School is very different here in the Plague Year. Virtually every school is offering some form of remote learning in the hopes that kids will continue their educations while not becoming vectors for the continued spread of the coronavirus. Tuesday was the first day of school for my child and many other Texas children, and it is best measured in the exhausting emotional progression that this new paradigm creates.
We got up early this morning, made a good breakfast, and took first day of school pictures outside. We even packed my daughter a lunch, which means we essentially just re-arranged the fridge and pantry in a very specific way. All of this was a vain attempt to shove some normalcy into the school year. Even though my daughter’s classroom is the exact same place she smashes her action figures together, it has to feel like some sort of progression after six months of terrible stagnation. On the parents’ side, it’s nice to pretend they’re finally out of the house in some form. Basically, the morning was a constructed delusion for all of us not seen since we laid Santa Claus in his cold, capitalist grave.
It’s not that nothing works (although a lot of friends did report that HISD’s servers went down so there’s that). It’s that just enough of it works to make the parts that don’t work that extra bit of annoying. I don’t think any of us expected much out of this first go at the technology, but a little heads up about the full experience would have been nice. We spent about ten frustrated minutes trying to find a Zoom link on my daughter’s first class before we were belatedly informed that those would not be up until Thursday. Today her scintillating trip through her first period in middle school would be reading a one-page document which says, only slightly paraphrased, “You will learn to read documents like this.” All of it is new, and everything that doesn’t go smoothly is an immediate irritant that brings out your inner Republican complaining about government service.
By now, even the youngest child has probably realized that this is a really third-rate way to go to school. Look, it’s amazing that this is possible, but it’s never going to replace in-person learning on a large scale. I found myself going over the important bits with my daughter again. Remote learning matters because the fewer people doing in-person learning the less likely the school is to become an epicenter for contagion. It’s better to do it this way for a semester than start normally and have to switch halfway through when infection rates rise. Just because something sucks hose water does not mean it isn’t also the best option. Still, our kids know something is being stolen from them, and it’s hard to argue why they shouldn’t be mad at it.
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Eventually though, it all evens out. My daughter had the basic routine down by lunch time, and since there were so many classes like the one I mentioned in Step 2 she even found time to call friends and socialize about the day so far. At that point, I walked away from her closed door and just sat on the couch thinking about the adaptability of children to horrific new normals. For all that I worry this will affect her overall education, odds are she’ll be reasonably fine. However, the fact that she has to learn this way because of how badly our government and state have botched dealing with this crisis galls. The more our kids adapt to their incompetence, the less likely it is to ever change.
On the other hand, she’s safe. She won’t get sick and she’ll still learn. All plagues end, and so do politicians’ careers. The way officialdom has embraced remote learning may open up new worlds of accessibility for people who are disabled or can’t attend in-person classes because they’re caring for a loved one. This is good practice for a world where institutions have to reach out to you instead of demanding you come to them, and that sort of personal power and ownership is worth something. As much as I and my child already hate remote learning, we are beta testing a much brighter future.
I can’t wait for the day I get to safely see her off to school in a bus, but until then we’ll both see how we can make the world a better place with this technology.