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Jun 13 2020 - 06:16 PM
Learning From COVID-19

From the thud of the stick to its head, we surmise it must be a giant marching band drum strapped to the back of someone a few balconies up. Deep, heavy, slow, persistent is the opening of the 7pm beat, setting off hoots and hollers, pots or pans, hands clapping, really anything that makes noise in an otherwise serene neighborhood. Rather like hooves landing hard on cobblestone, and others following suit -- the crescendo of a herd thundering a few minutes into the hour dissipates to the softer sound of hooves in grass, more like a heartbeat when your ears are pressed close to another's chest.

The singing that boosted morale of essential workers in a shuttered, hard-hit Italy made its impact throughout the world, our social city no exception now with indefinite social distancing in place. Eighty some odd days into lockdown, away from Teachers College, and a leafy stroll past Weill-Cornell lead me to the gradual contextualization of New York City as campus: the principal grounds within a main enclosure. I see masked people, boarded buildings, empty spaces situated in a most vulnerable time, but one from which we can and must learn by looking to the past and better preparing for the future.

Working on our June-July book display I am curious to weigh the the literature on pandemics -- discovering that the majority of e-books pertain to history; half of them, to politics; and but a couple, to preparedness. While scholarly works on the history and politics of the novel coronavirus are not yet written, findings on related pandemics serve to inform. The ratio is unbalanced, leading me to question when we will listen to the deeper sounds of poverty and other inhumane conditions that are prime host to disease-- a much harder, more complicated question when faced with emergency and struggling ability to deal with the novel coronavirus.

There is a medical proverb from the 1940s that states, "When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras -- meaning that medical doctors should look for common, rather than exotic causes of disease. Hearing hoofbeats over the last few months has been all too real, with COVID 19 spreading like wildfire across the globe. The pandemic has caused unprecedented deaths; high rates of unemployment; social distancing; increases in domestic violence, drug abuse, and mental ill health; among many other negative effects, leaving researchers baffled, but still in great hope of a vaccine.

Can the folk truth by Dr. Theodore Woodward, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, stretch to include education, business, and government? Do we need "zebras" for answers, while lockdowns start lifting? Or are horses and zebras related more closely than we think?

On display through mid July, curated by library staff, and designed by Carlie Zhang, Hearing Hoofbeats explores the history and politics of pandemics, from the bubonic plague to COVID-19. Drawing to light the lessons learned from the deadliest of diseases, we present the complexities surrounding public health and governmental response in times of crisis, while encouraging a healthier, more informed world.

Media moves from the tragedy of unprecedented daily death to protests over the long history of racial injustice, aggravated by health, politics, economics, societal and other factors influencing our common well-being. Another deep sound, with an equally troubling tone that foreshadows the next Everett Cafe book display and encourages us to listen closer.


  • Banner Image for Hearing Hoofbeats, Courtesy of the Gottesman Libraries, Teachers College, Columbia University


At the Everett News Cafe, you'll find a new book collection every few weeks that relates to current affairs, education, or learning environments.