You remember what happened Monday, right?
Oh, and the moon passed between the sun and the Earth, blocking part of the sun from view for about three hours. At 2:37 p.m., about 92 percent of the sun was covered by the moon.
Now that’s a rare celestial event.
When I first realized the eclipse would be happening on a school day, I thought that was cool. I mean, imagine what children, especially young children, could learn at school during an event of such scientific and historical importance.
As it turned out, not much.
That’s because the Muscogee County School District chose to dismiss elementary schools at noon on Monday, “as a safety precaution,” according to an email sent to parents.
I get it.
The district’s primary concern has to be the safety and welfare of its children. So on Monday, elementary schools fed their children a bag lunch and then bussed them home while it was still safe to look into the sky. Mission accomplished.
Still, I think our community missed an opportunity Monday to get our children excited about science.
My daughter is doing her student teaching in Athens, Ga., this semester, and her public elementary school shifted to a later schedule for Monday. Every one of her second-graders got a pair of eclipse glasses and a mat to sit on, and they all went outside and viewed the event.
She texted me a photo another teacher took of her sitting with 7- and 8-year-olds, all of them wearing glasses and staring into the sky, their mouths agape with wonder.
Now that’s education, I thought to myself. Maybe those little children won’t become astronauts or astronomers, but surely their sense of the world has now expanded – as well as the boundaries they feel in it.
At the least, if one of them becomes the point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he won’t believe the Earth is flat. Or if one of them becomes a billionaire reality TV star and then leader of the free world, he or she will know better than to look directly at the sun during an eclipse.
Sure, many elementary school-aged children in Muscogee County still got to witness the event and learn more about science in the process. They watched the eclipse – whether through special glasses or via pinhole projector or online or on television— with their parents or scout troop or after-school program.
Many of these children could be seen at Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center on Monday.
But what about the children who didn’t have a parent or guardian or support group available that day to make sure they took advantage of the learning opportunity? What about the children who depend on the district to provide their basic needs, including the only healthy meals they’ll get in any given week?
What if there were a potential astronaut or astronomer in that bunch? Or a poet or videogame designer?
I’m certain that our district’s leaders considered all this. Muscogee County has many more students than Athens/Clarke County, and bigger districts have bigger logistical challenges, costs and risks.
How much would 33,000 pairs of eclipse glasses have cost? What about pushing back elementary school bus schedules so that they overlapped with middle and high schools? What are the logistics of that?
Oh, and what about legal risks? What if somebody’s child started having vision problems a few days after viewing a solar eclipse at school? You know, about 33,000 students means about 66,000 eyeballs.
So I get it. I know many teachers figured out a way to incorporate the eclipse into their lesson plans or to give children and their parents information about opportunities for viewing the eclipse.
Some middle schools and high schools arranged viewing parties and special events. My children’s high school did not, but permitted them to check out of school to view the eclipse, provided they first did the schoolwork they were going to miss and also agreed to write a report on their observations.
I’m down with all that.
But I still think we missed an opportunity.