One Year Later, Pensées about COVID, Experience, Education, and Culture

I’m up for my second dose of a vaccine on March 12th, and that date was my last day of in-person learning in the spring of 2020. Looking back, I find myself noticing things about experience, education, and culture that I wouldn’t have if not for the influences of COVID. Here are some assorted thoughts.

*Around 1669, Blaise Pascal prophetically nailed the essence of our COVID challenges when writing his Pensées: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” (Pensées” is the French word for thoughts from which Pascal’s book gets its name. It’s one of my all-time favorite great books for its insights, personal reflections, and unfinished structure.)

*We generally don’t like other people’s experts. That’s a side effect of tribalism. However, with issues ranging from politics to COVID concerns, I’ve noticed that the best expert sources communicate via thoughtful teaching and learning approaches, transparently admitting their limits of surety while also avoiding gossip, rhetorical rancor, and political posturing. 

*Educational start-ups tend to survive more than most other types of start-up businesses.

*5-10% of our technology resources for education are actually helpful for about 90% of our blended, concurrent, flipped, and/or HiFlex practices. (Some of those education start-ups tend to exaggerate the usefulness of “revolutionary” and “adaptable” technologies. Just keep the horse of subject-centered engagement before the technological carts, please.) 

*Time-tested, truly helpful teaching practices can be adapted for distance learning. (Working at the board, think-pair-share, and stand-and-share are just three of those classic adaptable gems.)

*Whether we’re doing in-person or distance learning, students need frequent formative checks for understanding and prodding to get them thinking more deeply; they need lots of synchronous in-the-moment coaching to help them gain mastery. 

*COVID conditions have become the last straw for many teachers, leading them to leave the profession, and we were already sadly short on teachers across the nation.

*We should do all staff meetings via Google Meet or Zoom, even after the pandemic goes away.

*Current events can change and intensify our readings of traditional texts and historical topics. For example, Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” and his other works take on new significance with plagues and mortality issues. Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” shows the soul-disintegrating effects of social distancing caused by non-pandemic factors. Small-pox inoculation arguments in the 18th century have new significance as we distributing vaccines in the 21st century. 

*Many students and teachers have discovered new levels of gratitude for being able to come to school. 

*Sports clearly motivate many students to attend to and work on their academic work. The absence of such extrinsic factors became disturbingly clear with many students since last spring. All of this complicates issues of extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation for learning.

*Mental health requires compassionate and imaginative storytelling as much as rational analysis and argument–with ourselves and with others. (My posts last year on the ABCs of CBT didn’t include those important features. Rereading Daniel Siegel Mindsight and looking at Acceptance and Commitment Therapy resources, I see the need for these other counseling approaches, especially for struggles folks are having with COVID culture.)

*Extended conversations with your spouse during long-term lock-downs can be life-changing for spiritual growth and developing your maturity.

*Breakfast with a friend or two each week is a lifeline for sanity, and the conversations overheard in our local cafe rival the humor found in any good sitcom.

*A ‎Brant & Sherri Oddcast podcast runs almost the exact length of time that it takes for me to drive home, and it consistently gets me laughing at the frequent, goofy awkwardness of my work, relationships, and self-perceptions.

*It’s not always good to be positive or bad to be negative–especially true when getting tested for COVID.

*Who would have thought that educators would hear that our society wants more testing, especially in the spring?

*The poems in the Psalms from the ancient Hebrew culture are approximately 40-70% about lamenting, and we need that sort of deep, emotional honesty in at least some of our relationships in order to be mentally and spiritually healthy. The song “The Sound of Silence” aptly communicates the unresolved lament found in Psalm 88. In the wake of COVID, so many of us are wrestling with multiple issues that lack resolution.

*Positivity has its place, but we do a disservice to others if we’re always so positive that we’re practicing toxic positivity. “Existential Positive Psychology” tends to pick up on these sorts of balanced insights.

*With more options for working from a distance, people want to move to the mountains more than ever.

*People often move to different locales to get away from their emotional, social, and spiritual problems. Those problems typically travel with them. That’s part of Pascal’s insight about how hard it is to sit quietly alone in one’s room.

*Boredom isn’t all that bad. It can stimulate creativity. The Calvin & Hobbes cartoon collection titled Scientific Progress Goes Boink illustrates this well.

*In 1776 Samuel Johnson wrote, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” I guess blockheads like me can actually enjoy writing without getting paid for it. It might even help me make some personal sense of the strange times that we live in and work in.

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