many of their followers refused to take even these few basic steps to help ensure school safety.

Tweet reading in part: “It’s so bizarre how teachers decided that children weren’t important and they didn’t need to show up for them.”
Tweet from “AConcernedParent” 1/30/22

Who Is Going To Step Up and Be the Adult?

My parents kept the fire alarms up. As the adults, they knew what they needed to do to keep our family safe. Any decent parents or teachers know that, while children’s feelings matter, not everything with children can be a negotiation, and not everything you say or do will make them happy. Sometimes their safety is more important than their preferences. We need to trust people who can still think and act like real adults to make the decisions about public safety and school safety during a pandemic, rather than giving in to the vocal minority of spoiled, entitled parents who throw tantrums and stamp their feet.

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Writing on the Wall

Writing on the Wall

Suzie Null is a former middle and high school teacher and current professor of Teacher Education. Follow her on Twitter at WritingontheWall @NullSet16