4. Remote Control.
And so this harsh month of January has finally concluded. Without question, I found this last week the most difficult. All those memories of Lockdown 1.0 – the clapping, the cooperation, the care and love, the birdsong and the zoomsong – all dissolving in uncertainty, worry, recriminations and loneliness.
Certainly, from Monday through to Thursday, I felt extremely stressed. There were a number of things, but the main one was the inexorable rise in the expectations of remote learning. I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing and reading. Like what’s happening to my Dad (still being sedated most nights on the hospital ward), it was as if a collective anaesthetic was being administered to policy-makers, headteachers and parents through this illusion of live online teaching. Because that’s what it is for our youngest children, an illusion.
I’m sure in some situations it works, particularly if the groups are small, like a group of one. And it may work for older students. But with large groups of primary age pupils, surely it’s a ghostly, pale imitation of the classroom.
But of course that isn’t important; it’s the illusion that’s important. It’s the ‘show’. Headteachers can pretend that everything is fine and report back to their board that ‘we’ve smashed it’, that ‘we’re replicating our robust curriculum’, that ‘our kids are getting the very best.’ Parents can leave their bemused and soporific children glued to the screen for the day, whilst they get on with their own work, guilt-free. And policy-makers can purr contentedly that they are ‘world-beating’ with the country’s use of ed-tech.
It’s an illusion. At best it’s naïve, at worse it’s virtue-signalling. This is most certainly not to disparage the work of teachers up and down the country who are showing the most incredible resilience and patience in trying to make it work. We need to be careful otherwise burn-out is imminent.
I’m really not so sure that staring at a screen all day is a good look (best case scenario amongst switched-off audio and video) and it surely has vastly reduced effectiveness when compared with the classroom lesson.
Instead, what is best for children in this situation is a mixture of the following.
Love from family
Reading books/comics/ magazines, again with family if possible
Getting regular physical exercise
Eating and sleeping well
Using our hands – to make things, play, practise, do jigsaws, play games.
Enjoying some incredible content on TV
Talking with family.
Some online contact with teachers and peers.
Reading books (and I know I’ve said that, but it’s that important).
Yes, it’s tough for parents, but here’s the reality check. Parenting is really, really tough. It can’t be outsourced. Children are not commodities, but sentient, emotional beings who need formation, particularly in a pandemic. The most important thing a child needs at the moment is a loving parent, not a chromebook. Given this priority, the role of schools is to support parents as much as possible – providing advice, materials, support and guidance. Working together in partnership.
On Thursday, I try and articulate this in a video message to parents. The majority of our parents are (I feel) doing exactly this, and their children will be the better for it. I can’t say it’s an easy path to take though – I do feel I’m going against the crowd.
This illusion of normality, this wilful suspension of disbelief is spreading to all other aspects of life, sometimes to farcical levels. I hear about priests who are discussing how to do Ash Wednesday, suggestions ranging from mixing the ashes with hand-sanitiser, to administering the ashes via a cotton bud. Oh, come on! Just let the parishioners stay at home on Ash Wednesday, for goodness sake! Otherwise, they might not be here at all when Ash Wednesday comes along in 2022.
On this week’s Wednesday, doing the daily playground risk assessment, we find two knives thrown over from a neighbouring street. I let the police know and they come down to find out more. We mourn the lack of all those neighbourly things we would normally be doing – like taking the pupils to the Everton match after litter picking in the streets. Just so sad.
I leave school on one lunchtime (they all blur into another at the moment) as a bed has been found for my Dad at the mental hospital in Blackpool. I get to the ward in time for his departure, driving behind the ambulance in torrential rain. Might be the last time I see him for a few weeks, but at least he’s now in the right place.
A mental hospital. For mentally ill people.
For this is another thing that irks me during the week – the liberal use of the term ‘mental health’ to describe anything that makes us sad, worried or anxious. It’s getting out of hand. If we keep talking about it, and further catastrophising this situation, well of course they will all have mental health problems. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The media is relentless. They’re all doomed! They’re two years behind! They’ll lose £40k over their lifetime! They’re permanently scarred!
Impact? It sends a message to parents that it must be happening to their children too. On Wednesday or Thursday, I decide to send a tweet out asking parents to be very careful about this, expecting a barrage of dissent. Yet the opposite is true – it receives a very favourable response and receives wide circulation.
But. There is no doubt people are angrier, more worried. They are weary and pissed off.
And I sympathise with them, because that’s how I feel.