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Ideas

For A Holiday Moratorium On Debating COVID

The topic of COVID is dividing siblings, old friends and parents at daycare centers. So maybe we need an experiment and stop sharing opinions, from the dinner table to your local news outlet.

woman wearing a surgical mask holding her finger in front of her mouth in a shush sign

Could we forget about covid, for holidays' sake?

Susanne Gaschke

-Essay-

BERLIN — In his first government declaration, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said something about COVID that will be remembered for its understated accuracy: "Nobody is doing so well in these times..." That is a description that also captures the mood of a divided nation that Scholz began leading this month.

Anyone who still claims that there is no polarization over the pandemic either refuses to see it — or has no friends or family members with whom to quarrel.


The COVID policies made by those in power and the COVID reporting by most media are dividing siblings, old friends, and parents at the daycare center around the corner.

A breakdown in conversation

One side accuses the other of unreasonableness, lack of information, incorrect risk assessment and, above all, recklessness. It often sounds as if those who consider some government measures disproportionate want to deliberately kill old people (the average age of COVID deaths is around 80 years old).

The other side could go nearly insane about how obediently many fellow citizens defend the most nonsensical measures, and how they find no objections to the erosion of freedom that results from the green cards based on mandatory vaccinations. About how they lecture you from above.

As far as I can remember, I have never experienced so much lack of forgiveness as I have just now — not even towards myself. The result is a breakdown in conversation. I can hardly listen anymore to people who still believe in the improvised warnings by Karl Lauterbach, the former advisor to Angela Merkel during the pandemic who is now Germany's health minister. I hardly feel like having people explain to me why the fourth, fifth and sixth booster vaccinations are also a moral duty.

Let's ban opinions on COVID — at least for a while

poster with mask wearing warning sign at a Christmas market with illuminated hristmas trees

Social barriers are part of the Christmas decor now

Maxppp via ZUMA Press

I now leave the room during news broadcasts whose presenters think they are government spokespeople and who turn every half-understood but somehow dramatizable figure into breaking news. But I'm also painfully aware that breaking off conversations has never actually led to good results, neither in the private nor political spheres. And we can't send the whole country to therapy. So maybe we need an experiment.

What would happen if politicians and the media alike imposed a COVID moratorium on themselves? If we, as friends, family members and neighbors, decided to let the subject rest? For example, until Three Kings Day on January 6? Of course, this is just a thought experiment. But the rules would be simple: all legal requirements would remain as they are for the moment; media would not print editorials on COVID, while the news pages would remain unaffected.

Of course, the experiment would have to be stopped in case of seriously relevant developments (in the last weeks, "the numbers" are continuously decreasing). But if this period, during which there is a Christmas lull anyway, could be sustained, we would all have the chance to break from constant alarmism. This would change little about the actual pandemic of course. But it might make a lot of difference when it comes to how everyone is feeling.

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Future

AI Is Good For Education — And Bad For Teachers Who Teach Like Machines

Despite fears of AI upending the education and the teaching profession, artificial education will be an extremely valuable tool to free up teachers from rote exercises to focus on the uniquely humanistic part of learning.

Journalism teacher and his students in University of Barcelona.

Journalism students at the Blanquerna University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.

© Sergi Reboredo via ZUMA press
Julián de Zubiría Samper

-Analysis-

BOGOTÁ - Early in 2023, Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates included teaching among the professions most threatened by Artificial Intelligence (AI), arguing that a robot could, in principle, instruct as well as any school-teacher. While Gates is an undoubted expert in his field, one wonders how much he knows about teaching.

As an avowed believer in using technology to improve student results, Gates has argued for teachers to use more tech in classrooms, and to cut class sizes. But schools and countries that have followed his advice, pumping money into technology at school, or students who completed secondary schooling with the backing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have not attained the superlative results expected of the Gates recipe.

Thankfully, he had enough sense to add some nuance to his views, instead suggesting changes to teacher training that he believes could improve school results.

I agree with his view that AI can be a big and positive contributor to schooling. Certainly, technological changes prompt unease and today, something tremendous must be afoot if a leading AI developer, Geoffrey Hinton, has warned of its threat to people and society.

But this isn't the first innovation to upset people. Over 2,000 years ago, the philosopher Socrates wondered, in the Platonic dialogue Phaedrus, whether reading and writing wouldn't curb people's ability to reflect and remember. Writing might lead them to despise memory, he observed. In the 18th and 19th centuries, English craftsmen feared the machines of the Industrial Revolution would destroy their professions, producing lesser-quality items faster, and cheaper.

Their fears were not entirely unfounded, but it did not happen quite as they predicted. Many jobs disappeared, but others emerged and the majority of jobs evolved. Machines caused a fundamental restructuring of labor at the time, and today, AI will likely do the same with the modern workplace.

Many predicted that television, computers and online teaching would replace teachers, which has yet to happen. In recent decades, teachers have banned students from using calculators to do sums, insisting on teaching arithmetic the old way. It is the same dry and mechanical approach to teaching which now wants to keep AI out of the classroom.

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