Another semester done. Goodbye, Fall of 2020. You were something else. I’ve been in education for nearly twenty years. And I can say the following with sincerity: This has been a strange fall. A sad fall. An anxious fall. Quite a fall. Not be confused with the fall, but there were some similarities. See Milton.
And that’s the first time I’ve referenced Milton in my blogs. I can’t pretend I’m not an English major. I also won’t pretend I’m not reading C. S. Lewis right now. His space trilogy. C. S. Lewis loves to refer to Milton. Talk about British! Reading that dear old chap C. S.’s work makes me feel like I’m in a Victorian sitting room. There are few places I’d hate more. Talk about repression! But I did cut my teeth on The Chronicles of Narnia, so there’s something soothing about that dear old chap C. S.’s writing. And, dagnabit, his science fiction is strange and smart and odd and those are things I like in a book. Although I’m sure he would never use the word dagnabit. British people can be stuffy. I’m an American through and through.
Anyway, the fall. Not the fall, but this fall. It was a doozy. I said goodbye to another cohort of students. Future teachers. I never met them in person, but I spent lots of time with them in Zoom. Reading their writing. Reacting to videos they’d post or comments in Canvas. Facilitating discussion or setting tasks. I got to know them to the extent I could. And, for the most part, I admired their ability to do college this fall.
One student signed into class from a MexExpress parking lot twice. Because she had to be tested for Covid. Twice. Talk about commitment. Another student had to put up with her little sister making shadow puppets on the wall behind her. One student admitted that a mouse ran by his feet while he was in class one morning, and he tried not to react. Talk about student housing. What a strange way to do school.
No, I don’t think these students had the same experience they would have in person. For the most part, they learned about the things they were supposed to learn. But something was missing. The experience of being with each other.
I’m of the mind that it is impossible to replicate the energy of people being with people in school. The things I care about in school involve bodies in a shared time and space. Thinking together and building together. Yes, it is possible to create a version of that with remote learning. But it feels like a shadow. I need to hear laughter. See rolling eyes and laugh at the exasperated sighs or judgmental looks or even smell the noxious odors. The affective energies of a group of people being together with no other purpose than to create knowledge. That’s what I’ve been chasing in school, baby.
And so grades are entered. And I’m already bracing for the spring semester. Another virtual cohort. You can’t imagine the time and energy it takes to plan curriculum online. Well, maybe you can. Maybe you are a teacher. Or maybe you are an actuary, and you have meetings and spreadsheets and have to do whatever it is actuaries do remotely. Or maybe you are a parent and have been watching your children do school in a screen. I don’t know, man. The energy it takes to do my job online is something else. It’s so hard to bounce from task to task when all of those tasks happen in the same screen. I’ve got a little list next to my computer. It reminds me of the writing I should be doing. The assignments I need to knock out. So much to do, even during a pandemic. My little list keeps me honest.
Shoot me up with that vaccine. Hose me down with it. I want to hop in my car, drive to campus. Park. Walk around. Breathe on people. Sit in my office. Make a stupid joke to a colleague. Laugh with a student. Look over their shoulder as they write. Set foot in a high school or an elementary school. Stand in a circle with people. Do some improv. Sit in a crowded coffee shop. Lord help me, I’m an introvert to my core, but I sure could use just a little taste of people being with people. Social media doesn’t scratch the itch. Zoom doesn’t either.
And don’t get me wrong, I’ve connected with all sorts of friends and family through the screen. I’m no Luddite. I appreciate the ease with which I can “be with” folks these days. But something is missing, y’all. And I’m ready to get it back.
So the fall is over. Not the fall. That’s still being redeemed. But this fall. Goodbye, Fall of 2020. You were something else.
My boys have so much pent up energy. They are atomic explosions. But they are also learning to read. And write. Samson’s a regular C. S. Lewis. Solomon is even moving on to multiplication. I don’t know where he gets it. Math terrifies me. Samson will sit and read quietly for an hour. That is more my speed.
Yes, the social isolation of this has been awful. But the boys are like my students. Learning something despite these circumstances. Making the best of things. There is a precedent for that. I think of the play Skin of Our Teeth. I directed that at Roseville some years ago. The idea is that people survive trials and tribulations But, as the title says, only by the skin of our teeth. Very strange play. But those were the kind of plays I directed. Remember, I like literature that is smart and strange and odd. The stuff I referenced in this blog is very canonical. C. S. Lewis and whatnot. But my tastes veer away from the Western canon too. I’m reading The Souls of White Folk by Veronica Watson right now, along with that dear old chap C. S. She’s this fascinating English professor at a small college in Pennsylvania that works through images of whiteness in obscure Black literature from the 20th century. Really powerful book.
Okay, that’s enough musing and ruminating for the moment. Goodbye, fall 2020. Goodnight sweet prince. It is on to the winter of 2021. Who knows what is next?