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An official in Cairo, Illinois dispatched a message to his counterparts in Washington, DC. He warned, the “country below is in the hands of a howling mob.” Locals not yet touched by the disease went into lockdown. In the absence of permanent public health officials or institutions, coalitions of citizens and elected officials living in uninfected areas took up arms to impose “shotgun” quarantines to fend off outsiders.
Compared to natural disasters—hurricanes, tornadoes, floods—pandemics are comparatively rare. British sociologist Phil Strong (1990) was one of the few to study pandemics. He developed a framework based on accounts of pandemics back to the Black Death in 14th century Europe. Pandemics represented moments of transparency in the social order. All sorts of institutions, relationships, and interactions suddenly became problematic. The taken-for-granted assumptions of everyday life were exposed and became uncertain and questionable.
Educators of all sorts have been suddenly thrust into online teaching amidst the global pandemic. But who might be left behind as we adapt online? Digital inequality research points to three questions that help us understand the current landscape for K-12 students: How robust is the global technological infrastructure? How ready are educators and students? And how might students be unequally rewarded as classes go online?