Fear shuts down thinking and places the brain in its automatic mode – which was carefully designed to ensure human survival. The survival brain is neither rational, logical nor responsive. It has one task – to keep us alive.
As the reality of COVID 19 begins to bite and we ponder the effect on an already dysfunctional economy in a deeply divided and disturbingly unequal society, the chaos of our lives that are totally out of routine, forces us to worry about our children’s schooling.
I had a colleague (notice the past tense) who would tell me to “Take a chill-pill!” whenever I became overwhelmed. The directive nearly pushed me over the edge – but today I want every parent who is feeling overwhelmed about schooling to just …… breathe ….. and read this blog.
The current situation has pushed all our brains towards the digital option of learning. You will notice that I use the word learning and not thinking or even education. The art and science of “Thinking” is totally dependent on the environment where the brain feels safe, has a sense of belonging, is seen, feels secure and is soothed when necessary. Only then do we have opvoeding – that glorious Afrikaans word for education – where we truly feed-full the brain, body and soul and as a result impact the world in which we/the kids are citizens. But that requires relationship.
Schools have gone digital in an attempt to meet the needs of their clients during this time. But a digital device cannot soothe, make you feel secure, connect, listen intentionally nor give feedback with appropriate personal guidance while wiping away a tear – despite all the AI available. It requires a human being to co-ordinate, structure and stand near-by to make sure all runs smoothly.
Parents are concerned
Parents are particularly concerned. The chaos has led to our routines being totally disrupted. Parents have suddenly been given the task to be teachers. Many are appalled at their inability to understand Grade 6 Maths, let alone fathom a possible solution while trying to negotiate a vital Zoom meeting and gesticulating in the most amazing ways, out of camera range, to indicate to their children that there may be a death in the house at the end of the call.
Desperate that their surviving children may fall behind academically, the environment in the home becomes toxic as the anxiety pushes both parent and child into their survival zone. It is not a pretty sight.
Many schools across the country have raced to produce online digital material, which I call robotic learning, to make sure students do not fall behind. I question – “……..scared of falling behind in what?” Is it the National curriculum? Well this could easily be trimmed. Is it the content knowledge that needs to be regurgitated and then forgotten after the testing season? Well, testing – probably the most ineffective instrument for student assessment, can be put on hold. Is it fear that it will disadvantage their child’s access to the best universities? Well, our Universities better get their act together!
We all remember our first day at Varsity being told by the professor to forget everything we learnt at school! Why? Because school is about connection. It’s about reading and playful curiosity. It’s about problem solving, debate, collaboration, critical thinking, citizenship, creativity and character development. Yes, knowledge is scaffolded over 13 years so that the global competencies I have mentioned above remain relevant as the students mature into adulthood. But at University, it’s specific to a field of study. The global competencies have prepared the student for the next step in adulthood.
We have watched the rapid success of Uber, AirB&B, Deliveroo, Netflix and the like, literally causing the traditional to implode. Critical economic realities have aided the traditional demise and this virus could do the same to schooling until a vaccine is secured as it was for measles, mumps, rubella, smallpox, flu strains and TB.
The heart of thinking
But I put my money as an educator with 37 years experience, in the heart of thinking that will never be digitally based. Completing the set assignments sent by the school that requires adult intervention or guidance at this time is a useless endeavour. It can be compared to me being asked, because I studied Maths, to please build a bridge because the engineers are all sick. I do not have the specific skills required for bridge building. The very best I could offer would be a four way stop street. I may need to be the traffic officer conducting traffic. One thing is for sure – I would not be able to do my other job while co-ordinating the flow of vehicles. My lack of co-ordination would surely lead to multiple road wrecks.
Teaching is the engine. Digital, must be the accelerator. This is not the time for teaching. Now is the time for endless hours of reading, building numeracy stamina (playing with numbers – and Youtube is full of ideas), connecting around the meal table without devices and actually talking to each other.
When chaos drives operational change – we are heading, in my opinion, for a hiding. I believe this season will pass and the heart of education – ie: connected thinking spaces (schools) where humans Engage to Change the world – will return to normal. Those who are committed to home schooling, with a fully set day-by-day instructional manual and no other job – will continue their work. The rest of us will lovingly kiss our kids good-bye in the morning and get back to work to re-ignite our economy.
Now breathe and go hug your kids!