Is COVID-19 Teaching Us Anything at All Outside of Washing Our Hands?

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This is a post by my friend and colleague Zachary Wright, a national finalist for the United States Department of Education’s School Ambassador Fellowship. Zach is an assistant professor of practice at Relay Graduate School of Education serving Philadelphia and Camden. Prior to that, he was the 12th-grade world literature and AP literature teacher at Mastery Charter School Shoemaker Campus, teaching the school’s first eight graduating classes.

We’re about three weeks into our new Covid-19 realities. 

Schools are closed across the country. Students are at home. Privileged families struggle with how to balance working from home with supporting their home-bound children, while less fortunate families face unemployment and economic uncertainty. Small businesses struggle to remain solvent.

Mixed messages, misinformation and a dearth of leadership spiral our already heightened anxieties. Some of us have turned to the never-ending and often dubious supply of news and information, delving deeper and deeper into rabbit holes of hysteria, while others of us have simply turned off. 

My emotions go in waves.

At times, I am filled with positivity, wonder, and gratitude. I sit outside and watch my boys ride bikes and shoot hoops and I pause to acknowledge how blessed we are to have space and simply the availability of walking outside.

I see rainbows and shamrocks adorning windows of houses throughout the neighborhood. Chalk messages of greetings and well-wishes dot the sidewalks around town. Communities are rallying for local restaurants and other small businesses, organizing gift card purchases and curbside takeouts. 

I see neighbors having virtual happy hours and children having virtual playdates; schools operating as food distribution centers; teachers setting up virtual learning opportunities.

I see my wife and partner don her scrubs to go serve in the intensive care unit with nary a thought for herself.

I see a general increase in kindness.

I see all of these things and I am hopeful that Covid may have awakened us collectively to the better angels of our nature.

And at other times, I despair.

I feel I will lose my mind if my boys ask me for one more snack and want to cry when I see rain in the forecast.

I feel rage when I see elected officials valuing stock markets over lives.

I feel stunned when the richest country in the world runs out of masks, ventilators, and beds.

I feel disgusted when some students get virtual learning while others are told that no learning can happen since there isn’t enough technology to go around, and incredulity when districts somehow have the resources to provide laptops for every student during a pandemic, but simply couldn’t afford it otherwise.

And perhaps most of all, I feel an apathetic assurance that we will come out of this pandemic having learned absolutely nothing.

There is so much to discuss: To homeschool or let kids be on screens all day; to pick up take-out to support businesses or stay locked inside to flatten the curve; to expand the social safety net with a universal basic income or rely on the free market to serve the people.

I will tackle many of these things in the coming weeks, not as an expert, but as a learner suddenly given a whole lot of time to read and write.

Hang in there everybody. Wash your hands. Hug your children. Facetime your friends.

And as generations of my people have said from their shtetls of Eastern Europe, this too shall pass. 

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