I try to plan these out the night before. It’s amazing how we spend so much time teaching our students about essay planning. We have diagrams, graphic organizers, mnemonic devices, and a set structure to these things. These posts somehow dance around in my head until they get regurgitated onto a blank screen. I have no idea if that makes me a good writer or a bad one. It’s just the way I’ve always done it.
I had planned to talk more about the president and the very recent scandal surrounding him possibly accepting a bribe in exchange for a pardon. However, something happened that usually happens. I watched something and had an unrelated discussion. Suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head and I decided to take today’s post in a different direction. The president’s scandals can wait. We will know more later anyway.
I was watching an old YouTube clip of an interview between Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert. They were talking about grief. Cooper had just lost his famous mother (Gloria Vanderbilt) and Colbert famously lost his father and two brothers when he was ten. The conversation was fascinating. It was deep. It had moments that rocked you to the core.
Then, later on that night I was talking with my wife about what we had lost at school. Some people have pontificated about this generation of students being a lost generation because of the time missed, lack of direct contact, and problems with online learning. We are approaching the end of the first full semester of this new normal. We lost about nine weeks last year. I’m not sure how that adds up to a lost generation, but I suppose everyone is entitled to their opinion.
There can be no doubt that something has been lost. How we quantify that I can’t even begin to guess. We can replicate curriculum online, but watching teachers from afar you notice they are mostly seated at their desks talking to students via Zoom or talking at their students in person. Students sit quietly and bang away on a keyboard. There can be no doubt that there is something lost in the translation.
Yet, a portion of the Colbert conversation struck me like a thunderbolt. He talked about how his grief shaped him and made him more human. It allowed him to connect with others that had also experienced grief. He wasn’t sure if it made him a better person, but it certainly made him a more well-rounded one. It made me think of my time in my masters program where we talked about guidance curriculum. Sure, we wanted students to learn algebra, how to read grade level text, and write effectively, but we also want them to become full functioning adults.
So, instead of asking what we are losing in this pandemic, we might be better off asking what we are gaining. There’s the obvious stuff. More and more of us are losing someone around us. That immediate and acute grief gives us the same power as it did Colbert. It humanizes us. It allows us to connect to others in ways we can’t even imagine.
Yet, there are multiple levels of grief. There’s the grief of losing loved ones, but there is also grief around losing time. There is grief around losing life events we all looked forward to. There’s the grief of isolation from family and friends. There’s the grief of losing the ability to simply take a deep breath and not have a care in the world. Beyond the simplicity of having a deeper appreciation for when these things return is the valuable experience with grief itself. It is something that binds all of us in ways we could never be bound otherwise.
Grief is something we all must face, but many of us don’t experience in our formative years. We all don’t lose a parent or sibling. Some of us are lucky to keep all of our grandparents and extended family until we are adults. How do we learn how to grieve? How do we learn how to empathize with someone else in their grief? How do we learn how to take profound loss and bounce back? These are lessons that can’t be simulated. They can’t be taught in a lecture hall. You can’t watch a PowerPoint presentation or Ted Talk and master its lesson. It must be experienced first hand.
Yes, we have a generation of young people that may have lost a few weeks worth of instruction. Yes, they might not complete every unit in the curriculum and they did not get to take precious state exams to prove their worth. Yes, some missed games, competitions, and performances. Others missed proms and graduations. Think of what they’ve gained. We have shared a common experience that will enrich all of our collective humanities. We all have the capacity to become more well-rounded people. We all have the capacity to become more resilient.
If all of this is too deep and too dark then consider the lesson learned about priorities. My college friends and I do a weekly Zoom call every Sunday (or nearly every Sunday). I graduated from college 24 years ago in December. We had gone months between conversations prior to the pandemic. Now, we talk weekly.
Connection is a fluid and complicated thing. We can’t see as many people or touch as many people, but we can still have connection. In many ways, we are lucky that technology can do that for us. If this had happened 30 or 40 years ago we would be much more isolated. We have the opportunity to look at our activities that we used to perform like zombies and really evaluate how useful they are in our journey to happiness. If we can’t do them temporarily then we discover their usefulness or lack of usefulness.
Yes, we’ve lost something temporarily in education. We’ve lost some ability to connect to the children we teach. We can’t shake their hand, give them a pat on the back, or give them a hug. We struggle to find ways to get them to work together on group projects and collaborative lessons. There are shared experiences that just can’t be shared right now. Yet in education and beyond we also have to consider what we have gained. We have found new ways to connect that will continue to serve us when all this is over. Our students have hopefully gained more appreciation for the things and people they love. Hopefully, we have all learned a way to connect to those that have suffered loss because we all have suffered loss. Remember, the goal is always to become better functioning humans.