There are more signs in the news today that the social fabric is fraying across Virginia: (1) a teacher poll showing that 39% of Newport News teachers and staff are thinking about quitting; and (2) concerns that urban violence is spilling out of Roanoke into nearby Blacksburg. For good measure, I’ll throw in (3) a two-week-old story about the record number of drug overdoses in Virginia.
Look, I know people are prone to cherry-picking headlines to build a narrative. The mainstream media does so routinely. So, I admit the possibility that I’m engaging in confirmation bias, highlighting the news that fits my counter-narrative of slow-motion social breakdown and downplaying the news that doesn’t fit. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening. I think we’re seeing headlines of a type we never used to see before. You be the judge.
Teacher morale plummets. Newport News teachers are burned out, and many are thinking about quitting, according to results from a survey commissioned by the Newport News Education Association. The Newport News findings actually were less bad than a National Education Association poll finding that 55% of educators responding to a survey were considering retiring or quitting because of the epidemic, about double the number in July 2020, reports The Daily Press.
Obviously, the NNEA is not a disinterested bystander. The teachers union advocates more pay and better working conditions (more virtual learning, shorter school days, more staff support), and fanning fears of a teacher exodus helps them make their case. But that doesn’t make them wrong about teacher morale.
If 28% of teachers nationally were thinking about quitting in June 2020, clearly there was a major morale problem when the COVID epidemic was just getting started. Teachers were frustrated (or frightened) by increasing disorder in the classrooms and threats of violence against them. They were saddled with increasing paperwork, wokeness training, and meddling, second-guessing administrators who pushed them to pass failing students. They were dismayed by the indifference and, often times, outright antagonism of their students’ parents. That was the starting point. Since then, add the COVID controversies over vaccinations, masking, and social isolation, throw in pressure to make up students’ lost academic and social learning during K-12’s “lost year” in 2020/21, and top it off with paychecks that don’t keep pace with inflation.
When teachers quit and schools are short-staffed, more work gets heaped on those who remain. Who can blame teachers for getting burned out? Many Virginia school districts, it appears, are trapped in a vicious cycle. More teachers and staff quit, increasing the workload for those left behind, intensifying burnout, and prompting even more people to leave. Those in charge seem powerless to halt the downward spiral.
Violent crime in Blacksburg. Roanoke, a midsized city, has always had a violent crime problem. The violence usually stayed within the Roanoke Valley, but street crime from Roanoke recently spilled into Blacksburg (a 40- to 45-minute drive from Roanoke) in the form of shootings that killed a high school student and wounded four others. Two Roanoke men have been charged in the incident, which occurred just blocks from the Virginia Tech campus.
“Let this be a rallying cry for all the communities in this region, large and small, to confront the abomination of gun violence and street crime that seems to be overtaking our country,” said Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith. “When our neighbors’ children are unsafe, our own children are at risk. When our neighbors are hurting, we are hurt, as well.” So reports The Roanoke Times.
Violent crime spiked in Virginia in 2020, according to state police data, and anecdotal evidence suggests that shootings and homicides increased again in 2021.
The overdose capital of Virginia. Meanwhile, Virginia was on track for another record-setting number of drug deaths through the first nine months of 2021, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. More than 2,000 Virginians died of drug overdoses, up 17% compared to the same period the year before. The number of deaths in the City of Richmond reached 244 — 100 more than any other locality. Neighboring Henrico and Chesterfield also ranked among the top five in the state for fentanyl deaths.
Law enforcement authorities attribute the increase to the proliferation of fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin. Chesterfield County Sheriff Karl Leonard said that drug dealers are lacing everything from pot to meth with the drug because it is cheap and high potency. “The pills are fentanyl, the powder is fentanyl. It’s all fentanyl,” he said.
The RTD quotes Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 100,000 Americans died of overdoses in the 12 months ending June 2021, nearly two-thirds involving synthetic opioids. That compares to more than 800,000 COVID-related deaths over the two years of the pandemic. COVID has caused more deaths, but drug overdoses kill people in the prime of life, most of whom would have been perfectly healthy otherwise. COVID mainly kills people who are elderly and/or have multiple co-morbidities with truncated lifespan expectations. Measured by life-years lost, the drug-overdose epidemic may be comparable to the COVID epidemic.
In the bizarro-world that is Virginia (and the United States), though, the political class is preoccupied almost exclusively with COVID. The country is embroiled in debates over vaccination and mandates to protect populations of K-12 students, college students, teachers and staff who are at exceedingly low risk for the disease. (Total COVID deaths for Virginians under the age of 40: 342.)
Why the disparity? Because COVID affects everyone in society, including members of the political and chattering classes who dominate the media. Murders and drug overdoses mainly affect “other people.” Talk about skewed narratives.