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Review: Education reporter shows the ‘wildly unequal’ way COVID robbed kids of school

Anya Kamenetz is the author of “The Stolen Year: How COVID Changed Children’s Lives, and Where We Go Now.” Photo: Will O

“The Stolen Year: How COVID Changed Children’s Lives, and Where We Go Now” is written by an education reporter, so I expected a book on the effects of COVID on education, and it is that, but so much more. In addition to chapters titled “Schools” and “Special Education,” you will find “Hunger,” “Childcare,” “Racism,” “Courts,” “Mental Health” and “Politics.”

Anya Kamenetz chronicles the effects of the pandemic on the children of our country, providing a vivid picture of how we have failed our children, especially those most vulnerable. In clear, concise, well-researched prose, she touches on centuries of US history and the ways we have so often chosen not to support families, interspersed with examples of people taking matters into their own hands to create solutions at home and in their communities . I know I’m not alone in having trouble remembering these past two years. This book brought my own experiences as a teacher, parent and human being rushing back, affirming my struggle and that of those closest to me, while the wide range of voices from across the country broadened my perspective.

Kamenetz makes a powerful case that we took an unnecessarily long time to reopen schools, that we will be seeing consequences for years to come and that “the impact of school closures is wildly unequal.” Students with fewer material resources depend on school not only for academic learning and time with friends, but also for meals, access to books and computers, and even health care and counseling: “It may take years to understand what our children lost because of prolonged school closures, just as it may take years to recover.”

“The Stolen Year: How COVID Changed Children’s Lives, and Where We Go Now.” Photo: Public Affairs

There is a lot of wisdom in these pages and inspiring examples of individuals, like Lakisha Young, founder of Oakland Reach, an advocacy organization for parents with children in Oakland public schools. During the pandemic, she switched the focus of the group’s work from advocacy to direct services for children and families in the form of summer school classes and learning hubs. Parents all over created “pandemic pods” to share child care and give kids the opportunity to socialize. Kamenetz writes: “Love and the daily routines of care buffered us in a terrifying time.”

However, our country lacked a cohesive plan for getting schools and child care reliably up and running, Kamenetz writes, and white supremacy values ​​continue to impede justice: “For people of color in America, COVID-19 was a second pandemic on top of the preexisting pandemic of racism.” The pandemic (and this book) highlight the United States’ “unfinished fight for equality” in terms of racial, gender, economic and other inequities.

“The Stolen Year” is not the manual of answers I had unrealistically hoped for when I picked it up, but the better we understand our failures and successes of these past two years — as individuals, as members of our local communities and as a wider society — the more likely we will be to take effective action in the next crisis. Maybe, as a place to start, this book should be required reading for all of us.

The Stolen Year
By Anya Kamenetz
(Public Affairs; 352 pages; $29)

Book Passage Ferry Building presents Anya Kamenetz: In person. 3 pm Oct. 1. Free. Masks recommended. 1 Ferry Building, SF www.bookpassage.com



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