Way back in the day, I remember a friend on my street, Sasha, who had a unicycle. We would be riding our bicycles around the block and he would be with us on his unicycle. He could do all the things we did on our bikes, like ride with no hands, and stand with one foot on one pedal and the other dangling in the air. Whenever we felt like it, we would try out his unicycle. He would explain to us how to balance and pedal but none of us ever figured out the small nuances of staying upright on that thing. When we would inevitably fall over or crash, he would laugh at us. He would say, “It’s just like riding your bikes, man. It’s the same thing. I can’t believe none of y’all can stay on this.” Eventually we stopped trying to figure out how to ride his unicycle, satisfied with our bikes. Covid education is like Sasha, the guy who says riding a unicycle is no different than riding a bicycle. Actually, Covid education is what the unicycle is to the bicycle.
I thought the first days of this new school year would be like riding my old bike after years and years of being off of it. Maybe I wouldn’t be confident enough to ride at top speeds down hills like I used to, but confident enough to go a bit fast because I knew that my back wheel brake was on the right side of my handlebars and my front wheel brake was on my left. Maybe I was no longer expert enough to ride with no hands but I could live with that because, shoot, riding with no hands is dumb and dangerous to begin with. The first days of school were nothing like dusting off that old 4-speed and taking it for an easy ride down a familiar path. The first days back to school, under Covid education, felt like someone told me and all teachers, “You know how to ride a bicycle, right? Good, here’s a fucking unicycle…it’s basically the same thing.”
The ironic thing is that if my friends and I were privy to the type of world we live in now back then, we would probably not even need Sasha’s advice if we wanted to learn how to ride a unicycle. We could spend a few hours on Youtube, watch some tips from people who did a better job explaining the process than Sasha did, and pick it up in a modest amount of time. That’s literally what people outside of the in-person and virtual classrooms think school is right now. Simple, just take what you did in the classroom and do it online, or…in the classroom. I’m fortunate enough to actually still be teaching in a physical classroom (I’ve heard and read dozens of horror stories regarding remote learning already). But what we are doing now, which we can call Covid education for the time being, is not what we did in the past. It needs to be understood and subsequently treated as such. A few naive folks hold the belief that teaching is easy, and they hold this stance simply because they went to school. First off, teaching is not easy. Secondly, what teachers are doing now, in these times, is conceptually different than teaching.
If we want to be honest as a society, we need to admit that most students (and some teachers) lost the motivation for school sometime around April. That amounts to six months — half a year — of some demotivated students and staff and a collective paradigm shift regarding how education fits into our lives. Education, for all of its prerequisite flaws that it had maintained over time, is not the same as what it was this time one year ago. We don’t need to simply “get back on the bike again.” We need to learn how to use a completely different vehicle. And before we even begin to do that, we all (educators, politicians, medical experts, and families) need to understand the shift in schooling that has occurred due to Covid-19. Sasha was wrong — it’s not the same. When we accept that fact, we should be able to grasp this new skill we are all trying to learn.