How do you parents do it? If this COVID-19 forced us into virtual learning years ago when our kids were younger, we’d go nuts. Call social services! I don’t know about you and yours, but from the crib, we noticed how each of our three kids had very different personalities and very different aptitudes. Our eldest was reading Jane Austen in second grade. Our second child would spend hours in his bedroom concocting elaborate fantasies and fighting imaginary dragons with an imaginary sword. Our third and most exhausting (nicknamed Tsunami) was climbing out of her crib when she was 2 months old and dashing around the house, singing songs, expecting applause. If we were home-schooling, how could we motivate each of them according to their needs, according to their gifts?
My school experiences could be instructive. For years I questioned my own intelligence. This self-doubt became acute during seminary when I chose to concentrate on systematic theology over preparing for pastoral ministry. Systematic theology (dreadfully Germanic) requires a disciplined and rational intellectual investigation into matters of eschatology, ontology, epistemology, dogmatics, apologetics, the philosophy of religion and organizing faith into categorical systems.
These classes made me dizzy. Since ninth grade I never bothered to look at my report card; it likely kept me sane. I viewed grades as irrelevant. What did I care how another person evaluated how well I was learning? It was enough how I felt. In seminary, I felt inadequate to master theological discourse. That was until, three years into my first pastorate, I became converted listening to a professor discuss how Jesus wasn’t a systematic theologian but a metaphorical theologian. Jesus told stories. He delighted in paradoxes. He presented God and religion not logically but as relational – God, not as objective but subjective. When you tire of talking about God, try talking with God.
Listening to the professor, the Bible finally became alive to me. Why? Because I finally realized I live in the world of stories, poetry, narrative, passions and affections over logic.
Some schools nowadays are becoming more attuned to different learning styles. Still, 90 percent of school curriculums rely upon the predictable two: Verbal linguistic (language, reading) and logical-mathematical (numbers, linear thinking). A thumbnail sketch of other ways we learn would include spatial intelligence (maps, pictures), musical intelligence (patterns, auditory memory), intrapersonal (self-understanding), bodily-kinesthetic (movement, hands-on, touching), interpersonal intelligence (understanding others) and naturalist intelligence (appreciation of the natural world).
A useful consequence of COVID-19's assault on traditional education could be exposing the diminished value of SATs, APs, and standardized testing.
COVID-19 update: Danville Area School District struggles to figure out how best to provide safe instruction. Big surprise. The district is doing its best to improvise the school day in light of COVID-19 – virtual learning, hybrid learning, in-class learning where and when possible. Parents struggle to decide how to balance protecting their children against the benefits of social play and learning. Big surprise.
One church in town recognizes this struggle and is taking positive steps to help parents, especially those who are hesitant to send their children to in-class sessions. The first key feature of this outreach involves connecting parents as a support group where they can share best practices, swap resources they’ve discovered (virtual tours of museums, historical sites), as well as take time to unload, regroup, vent and appreciate they aren’t exiles. Learning pods could evolve from this.
The second feature involves folks like me. How many of us could be vetted and mobilized into helping augment and supplement parental virtual teaching? Who can offer to read children’s books or lead music time? Who can offer via computer special expertise and skills to the young people: arts, sciences, humanities, foreign languages, civics, cooking, sewing, mechanics, carpentry, banking? In my own case, I’ve gained some talent in the fields of literature, creative and expository writing, and history. Just don’t ask me to teach calculus. The last time I took a math class was geometry my sophomore year of high school. But I bet there are folks out in the neighborhood who can so teach.
Tutoring could be another feature. Who would be willing to tutor young people in various subjects? Are there active Zoom clubs out there? How can we make this COVID challenge an occasion for enrichment opportunities?
Parents are doing what they can. The school district is doing what it can. If they need help coordinating, I’m game. It really is up to us. Let’s do it together, for each other.
The Rev. Robert Andrews is retired pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville. Read more of his work at robertjohnandrews.com.