This Psychologist Thinks Mask Mandates in Schools ‘Offer Distinctive Opportunities for Learning and Growth’
The usual argument for requiring K–12 students to wear face masks, regardless of their vaccination status, is that such mandates are necessary to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks and keep the infection rate in schools low. In a New York Times essay published yesterday, University of Louisville research psychologist Judith Danovitch takes the case for “universal masking” in schools a step further, boldly arguing that forcing students to cover their faces all day actually helps them learn.
That claim is counterintuitive, to say the least. As many critics have noted, masks make it harder to understand and be understood, both by muffling speech and by concealing facial cues on which humans rely to communicate, which is especially burdensome for younger children who are still learning that skill. Masks interfere with the social interaction that for many students is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dreary and draining day. Masks make it harder to breathe by obstructing the nose and mouth and harder to see by fogging eyeglasses. They make ears hurt and faces itch. The inconvenience and discomfort caused by mask mandates, coupled with the stress of enforcing and complying with them, add new distractions and anxieties to restrictive environments that were already unpleasant in many ways.
Danovitch says parents’ concerns about the impact of face masks on communication skills are “understandable but unwarranted,” since “children in cultures where caregivers and educators wear head coverings that obscure their mouths and noses develop skills just as children in other cultures do.” Furthermore, “even congenitally blind children—who cannot see faces at all—still learn to speak, read and get along with other people.”
Danovitch concedes that “masks are inconvenient, uncomfortable and bothersome.” But “as long as they are needed,” she says, “we should take advantage of the fact that they offer distinctive opportunities for learning and growth.”
How so? By obscuring the lower half of people’s faces, Danovitch says, masks for
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