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To slow the spread of the coronavirus, schools across the United States are expecting students to continue learning at home. That means attending real-time class meetings, completing worksheets and online modules, and even taking exams online. Unfortunately, some schools are also holding students accountable for at-home learning, basing grades, course placements, and college eligibility on work completed at home. That accountability, I will argue, has the potential to exacerbate longstanding inequalities in school.
Charles Perrow described the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear reactor meltdown as a Normal Accident. Normal accidents are a class of events produced when subsystems in risky, complex and tightly coupled systems fail. Tight linkages between subsystems propagate failure, and local breakdowns cascade into systemic collapse. Diane Vaughn applied the normal accident metaphor to the 1986 Challenger Disaster.