A Year of Snow Days

Biology AP, ca. November 2020

Growing up in the South, I often heard people say something took “a month of Sundays.” It’s one of those colorful idioms that convey an idea that seemingly contradicts its actual wording — “a month of Sundays” means an indefinably long time, but 30 weeks isn’t all that long, any more than “slower than Christmas” means that time has literally been warped by our desire for presents and egg nog, or that the holiday itself needs to put a pep in its step.

Similarly, I thought of Spring 2020 as a kind of “Lost Weekend”; we all scrambled and did our best to get get through the semester in circumstances that were jarring and frightening on a world-historical scale, but, try as we may, we all knew that this window of time was going to be kind of a wash.

I don’t know how many washes or mulligans or freebies you get, but you definitely don’t get an unlimited number of them — not in this town. And so we confront Fall 2020, with Spring 2021 already breathing on our necks, wondering how this time will be totted up and marked. It can’t be a Lost Weekend, but it can definitely be a Snow Day, as K-12 school systems and colleges across the country herky-jerkily belly-flop into a brave new “reopened” world — only to retreat, in many cases, almost immediately in the face of the implacable foe. A week of in-person school and, what do you know? “Fuck! We’re back to all online.” Time and energy and superspreading well-spent.

Schoolchildren all over the world know that Snow Days are not bad, and that one or two missed days of school here and there aren’t going to set back learning in a crucial way. (How much does anyone learn in a day of school anyhow?) But the coming academic year looks to be one long Month of Snow Days. How we choose to pretend otherwise is yet to be seen.

My cousin resettled from Libya to the US not too long ago, and she has improved her facility with English by leaps and bounds in a few short years. She still, unsurprisingly, slips on fine distinctions of wording and meaning in the language. She told me that her kids’ school system decided to switch to “homeschooling” after just two days of going back to regular, in-person school. To most Americans, the word “homeschooling” implies a different practice, one of taking a child out of the public school system altogether and assuming direct parental control of their education. But how far off was she from describing what is really happening? Words often hide more than they show, which is why we use them.

Anyway, here are some reading picks by editors:

Author: Alex Sayf Cummings

Alex Sayf Cummings is an associate professor of history at Georgia State University, whose work deals with technology, law, public policy, and the political culture of the modern United States. Alex's writing has appeared in Salon, the Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of American History, the Journal of Urban History, Al Jazeera, and Southern Cultures, among other publications, and the book Democracy of Sound was published by Oxford University Press in 2013 (paperback, 2017). Alex can be followed on Twitter at @akbarjenkins.

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