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MANIERI COLUMN: Masks and other adjustments in a COVID-19 world

MANIERI COLUMN: Masks and other adjustments in a COVID-19 world

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Rich Manieri

Relax. This is not a column on the efficacy of wearing masks. Who has the energy anymore?

I’m wearing one in case it prevents me or someone else from getting sick. That’s pretty much it. If it turns out that it didn’t do any good, so be it. Unless my fogged up glasses cause me to misstep and fall down a mineshaft, I will have lost nothing.

I’m more interested in the implications of the acceptance of mask wearing in public places as a cultural norm.

I confess – sometimes I forget. In my 56 years on Earth, I’ve never worn a mask in public. Now, I’m getting used to wearing a mask everywhere I go. It’s not a seamless transition. Thus, I’ve had to endure some sideways glances from pious neighbors and fellow shoppers who act as if I’ve just given Winnie the Pooh a wedgie.

It’s not easy to find a mask that fits my head. The elastic straps pull on my ears, so I look like a house-elf. I’ve tried the kind that tie in the back of my head but that seems like work. I finally settled on a black one with straps that would fit a hippo.

On the campus where I teach, virtually everyone is wearing a mask. I have a difficult time hearing students in class and the larger the room, the worse it is. The bigger problem is I can’t see faces. Wearing a mask obscures the features. I don’t like it. It’s as if we’re all partially anonymous, isolated, hiding in plain sight. There’s a reason why outlaws wore masks when they robbed the stagecoach.

“But, if it saves lives,” the refrain goes. Who am I to argue?

I am a little confused by the general lack of consistency. I was so desperate to watch a football game on Saturday I landed on Army vs. Middle Tennessee State. I have no affiliation whatsoever with either program. I did notice the coaches were all wearing masks on the sidelines. The players, of course, were not.

In our school district in Kentucky, high school football practice continues unabated. But school itself remains closed. Classes are online-only until at least Oct. 12. I’m not picking on football. I love football. I’m just wondering why we’re playing football if our kids haven’t been in school since March.

I’ve been around enough teenagers in my life to know that online education is no substitute for in-person learning, though I wish I had purchased a few shares of Zoom stock last year. Of course, I hadn’t heard of Zoom before March so I was a little behind the curve.

Kids, teenagers in particular, need to get their rear ends out of bed, take a shower, put on clothes, show up on time and pay attention. It’s about developing good work habits.

In high school, I had a history teacher who told us, “You might not remember much American history but, by jiminy, you’re going to learn how to be on time.”

He was right on both counts. I don’t remember much of what he taught but I can still see him, standing outside the door of the classroom, audibly counting down the seconds before the start of class.

I realize online learning has a place. It’s a valuable tool. But there is a perceived lack of accountability baked into remote instruction. I can’t tell you how many students during my Zoom sessions last spring awoke minutes before the beginning of class and “attended” the session supine, under a blanket, if they awoke at all. It’s difficult to engage in the middle of a REM cycle. I had one student who stayed on screen well after class ended, though he had turned off his camera. I stayed on too because I wanted to see if he had a question. Then I heard something that sounded like a lawn mower in the distance. He was snoring. I wanted to believe his snooze had nothing to do with my lecture but I allowed for the possibility. It wouldn’t have been the first time. I didn’t have the heart to wake him.

I’d like to believe we’ll return to a time when masks, social distancing and distance learning will no longer be a requirement. If a student wants to sleep in class, then he can do it in person, just like I did.

Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at manieri2@gmail.com.

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