Oh, that’s right I’m the one who’s been away.
Maybe when we got all enthused about the quote, “May we live in interesting times” we should have asked for a definition of “interesting”. Wishing that we might live in a time of fear, dueling expert opinions, uncertainty, and separation seems like a terrible thing to wish on anybody, especially ourselves.
So, where have I been? In the past few weeks I’ve probably started at least 4 different blogs. I always name them by the date of the first draft and include a version number. On several I’ve gotten as far as Version 3.2 but none seemed to earn the desired “final”. The relevance of each seems to have been eclipsed by the “headline of the day” … some these even dealt with education. These included thoughts that seem to have been prepared by the writers at Saturday Night Live and dealt with the day to day struggles of folks trying to implement what has euphemistically been termed “remote learning”. How can you write a helpful (I think I really mean “serious”) blog/essay about the problems caused for teachers when they can no longer give “zeros” for uncompleted work? Or how about responding to experts suggesting that we will need to address the coming preschool gap and regression in reading skills of kindergartners?
And just as I was approaching what might have been the “final” on another piece, the governor of New York announced the formation of a partnership with the Gates Foundation to “reimagine “ what education might looks like now that we’re accepted (or at least he has) that we might not need school buildings anymore. Given the track record of the Gates Foundation with investments in the such initiatives as the Common Core, the portfolio approach to district organization, value added evaluations of teachers, etc. (BTW, for a complete list of the reform “successes” I’d encourage you to read Jan Resseger ‘s post from today) Inviting Gates and other tech experts from around the country to design a new system of education seems eerily similar to expecting a real estate developer to design responses to the COVID-19 pandemic (cue the fiddle music and clips of burning buildings!).
I recall when our kids were younger and we were traveling we played a family game. The first one who spotted and correctly identified roadkill would get a point. We went so far as to develop a business plan for the sale of the “Dead Animal Game” (complete with reusable stickers of the most commonly seen animals) at highway rest stop stores. Stuck here in the house I found myself wondering if we shouldn’t be thinking about a “dead society” game. Social distancing seems to be formalizing a trend that has been underway for some time now… separation. To paraphrase Charles Eisenstein, we have been seeing, for what might be decades now, the separation of people from one another, the separation of people from our institutions, and the separation of people from our planet and its health.
So why this piece? I want to emphasize that, as we look at our slice of the world, education, it is critical that we learn from our experience these past months. While we have been spending large amounts of time and money on “reforming schools, we have paid far too little attention to one of the most valuable (perhaps THE most valuable) outcomes of our system to public education… CONNECTION. One of my connections is a young man who teaches high school English. The most important thing that I can share about him is that I wish my kids had experienced him when they were in school. He writes today about “connections”. It would be folly for me to offer the Cliff Notes version of his post. So, here is something I’ve never done before… here is the complete piece that he shared today as well as the link to his site. Be well.
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I’ve been trying to be optimistic and hopeful and dare I say– a little funny– to help lighten the mood. Writing to you has offered me a welcome distraction from the biblical story we’re currently starring in. And I hope reading my posts has done the same for you.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you this week marks the one year passing of one of my students. A student who sat in the second row, first seat of my literature class.
Beside their seating arrangement, general GPA in my class, and their enjoyment of school cafeteria soups (one of the few conversations I had with them)–I didn’t know much about them.
My failure to connect to them still shakes me to this day. It was only after the student’s death that I realized I had to take responsibility for my failings and do a better job connecting to my students.
So this past school year I made it a daily practice to greet every student at the door. I addressed them by name, asked them how their day was going, followed by “The Question of the Day”.
The “QOTD” ranged from: questions about what we were currently reading in class, or “would you rather” questions– would you rather lose or sight or lose your memories?, or philosophical questions–“What 3 things are needed for a rich life?”.
Like the baseball player who, after he hits a homerun, points to the sky, remembering his deceased grandmother, the question of the day was my way of remembering the student who liked soup.
And even though I’m teaching from my living room these days, I still pose “The Question of the Day” to my students.
Personal connections are the most important self-improvement tool in the human toolbox.
Psychology is ripe with studies explaining the extraordinary benefits of human connection (lower rates of anxiety and depression, stronger immune system, higher rates of self-esteem and empathy).
The word of 2020 so far might be “essential.”
Essential workers. Essential testing. “Buy only the essentials.” Essentially, no one knows what’s going on.
No doubt we’re swimming in a scary soup, Italian Canceled Wedding or Lobster Risk, but one thing is certain– connection is essential.
As psychologist Dr. Emma Seppala explains, “the truth is that a sense of social connection is one of our fundamental human needs.”
Look connecting is not easy. It takes courage and the fear of rejection is real. (You may have rejected my soup jokes). And right now, in the spring time of 2020, social connection is much more difficult.
So how can we connect? Here are 3 ways:
- Take a free virtual class ( I’m currently taking “The Science of Well-Being” at Yale University. Yeah, that’s right I’m an Ivy Leaguer.)
- Zoomwith a friend or relative but do more than just talk. Play a game, watch a movie together, knit a potholder, make a soup.
- Drive to a relative’s or friend’s house, honk like you’re snarled in rush hour traffic until they come outside. And have a car-side conversation.
I understand, connecting is scary but we all need to connect. We are social creatures. Interconnection is how we, both physically and emotionally, survive.
This earthy communion of sharing our stories is how we lift each others spirits. And our anxiety, our lonesomeness, our sadness will continue unless we break-free of our self-imposed isolation and connect.
Connection is essential.
Connection will get us through a pandemic.
Or a literature class drier than a saltine cracker.
PS: I’ll be thinking of you–2nd row, 1st seat, soup enthusiast–a little more this week.
PSS: I want to thank anyone who reads this blog. You’re connecting to me. Which means a lot. And though we may not be physically connecting we’re emotionally connecting. And emotional connections go a long way right now.