The current pandemic and pandemic response highlight some things that are not going so well in how our nation has structured itself, both willfully and by default. It also highlights two things we are getting right in the Madison area.

The public schools and public library are not running as usual, and that change brings home the benefits of regular and open access to these institutions. Librarians and teachers are still serving with creativity and commitment, but when the library and school doors are closed, what are we missing?

When library doors are closed, people of all ages miss out on an organized, indoor public space filled with wifi, books, movies, newspapers and magazines; programming for children, youth and adults; clean bathrooms with soap and hot water; and plenty of places to sit -- all managed by qualified staff who are dedicated to the idea that all patrons are created equal.

When school doors are closed, students miss out on regular hot lunches, access to clean and fun playgrounds, a library built just for them, gym class, music class, friends and, most of all, teachers who teach and motivate because they are competent, qualified and good-hearted.

An internet connection is not a human connection in the best sense. Daily in-person interactions with and accountability to a teacher who is leading a group of learners can create positive energy, or at least keep students on track.

As a personal example, my children like their band teacher and being part of the band, but I have heard very little music played in the last several weeks at home.

There is a reason teachers train and certify to be teachers; mastering the content and methods of teaching subjects from chemistry and calculus to phonics and physical education would be too much for one parent. When our children need extra learning interventions, the professional help becomes even more important.

Thanks to the power of public education, parents from all backgrounds can send their children to schools where they can learn from teachers who love their subjects and their students.

Now, I realize that not everyone has the same experience with public institutions. Some thrive in them; others feel indifferent or unwelcome. I realize school can also be a hard and unhappy place for students, even under good circumstances.

Public does not mean perfect, but it does mean participatory, and even though that participation is challenging, citizens should work with, support and appreciate the educators and librarians who build our community.

Casualene Meyer

Madison, May 7