The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Make education dangerous again

COVID-19 is actually an educational opportunity to face fear with common sense and uncommon bravery.

(Image: Feliphe Schiarolli |

Debates are raging around the dangers associated with reopening schools in the fall. While there is, I presume, some degree of danger in reopening schools, Catholics should, I say, face it rather than fall to the greater danger of disillusionment and demagoguery. In fact, education should be dangerous. Education at its best is dangerous, and our brave new COVID world affords an opportunity, both symbolically and actually, to restore this forgotten educational attitude.

COVID-19 has given the mantra “Safety First” an all new meaning. And safety should be first when it comes to rampant mortal dangers such as pedophilia and child abuse, pornography, drug addiction, violent crime, and moral relativism. But when it comes to those things inherently worth doing—such as experiencing creation, discovering humanity, encountering divinity—such life-altering things can’t be called “safe,” and they are the actions of an authentic education.

If our children must be taught anything it is that they should live their lives and how they should live them. They must learn to be the salt of the earth, and not cowering slaves or compliant serfs. They must learn to stand out, not assimilate. They must learn to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves—which means knowing the balance between love of neighbor and the limits of government. They must learn to shine with the Image and Likeness of God, instead of how to capitulate with the ungodly like faceless, mindless, subservient cogs.

Fear and trembling, therefore, should not be in the curriculum.

There’s no such thing as an eradication of all threats, microscopic or otherwise. While children should be protected with prudence, prudence also demands they should be presented with the dangers inherent in all that is meaningful from cradle to grave in a manner that does not cause terror or trauma. Fear discourages the dangers inherent in knowledge, love, and life. Most things worth doing are dangerous and hard, like going to school in a climate that values physical health above spiritual and intellectual health.

There is a strong push from President Donald Trump, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and educators across the country for schools to resume in-person, full-time instruction despite the fears and dangers associated with COVID-19. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an article recently on the importance of reopening America’s school’s this fall, estimating that it is actually more dangerous for children to be out of school than in school due to the “the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term.”

The consensus is that the distance-learning programs adopted by most schools was fundamentally deficient, that young people have a 99.9 percent chance of surviving the virus, that asymptomatic carriers are not as contagious as once thought, that schools can open without a death toll, and that the damage being done to the formation of our young through isolation and a politicized culture of fear is deep. Be safe, by all means. Keep sick kids at home. But don’t cancel education in the name of “health and safety.”

Though experts and leaders advocating actually going back to school are not denying the risks involved, they are saying that whatever the risk is, it can be mitigated—and, further, that it is worth running. And it is this spirit of risk-taking, of fighting and refining the dangerous fires of the human spirit, that has been largely dismissed in the art of education. Real education is about maintaining and managing the risks of the human condition, so that children can learn through the dangers they must live with as adults. This excludes, of course, risks that are never worth taking against dangers that have no business in human experience, let alone human education. Reasonable pandemic safety-measures underscore this reality as steps are taken to manage the risk of the virus together with all the other risks education should undertake.

A school system that has replaced Virgil with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Shakespeare with Harper Lee has taken the safe route because it is easier. Education should not be easy or without danger, without some element of uncontrollable reality. An easy, fearful education can leave students listless, insecure, and uninspired in a cooped-up world to measure out their lives with coffee spoons. A dangerous, difficult education can challenge students to strike out beyond their comfort zones and engage in robust experiences and rich material. By embracing the dangers of human frailty, emotional exposure, intellectual wonder, spiritual exercise, and social honesty—coronavirus and all—students assume the perils of the unknown and gain a real knowledge of themselves and the world based on findings and failures alike.

COVID-19 is actually an educational opportunity to face fear with common sense and uncommon bravery. Young people have an intrinsic and intense desire for such experiences and their emotional corollaries. Incident and involvement are driving forces in their psychology, with appetites and interests fixed on encounters that flirt and fence with the dangerous and the amorous. This is what makes most youngsters tick, and it should be the tempo of their education.

Education should draw out these drives, though they are dangerous, and not dwarf or discourage them. As with all things natural that need guidance, heavy restriction or fearfulness produces deformities that result in a crippled person. A mature Faith can’t exist in a body, mind, and soul that have been inhibited by excessive caution. Education, like life, is risky; and the course of a true education should allow life to run its course, even though it tends to take risks. Those risks can be calculated and controlled—and so they should—but not eliminated. But, as it stands, there are many wholesome dangers that are being suppressed with the unwholesome—like the best that has been thought and said in Western Civilization.

When convenience, gratification, and now inconsistent public health standards are held as central to human existence, the experience of risk for the right reason can be a true awakening. Let’s make education dangerous again because it is remedial, because it is real, because it does not meander through virtual reality, but rather braces for an encounter with actual reality, daring to provide an appetite for truth when untruth is applauded far and wide. In a world of lies, truth is the most dangerous thing in the world. Similarly, a real education is dangerous in an unreal world.

Our Teacher taught, “Do not be afraid.” Let’s open our schools and fearlessly face the dangers that we must face together with our children, despite the flags of falsehood unfurled against them or the hostilities that await those who approach education with the order of Danger First.

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About Sean Fitzpatrick 21 Articles
Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and serves on the faculty of Gregory the Great Academy in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania. He teaches Literature, Mythology, and Humanities. Mr. Fitzpatrick’s writings on education, literature, and culture have appeared in a number of journals including Crisis Magazine, Catholic Exchange, the Cardinal Newman Society’s Journal for Educators, and the Imaginative Conservative. He lives in Scranton with his wife, Sophie, and their seven children.


  1. What an incredibly irresponsible article. Schools, teaching staff, students and their family members at home are not fodder for your reckless reasoning and flawed “thought argument.” This very real pandemic, affecting very real people, should not be a forum for political abstractions.

    • Science is on the side of school reopening. We have been treacherously duped to take our kids out of school.

      Norway head public health has excellent response showing how school should not ever close. Taiwan and Sweden school stayed open.

      Iceland and Australia studies sound on schools staying open.

      H!N1 in 2009 far more deadly to kids yet school stayed open.

    • Having a school-age child and being an educator for 20 years, this article is spot on. Let the children go to school, go to Mass, go to confession, the true essential services in our society. The greatest travesty in this whole plandemic is denying the faithful access to the Sacraments, especially young people. The greatest plague in our society is not COVID, it is effeminacy, the unwillingness to take a risk and do what is difficult because it might involve suffering or a loss of pleasure What message does keeping schools closed this fall send to young children? Well, the Sacraments ARE worth dying for, and we will not even take a 0.01% chance that our children might die if we send them to school. May God have mercy on us all!

    • I must disagree with your article in this modern age with all our medical information it is far wiser to be cautious . To put children needlessly at risk doesn’t make sense. The Health Care system can only handle so much.

  2. A better argument can be made about boycotting captive-audience public schools, as an exercise in parental risk avoidance against subliminal “education”…

    –until such time as pre-school and kindergarten, for example, no longer includes readings from: “Heather has two Mommies” (1989 and again after twenty years, in 2009) or “Jennifer has two Daddies,” or “Daddy’s Roommate,” or “Billie has two Daddies.”

    Dozens of like books and others normalizing societal disintegration are out there now for children, some for ages three and up. Not to be out of date, little ones now are groomed toward the transgender sex-identity crisis in the picture book “I Am Jazz”,,,And not to mention visits to the tax-supported public library featuring lotsa-laughs drag-queen exhibitionism. For the higher grades, school health offices are said to double as referral services for nearby Planned Parenthood contraceptive/abortion clinics.

    Support the public schools once the termites have been eradicated by COVID-19 budget cuts.

  3. The country is falling to the hysterics, cheered on as always by a barely informed media. The reality is you can’t realistically expect your population to all hunker down at home, hoping the vaccine magically appears, for years. Already there is talk of canceling things through the end of the year and wearing masks through 2021. Because everyone needs a JOB so they can also have FOOD, a HOME , CLOTHING, and the other necessities of modern life. Reality doesnt seem to be a buzz word familiar to the hysterics. These are the people informing on their neighbors to the police, using mace on unmasked strangers they deem dangerous, denying children an education with proper social and emotional development, and advocating for the whole world to wait until some fantasy time in the future to resume actually living like human beings. No weddings, no funerals, no worship service, no gatherings with the extended family and friends? All A-ok with the hysterics. At the risk of sounding cold, and with due respect, 150,000 dead does not justify the destruction of the lives of MILLIONS, and that is what has happened here. Not only have lives been disrupted economically , but thousands of others are dying in ways DIFFERENT than covid during the shut- down. Alcoholism, suicide, drug overdoses, physical abuse, shootings, all sorts of things. The choice ISN’T between staying shut down and saving every life. It is between balancing lives lost by covid with lives lost in hundreds of other ways, each and every day. So far, the price of shut down has been way too high.

  4. This attitude flies in the face of scientific reality. Using ideology as a reason for opening schools is beyond reason. Opening any schools while the coronavirus is spiking out of control is a mortal sin. That sin defied the slogan “we are all in this together”.

    The sad fact is that Trump has not accepted the responsibility for managing the pandemic and chose to pass the issue to governors creating unnecessary competition for vital resources and forcing a patchwork scenario. The Catholic hierarchy has shown much adulation for Trump for his false moral devotion to issues, even as he calls for schools to open. The “fathers” might heed the warnings of our highly respected medical scientists when they say we may have to return to a national quarantine. Regardless of one’s spiritual enlightenment the stakes are too high not to listen to those who state the facts! Ingesting Clorox reveals the nature of evil!

    • In fact, Trump NEVER advocated the ingestion of clorox, in spite of the oft-repeated lies to the contrary. The structure of the US government, which is not a dictatorship, dictate that certain actions and decisions are in the hands of the governors. That one on the left would deem going to school a “mortal sin” is proof of the general hysteria consuming that side of the aisle. Covid is not as deadly as reputed to the VAST majority of people who contract it. In the minds of many, denying an education to a generation of children however, IS a mortal sin. So is cowardice.

      Certainly nothing, not even fear of covid, can justify the economic shutdown which has crippled the economy with dire effect on the population, and left them to die of myriad other causes such as abuse, addiction and suicide by despair.If leftist govt officials refuse to lift the shut down, expect to add homelessness and starvation to those causes.

    • Morgan, practicing faithful Catholics only hope the hierarchy would show much adulation for Trump, but they do not. Most are in cahoots with the Democratic Party and are false shepherds. Thank God for bishops like Strickland and Vigano. Keeping Catholic Schools and churches closed or at limited capacity is a much more serious offense and affront to Almighty God. When else has church closed down during a time of plague? The most essential services this country offers are the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, first and foremost, and then any locale where the truths of the Catholic Faith are disseminated. Be assured of my prayers for you and your family.

  5. morganB ,
    I’m very concerned about everyone’s health also but haven’t most other nations decided to reopen schools? I don’t think we’re an outlier in doing that.

  6. How dare you.
    This article is an affront to every precept of Catholicism and Christ’s teaching.
    “Be not afraid”, you quote, failing to remember to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
    Or “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble”.
    You admit that the wholly preventable deaths of over 75,000 children is a good thing, a fair trade for increasing an already traumatic and dangerous environment in the interests of… What?
    This article fails to address, intentionally, the preventable coat of lives of educators, administrators, family members, siblings, parents, grandparents, and community members that have already been witnessed in states that have opened their schools.

    You’re negligent disregard for the health, safety, and lives of others is reprehensible, and is more in line with the worship of Bal Ammūn than to the love of Christ.

    How fortunate you are that in this industrial age, there are so few mill stones to be found.

    I will pray for you, and for those that agree with you, that the light and love of God will reach your heart, and one day your head.

    • Michael,
      For goodness sake most every other nation in the world is trying to get their schools back open safely also . This isn’t a unique experiment to risk American lives, it’s following a prudent, global example.
      If contagion increases again, we can take a pause again. You can’t quarantine every healthy person forever unless you prefer to destroy the economy, our freedoms, and our society.

      • Actually, Germany is halting their in person reopening as is South Korea and others.

        Oh, and pretty much every country has a lower number of deaths as a percentage of population than us. Because they actually shutdown and slowed the spread.

        • Smith,
          Thank you for that info. but the last time I checked the majority of countries were reopening their schools. If Denmark, Germany, & others see a reversal trend I imagine they’re smart enough to come up with a different plan. As we should also.
          It’s not about politics, or at least it shouldn’t be. We’ve played this epidemic for political & social agendas & that’s what poses the greatest danger I think.

          • Kathryn,
            There was an August 7th news item in the UK Telegraph that two German schools had shut down as a precaution after they had a couple tests positive for Covid. I didn’t see more than two schools cited in the article but I imagine that may change going forward. All schools in Germany were not closing though as of last Friday.

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