What a week.
The mounting COVID-19 crisis is wreaking havoc around the world. As of this writing there are about 726,187 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world and the U.S. has the highest number at 140,458–including my over 60-year-old cousin in New Orleans who I worry deeply about. Hospitals around the world are being filled beyond capacity and in places like New York City many healthcare workers don’t have enough Personal Protective Equipment to guard themselves against the disease. U.S. unemployment claims rose by 3 million this week and economy is in free fall. Many millions of students are home due to mass school closures, along with millions of their parents who are sheltering in place and/or lost their jobs.
As a teacher who is homebound due to the mass school closures, my life has changed dramatically. As readers of my ongoing diary of these times know, I am exploring in these writings what it means to turn to educating my own two elementary school kids at home—like so many millions around the country and the world.
I have been working to find ways to continue to educate my kids without overburdening them with trying to keep them on track with their regular schooling. The truth is our whole society and education system is on an entirely different track now—no, better put, we are off the rails all together. So instead of emphasizing worksheets or grade level standards, I am working to make sure that what my kids are learning at home is about supporting their social and emotional well being and helping them understand the unprecedented times we are living in. This has meant that a lot of the education I have been offering at home has been about discussing the social implications the pandemic, finding ways for them to maintain social connectedness in a time of physical distancing, providing time for social and emotional development, and engaging in things like art and recess that are all to rare in school. I have also been grateful to my son’s classroom teachers that have recorded themselves reading books aloud for their students to view.
One of the most challenging aspects of my time at home is that my partner has been pulled into the public health response and is now working around the clock to help coordinate the effort to stop the spread of coronavirus. She is doing incredible work and our whole family is exceedingly proud of her phenomenal effort. Some days she even comes home before our two boys go to bed and they get to tell her how much they love her and are glad she is working to keep everyone safe. With my wife working late into the night these days, it has become increasingly challenging to hold the household together, to keep the kids upbeat, and to manage my own anxieties about the health of my family and the future of education.
Our newest education practice that we started this week—and one that has gone a long way to support our emotional wellbeing—is to end our day by writing a gratitude journal. Now, before dinner every day, the kids and I write down three things we are grateful for and the kids write down any questions they have for me or might want to study more later on. Then we go around and share our words out loud. This has practice has brought us together in a profound way this week and is something I want to continue practicing long after the pandemic subsides.
I wrote that I was, “grateful for my activist friends around the country who are working to provide mutual aid, support the most vulnerable students, and advocate for the government to prioritize spending on working and poor people over bank and industry bailouts.” My 11-year-old son wrote in his journal yesterday, “I’m grateful for my friends because they FaceTime with me.” My kids have invented an astonishing new game for the quarantine era, #RemoteHideAndSeek, that involves their sibling friends at another house. They all go on FaceTime and the older kids try to see who can find the younger kids first. Or sometimes they use the phones to direct each other as to where to find their younger siblings. Or the youngest kids take the phones and hide while they whisper to each other about how their older brothers will never find them. They also started using an app to make beats and then while they are on the phone they write lyrics together and are remotely producing rap hits.
Yesterday my seven-year-old son wrote in his gratitude journal yesterday, “I am grateful for mom because you stay up late to fight the virus.” That helped my son process his emotions about safety that he has been struggling with at times. But the true value of the practice was revealed by the wide smile on my wife’s face when she got home after a very long day read his words and knew he understood the sacrifices she is making.
Making each other smile in hard times is a great for both education and public health.