The Emily Oster Weekend: let’s forgive each other for what we said and did during the pandemic
I had to hold back the tears
The Osterman Weekend, 1983 film, based on the Robert Ludlum novel: “Think of them [murdered people] as fleas on a dog hit by a car driven by a drunken teenager whose girlfriend just gave him the clap. It will help your sense of perspective.”
Brown University economics prof, Emily Oster, has penned a plea for COVID sanity in The Atlantic.
I had to hold back the tears.
Emily’s words are like gravel spread over slats covering a 1000-foot-deep sinkhole. Force yourself to read them anyway:
And on every [COVID] topic, someone was eventually proved right, and someone else was proved wrong. In some instances, the right people were right for the wrong reasons. In other instances, they had a prescient understanding of the available information.
In the face of so much uncertainty, getting something right had a hefty element of luck. And, similarly, getting something wrong wasn’t a moral failing. Treating pandemic choices as a scorecard on which some people racked up more points than others is preventing us from moving forward.
We have to put these fights aside and declare a pandemic amnesty. We can leave out the willful purveyors of actual misinformation while forgiving the hard calls that people had no choice but to make with imperfect knowledge. Los Angeles County closed its beaches in summer 2020. Ex post facto, this makes no more sense than my family’s masked hiking trips. But we need to learn from our mistakes and then let them go. We need to forgive the attacks, too. Because I thought schools should reopen and argued that kids as a group were not at high risk, I was called a “teacher killer” and a “génocidaire.” It wasn’t pleasant, but feelings were high. And I certainly don’t need to dissect and rehash that time for the rest of my days.
Student test scores have shown historic declines, more so in math than in reading, and more so for students who were disadvantaged at the start. We need to collect data, experiment, and invest. Is high-dosage tutoring more or less cost-effective than extended school years?
Many people have neglected their health care over the past several years. Notably, routine vaccination rates for children (for measles, pertussis, etc.) are way down. Rather than debating the role that messaging about COVID vaccines had in this decline, we need to put all our energy into bringing these rates back up. Pediatricians and public-health officials will need to work together on community outreach, and politicians will need to consider school mandates.
The standard saying is that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But dwelling on the mistakes of history can lead to a repetitive doom loop as well. Let’s acknowledge that we made complicated choices in the face of deep uncertainty, and then try to work together to build back and move forward.
O the humanity.