The Little Man (now in middle school) is distance learning this year. The school gave him an iPad with a keyboard. All of his classes use Microsoft Teams. Teachers can see the kids, the kids can see the teachers. More than a month in everyone involved seems to have the hang of things. The main difference for me is that, since I work from home, I can listen in on his classes, something I wouldn’t be able to do if he was in school.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that about 10 percent of each class is spent in technical support. In additional to having to teach the class, the teachers are also expected to be I.T. professionals. I hear the same kinds of issues that I see in my own work from time to time:
“You’re muted. You have to unmute before you talk.”
“Yes, Jack, you have your hand up? Oh, you just forgot to put it down?
“Mrs. Jones, someone just kicked me out of the Teams meeting again.”
There are the more serious issues. Kids don’t show up on time because they can’t connect to the class for one reason or another. Kids haven’t turned in any assignment because the Internet ate their homework. Eavesdropping as much as I have, I think the students have a nice little racket going. Kids can be day-traders in BitCoin, and yet suddenly, they don’t know what the heck is going on, can’t figure out how to start the test, can’t figure out where to turn in their homework.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that there is still six minutes reserved between each class, the same six minutes the students would normally use to stop at their locker before dashing off to their next class. Now, the Little Man moves between the table and the couch. One might argue that the time could be used to use the restroom, but then one would have forgotten all of the hard-earned wisdom of middle school. You don’t go to the bathroom on a break! You go to the bathroom during class in order to cut down on the time you have to spend in class.
I hear the discussions the students have in science class, and in math, and history, and English, and whenever the teacher asks them a question, I have to restrain myself from jumping in to answer. The kids fumble for a response and I’m blue in the face: “For life!” I want to scream, “A Supreme Court justice is appointing for life!”
All of this distance learning reminds me of Isaac Asimov’s classic 1951 story, “The Fun They Had.” (See Earth Is Room Enough.) The story takes place in May 2157. Some kids discover a book–an actual paper back from when “all stories were printed on paper.” They book, it turns out, is about school, which centuries earlier, did not take place in your house with a robot teacher, but instead, took place in a building where all the children gathered together and real people though the classes. (“A man? How could a man be a teacher?” one kids asks, “A man isn’t smart enough.”) Distracted by this wonderful idea for the rest of the day, the main character wonders what school must have been like back then, and all of the fun they had.
We may not have to wait another 137 years. It could be that my kids tell my grandkids about how schools used to be in a building taught by real people, and the fun they had.