The kids were already out of school when the Coronavirus touched down, thank god. What’s funny is that its arrival was sort of announced when Tom Hanks announced he had contracted it and the day the NBA was suspended. Kind of a testament to America, I guess. When actors and entertainers become real, life becomes real.
I’d been debating with my wife whether the panic of the country was merited; she seemed to think it was, given the transmission and casualty rates. I have a hard time those same rates from rural China, where they eat raw donkey meat(not kidding) and pangolins, will hold up in the United States, but after Rudy Gobert, I don’t want to jinx myself. Pride always comes before the fall. Still, even after reading all of the articles from expert epidemiologists and speculative numbers on casualties in the United States ranging from 200,000 to 100 million, I can’t help feeling like America is in Chicken Little mode. I’m glad all the public events have been cancelled and most seem to be engaging in distancing measures, but I just wish there wasn’t this very real sense of panic. I went to the grocery store yesterday and in a giant crowd, no one spoke a word. It was dead silence and a series of piercing sidelong glances. No one got within three feet of each other. I used my sleeves to open the refrigerator doors, which I guess is pretty paranoid, but then again, I don’t want to die… or kill anyone else.
What shocks me is that having all the kids home from school in the area has made such a little impact. I asked one of my online students how it has been to be out of school, and he remarked meaningfully: “it’s awesome.” He felt there was little else to say. I asked him what he’d been doing, and he sort of shrugged. After a few more probing questions, I found what I should have known to begin with: he was binge watching shows, going on social media and playing video games all day. His teachers had been trying to assign work, but despite their measures to prepare for this scenario, it was a scramble. None of the kids I tutor seem to know where to find assignments, what was due when, or even if their classes were going to meet or not. I guess that’s probably the last thing anyone’s thinking about in the scramble to the bomb shelter, but as an experienced teacher, skipping a spring semester of high school is not ideal for the developing human mind. These kids are losing at least a month or two of learning in this madness in the fundamental disruption to routine.
But I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if this had happened 20 or 30 years ago, if we could even sequester our kids like we are now. Perhaps the screen has provided us the unique option of actually isolating them, and if it weren’t available that wouldn’t even be possible at all. How long could one really go without much help, as many are similarly isolating themselves? The convenience of plugging them in now has a very real and lifesaving value, releasing any lingering guilt of doing it. I put two of mine, Emerson and Bodhi in front of “Cat in the Hat” all morning while I went shopping with my wife giving the baby a nap upstairs.
What I also wonder about is if we’ll ever go back to our full social selves again. With many kids adjusting to education online and many adults adjusting to working from home, the convenience of these mediums may prove so addicting that we may never leave again, except to pick up a gallon of milk. The most lasting impact of this whole virus may be on the essential distance of society itself, pack animals scattered to individual adobes of safety, an acceleration of social changes already in motion. Will it fundamentally change the interaction of education? The answer to that question could very easily be yes.
As the numbers of infected and killed continue to trickle in insidiously, I can’t help but wonder what our world will look like after we weather this mega storm. We knew that big changes were coming soon, but now those evolutions seem much more tangible and sudden. The world that we leave to our children will be unrecognizable to the one we saw just two weeks ago. The stampede has seen to that.