The distinction of “essential work” and “non-essential work” has become an interesting dynamic in our current 2020 coronavirus pandemic. I scratch my head in amazement, recalling that this was predicted in a book called Walden Two by B. F. Skinner, which we read when I studied at Buckhannon-Upshur High School in the mid-1960s. Our Quill and Scroll Literary Academic Honorary led symposium evening book discussions around provocative topics about six times a year. One study and discussion traced the transformation of life from an ideal utopian back-to-nature setting at Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond. The transformation was from a civil society like wild and wonderful West Virginia life to a topsy-turvy deranged modern setting, not entirely different from what we are experiencing now under attack from COVID-19, a scourge virus. In Skinner’s Walden Two, for example, garbage collectors are paid the salary of a neurosurgeon, and a neurosurgeon earns what a garbage collector is paid. The justification is that the drudgery of collecting garbage must be equalized with the extreme pleasure a neurosurgeon gains saving lives.
While we are not to that extreme now, we have formulated a dichotomy of essential versus non-essential work. West Virginia Governor Jim Justice quite astutely issued a Proclamation under the rubric: West Virginia School Service Personnel Day set for September 23, 2020. It reads, in part:
“Whereas, school service personnel are involved in nearly every aspect of education by maintaining buildings and grounds, preparing and serving meals, keeping school facilities clean and orderly, and assisting in the classroom, as well as providing administrative support functions, safe transportation, and many other specialized services…”
By choosing to honor employees who might go unnoticed or are not usually celebrated, our Governor is saying these folks are essential.
We can all proclaim that “school service personnel are instrumental in West Virginia’s responsibility to educate all students...”
We can agree with the Governor’s proclamation, especially the last two declarations:
“Whereas, these dedicated individuals serve the children of West Virginia in our public education system and have an important role of non-instructional service to the educational system; and
“Whereas, it is fitting we recognize the outstanding work these individuals do for this state, their communities, and the students enrolled in West Virginia schools...”
Who else is essential?
Our Upshur County Schools Board of Education firmly defines our beliefs. Two of our six “Belief Statements” again apply to the essential work being done educating our students:
May I add as a Lesson Learned: We are all in this together! We are all essential!