What does school look like?

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Skittles likes to sleep on Vivian’s 7th grade math textbook. While we were traveling, Vivian and Evan skipped school for the 2019-20 school year and did a sort of abridged homeschool instead. Jo says the kids have become quite feral especially the lad. Back before we left for our year of wandering, we had planned that during the 2020-21 year the kids would try and catch up on some formal schooling – teachers, classrooms, curriculum and stuff like that.

Remember back in May when it looked like we were figuring out how to slow the spread of Covid? And then we managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Having messed up how we reopened our economy, now we are getting ready to do the same thing to our schools. Same people. Same leadership. Same shit.

Jo and I know we are lucky. We don’t have a desperate need for our kids to be at in-person school. We are mostly at home so we can keep track of the kids if needed. Families where all the adults are working don’t have that option. Our kids, while not prone to listening, can self manage themselves most of the time. And while physical human contact is undeniably important, they can learn almost everything that is in their curriculum through online classes. Kids with severe special needs or students in higher grades with lab components can’t do that. And kids a few years younger than ours who learn by doing and imitating and meeting and touching and playing and licking will also miss out.

There is a possibility that schools and teachers will innovate in the face of this unprecedented stimulus called Covid. But they will need our support to experiment and the funds to do so. Either way, it will be an interesting school year up ahead.

Imagine a VR based zoom call. Slip on your headset and turn your head to look around the classroom. By using the camera on your computer, and technologies like Artificial Intelligence and image recognition/analysis/generation, the software builds a 3D image of each participant in real time. If Johnny says “Teacher!”, the teacher can tell where the sound is coming from and zeroes in on Johnny almost like in real life. “Raise your hand if you have a question, Johnny. And please stop picking your nose in class”.

Evan started fifth grade earlier this week. Unlike his fellow students, online live class and google meet and google classroom are all new to him. After a couple of hours he settled in and by the end of the first day he said he liked it better than in-person school “because it goes a lot faster”. Which I am translating to “because I’m more engaged”. Kudos to his teachers. But the rest of the school year may not go so smoothly. And for many others, for many reasons, it may not be going smoothly at all. Evan’s in-person school is supposed to start on September 8th. Unless it get’s pushed back further.

A couple of days ago, a friend who is a school principal dropped by for a socially distanced chat. Some of her parents want school to only be online. Others want their kids in school yesterday. There are teachers who hate the idea of being online and physically separated from their students. And others who balk at the idea of coming back to school. The administration is flip-flopping on major issues on a regular basis. The students are anxious. The principal has to navigate this minefield, and she said that everyone was unhappy with her. I told her that in a perfect negotiation, no party leaves happy because everyone thinks someone else got a better deal. So she was doing her job as well could be done! Jokes aside, her job is one that I don’t envy. But being able to look under the hood of a couple of schools where I am on the board is fascinating. Expectations are running high, anxiety is through the roof, and the demand to be flexible is daunting. No one can tell how this experiment will turn out. Meanwhile, I’ve taken the advice of an educator friend to heart. “Be prepared to lose this school year”. In the big scheme of things, that is okay. Skittles, you can keep napping on the math textbook. They have put up an old fashioned blackboard at the beach at Sand Island in Kenya on the Indian ocean where we spent a few blissful days a little more than a year ago. Not much internet there, so education will have to be delivered in person. Even then Jo would pick up and move in a heartbeat.

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