Expansive Notes: Covid19 is a chance to…
Staying at home has made a lot of people think. Whether about coping, finding meaning, how to best use this time, or how we might look back on this extended moment fondly, there have been no shortage of responses.
Some people find themselves with time on their hands now; others are almost literally twice as busy. There have been suggestions that we adults use this time – if we’re in the first group – to learn something new. Or perhaps this period isn’t one in which to develop new habits, but to reinstate those ones that slipped by the wayside.
Much advice focuses also on how we should take time for ourselves. ‘Me time’ has positive connotations to some readers, but ‘keeping active’ can be an unwelcome challenge to others. So this post shan’t give advice. Instead, it looks at some educationally focused commentaries on how we might see this time at home as an opportunity.
The inspiration for this post was a positive video from The Social Co that was subsequently removed for copyright issues. It prompted watchers to think whether we, too, can see a day when we might look back more nostalgically, to a time ‘when all the entrepreneurs had a moment of stillness and creativity, and all the children remember nothing, but a time when all the mums, and dads, were at home drawing and playing ball games’. The reality may be a little more fraught at present, but it’s a nice sentiment.
Journalist and author Douglas Murray suggested that as we are all entrenched in our homes waiting for this to pass, now might be the time to ask ‘How do we spend our time well?’ For atheist Murray, he believes the answer might well be found in ‘the places where meaning has been found before’. Faith, music, reading: ‘what has seen our forebears through, and nourished them, will see us through and nourish us in turn’.
This idea of ‘meaning’ is an important one. Meaning and ‘purpose’; the purpose of education, are educators’ concerns. What is education for, and why are schools instructed to teach what they do? The instrumental importance of some subjects is fairly clear, but there is more to a good education than being ready to work. And even if we do have the maths, do we have the critical and creative thinking skills?
Nonprofit US-based ASCD’s piece on finding the upsides in an uncertain time considered that the current crisis ‘may well signal a reappraisal of our education systems and processes and a newer more human approach to education.’ The National Curriculum in England and Wales looks the way it does for many reasons. That it wasn’t entirely the result of purpose-driven systems thinking was demonstrated a couple of years ago when the government set up an inquiry to determine ‘what is the purpose of education?’. Encouraging in its thoughtfulness, yet revealing in its driving question, this question has a number of answers.
One of the answers the Centre for Real-World Learning submitted, was that the purpose of education was several but, up front with some big contenders, was the idea of valuing childhood for its own sake. At a time when children are away from formal education, how can we stimulate their own innate, unique talents and interests, and nurture their passions. Can this time be one of ‘finding out’ what’s out there and what there is to know? There is adventure to be had in books: fiction and non-fiction.
The theme of slowing down and focusing less on productivity has been a common one. How this will go down with employers is hard to say. This piece, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, begins with the assumption that life will ‘never’ be the same again. In general, this may be true, and particularly for families where illness or financial difficulty have been obstacles, or even life altering. But for those whose job involves sitting at a desk and can be done remotely, the end of the pandemic may spell a return to normality, albeit in a different economic landscape. On the plus side, the newfound necessity of business organisations to conduct complex meetings remotely might, it may be hoped, prompt them to continue these practices beyond the crisis. Fewer hours spent in cars away from families and an associated reduction in spending and use of petrol would no longer be seen as incompatible with corporate life.
The author of that piece also claims that for academics ‘while it may feel good in the moment, it is foolish to dive into a frenzy of activity or obsess about your scholarly productivity right now’. It is hard to disagree with the idea that frenzy and obsession are bad. It has to be said, though, that the extra (frenzied) sorting out of the following day’s homeschooling plan can be an enjoyable challenge. And sometimes more achievable than more open-ended tasks that paid employment might require. The suggestion that, rather than try to be productive, you should ‘devise a strategy for social connectedness’, ‘clean your house’ and ‘wake up early’ for the purpose of exercise, might be less stimulating to some than the process of thinking about what they would like their children to learn and how they are going to teach it.
Matthew Syed’s piece Coronavirus: The good that can come from an upside-down world was insightful. Some social media made much of the fact that Syed had suggested ‘education is not about imparting knowledge’. Over the years there has been much written about the importance of underpinning knowledge, and clearly Syed’s statement was a red rag. But that ‘education is not about imparting knowledge’ may not have been Syed’s point, or even his contention. The statement was perhaps merely a game; something thought provoking that allows for creative thinking that can ‘disrupt’ the status quo. The opportunity Syed highlights is that we have the chance to try something new. For some, this might be homeschooling in a way that teaches content while teaching another ‘something’ that’s also important, simultaneously: empathy, careful observation, practising, performing, creative thinking, tenacity. Essentially, putting into practice the ideas in the Pedagogy for Change series Bill Lucas and I have been writing over the past few years. It is a real win when you see a young child want to try again because they know that they can do better if they work at something. The poem or painting or maths question might be forgotten, but this lesson will live on.