Don’t try this at home!

Week 12. The TV in our household has been quiet for most of the Covid-19 period. This isn’t unusual, since I grew up in South Africa, we only got TV when I was 9, and it was a little black and white thing to boot, so the habit never caught on. Since my son is doing film, we’ll occasionally watch something that he’s seeing for film together, or the odd Netflix series. I switched on the TV the other night and stood amazed as a home-schooling mum told a reporter about how she managed everything, the brilliant schedule*, her children diligently working at whatever was laid out, the chores everyone was merrily doing and sighed. And felt inadequate. And laughed a little hysterically. (And switched channels). And remembered that I’d never chosen homeschooling, ever, at any point of my parenting existence. In fact sending my kids to school was a sure way of ensuring that they survived past childhood.

I think a lot of us “educator/administrator / parents” are feeling the pressure that somehow we should have more a grip on online-learning – well spoiler alert – this one certainly doesn’t.

This past weekend I closed my laptop and only lightly touched my phone to connect with friends and family. Because my son needed my help. He had a film assignment to complete and I was the only warm body able to be camera-person. He needed synchronous conversation and meals with me, as we’ve been completely asynchronous all week with him waking up just as I’m at the end of my physical and emotional tether with all the work I’m doing online. We needed to have some meals together. Go for a walk. Get in the car and visit our local vegetable farmer to stock up and try a local farmer who had a meat self-service stall.

I still consider myself to be fortunate. One 16 yo in the house with me, one 18yo stuck in the UK with her guardians, trying to discuss university options and counselling not to feel despondent that the first choices were not achieved. Single and remote parenting isn’t something I’ve chosen but has been thrust on me with a husband still in China.

It was a tough week. Our landlord refused to extend our lease for even another year as she had $$ signs dancing in her eyes (good luck with that), and we needed to virtually find a new place (my husband can’t return to Beijing without 14 day quarantine, and he can’t be away from his job that long, as life is back to normal where he works). Thank heavens for kind colleagues who were leaving and prepared to have a long conversation about the place they were vacating. Now the ROTW (rest of the world) has joined the online party every single system is creaking and groaning and, more often than not, just lying down and dying. Professional stress plus personal stress are not a great combination. My son had a terrible week last week – 11 weeks of online learning for an extreme extrovert with ADHD is not a joke. Plus a physically absent father and an emotionally absent mother – or at least not present at the hours that he was present. He did a lot of sleeping. And cooking. And neighbour’s dog walking. And panicking. So did I, except for the sleeping bit.

As with most things these days, it seems like online-learning while parenting is a binary thing. On the one hand there are the perfect parents with their schedules and advice, and on the other there are those shouting out for help, discussing tantrums and refusals to cooperate. Or those like me occasionally whimpering that it’s not easy.

The other binary seems to be the “refuseniks” who are taking a stand against any online learning as an affront to their authority in the home, or who say it should take a back-seat to emotional / physical wellness vs the group who want it to all be “business as usual” and are reactive to any hint of a slackening of pace.

I suspect all and any responses are responses driven by culture, experience, financial means and dare I say anxiety. While on the one hand I do think this is the ideal opportunity to rethink so much in life, there is the constant sword of Damocles I feel hanging over my head. Single parts of a machine that change, run the risk of being flung out. Will a term out of school really matter? This article based on the Christchurch experience argues it won’t. NWEA – who is selling a tool, but does have the data that so many crave during uncertainty compare the Covid-19 slide to the summer slide. And some private schools are already preparing to mitigate against any slide. I know that working and learning in our household does create the semblance of a structure and the idea that there is some lurching forwards towards academic goals, or at least well-trodden pathways.

It is of course a privilege thing above everything else.

romanticising quarantine - .jpgThe people cited in the first article weren’t sitting around doing nothing while their children were un-supervised, left to their own devices and anxieties. The loudest voices in the “I’m going to do nothing” won’t really be doing nothing. They’ll be playing games, cooking, gardening, reading and a plethora of other stimulating activities in the (larger) indoor and outdoor spaces they have at their disposal. They’ll know what to do because their background and privilege will allow them to make choices that mean things will turn out OK. Structured schooling is unfortunately one of the few options for many other students to do the school and life learning that will make their futures more bearable.

Not just privilege but also assumptions – they’ve not really changed – the idea of homeschooling presupposes that there is someone at home to do the schooling. Now there may be somebodies at home – but those bodies may be working pretty darn hard to keep their own jobs, or in fact be the ones pushing out the online-learning while juggling the education of their own.

A few of the articles I’ve found interesting this week are “prepare for the ultimate gaslighting” That counts not only for consumption of goods, but also I think for the consumption of learning. What will happen when we go back? The universe hates a vacuum. Will it be swiftly filled by more of the same?

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*There are circles of hell for online/remote/home schooling schedules – and the ones closest to the fire are the ones that are colour-coded and for sale on TpP (Teachers pay Teachers – for the uninitiated) ! schedule.jpg

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