Jason Furman: It’s too bad so many people tried to shout down those who wanted schools to reopen (Update)

Source: Hot Air

If you don’t remember Jason Furman, he was the chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors. Just a few days ago he offered some criticism of President Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan. And at the end of that particular interview, he made a broader point about the heat surrounding the debate:

I will say, of all the policy issues I’ve ever discussed, the level of vitriol directed against anyone who disagrees [with the debt-relief plan] is incredibly high. There is something that is so emotive for people. It has made it harder for analytic people to enter the conversation. And I think the odds of bad unintended consequences, imposed on people paying for the policy now or imposed on students in the future, have gone up a lot.

That idea, that the personally vicious nature of these debates keeps people who are trying to be analytic from joining in, is something that Furman brought up again today in a Twitter thread on another topic. With the release today of testing data showing that pandemic learning loss is very significant Furman made the same point with regard to the school reopening debate.

Emily Oster is an economist at Brown University who was one of the most vocal people pushing for school reopening. In July 2020 she wrote a piece for the Atlantic titled “Parents Can’t Wait Around Forever.” Here’s her conclusion.

The fact is, parents can’t wait around forever. As long as they have to stay home with children, they cannot truly participate in the workforce. The facts right now suggest that reopening schools would not lead to disaster, but more information shouldn’t be so hard to come by.

And as she collected more data, Oster became more confident and attracted both support and a lot of critics. The NY Times wrote about the dynamic in June 2021:

More recently, she has cast doubt on whether students need to wear masks or remain physically distanced at school.

This steady stream of counterintuitive advice has made Dr. Oster a lodestar for a certain set of parents, generally college-educated, liberal and affluent. Many had first latched onto her data-driven child-rearing books. Her popularity grew during the pandemic, as she collected case counts of Covid-19 in schools and advanced her own strongly held views on the importance of returning to in-person learning.

Some parents said, half-seriously, “Emily Oster is my C.D.C.”

But others — teachers, epidemiologists and labor activists — criticized her, pointing out that she was not an infectious disease expert, nor did she have any deep personal or professional experience with public education. (Her two children attend private school, as did she.) On social media, the reaction could be brutal, with people calling her a “charlatan” and “monster” pushing “morally reprehensible” positions that “endangered many lives needlessly.”

And those were some of the more polite critiques.

So Oster wasn’t silenced, far from it, but she did attract a lot of angry detractors who eventually convinced her to step back from Twitter. That’s the dynamic Furman is talking about. He’s pleading with the very online left not to go cancel culture on heterodox opinions.

He says there were more people who had concerns about school closures who were afraid to say so, presumably because they saw what was happening to Professor Oster. Those people decided it was too much effort to buck the narrative.

Kudos to Furman I guess for trying to, rather gently, point out that progressives who demanded school closures wound up costing children a great deal. Some people are thanking him for doing so.

But of course the new data on pandemic learning loss isn’t any more relevant to some people on the left than the old data showing schools weren’t creating super spreader events. And so a lot of the responses are like this:

There’s lots more of this (on both sides) but I think you probably get the picture. It seems minds are not being changed by the new pandemic learning loss data. On the contrary, the attitude on the left is still some version of schools were death traps and closing them was the right call. It’s not the first time I’ve been pretty certain there will never be any kind of reckoning for the people who got this wrong.

Update: There’s another option for people on the left besides just doubling down. Why not try gaslighting very recent history. Seriously, I hope Ron DeSantis gets a big belly laugh out of this.