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Pickle Me This

April 1, 2020

There will be school again, but in the meantime…

I love the things that my children learn at school, like how to read and write their names, do long division, and the geography of the Great Lake St. Lawrence Lowlands. Back before my children went to school, I had tried to teach them things, but none of it ever took. We received a letter before my eldest started kindergarten that suggested her knowing how to write her name before September might be an academic advantage, but she was having none of it. She’d already learned to write an H, and was quite adamant that this was sufficient, and her attitude toward this had me a little bit concerned as her academic career began, but it turned out that what she’d needed was a teacher, someone trained to educate (who knew!) and she eventually learned to write her name in its entirety, and then the whole alphabet, and the last time I checked, she was writing Warriors fan fiction, so it all turned out okay in the end.

Which is not to say that I’ve taught my children nothing. I’ve taught them to separate eggs, how to blow their noses, to sing the words to “Livin’ On A Prayer” and just what circumstances necessitate us to rue the patriarchy. I’ve done my best to teach them to be kind and decent people, to clean up their own messes, to care for others, and to stand up on the side of justice. I’ve taught them the name of birds and flowers and trees (often learning myself in the process) and to love hammocks, sunshine, and digging deep holes on the beach.

It’s the non-academic stuff they’ve learned at school, though, that’s been more important than all of this, even the holes and hammocks, and definitely the long division. I send my kids to school, and deliberately to public school, so they learn that they’re part of a wider community made up of all kinds of people. Going to school teaches them to be punctual, accountable, responsible, respectful. They have teachers they love, and teachers they love…a little less, and they learn that grown-ups, just like their peers, are all kinds of people. They learn how to get along with groups, they learn how to get along with people they don’t get along with, they learn that sometimes you’ve got to do things you don’t want to do, and that sometimes people are disruptive, and others are needy, and others are just totally obnoxious and will never get their comeuppance ever. They learn to return their library books, and not to forget their lunch boxes, and to do required reading, and to help out when assistance is asked of them. They learn that some kids have a little, and others have a lot, and that there is always going to be someone smarter than you are, and also people for whom things like school are a little harder. They learn to be patient. They learn to wait their turn. They learn to stand up for themselves, and for others, and when to let things go, and that there are rules, but not everybody is going to follow them, and sometimes you don’t have to either. The trick is when to know the difference.

And now school is out, for the foreseeable future, and everybody is going to have their own way of filling the gap. Some parents will relish the chance to introduce at-home learning, one’s “playing school” fantasies come to life, but with actual pupils instead of teddy bears. Others will be overwhelmed by the idea of keeping their children occupied, especially while balancing full-time work and other tasks, particularly in spaces that were not designed as daycare centres/offices. Some parents will rise to the challenge. Others will cry on the floor. And here’s my two cents: it doesn’t matter. Do whatever it takes to get you (all) through.

I am not a teacher. If I were a teacher, I’d be immediately de-certified, as attested to by the time I tried to teach my kids to ride a bike by screaming expletives at them. I learned my limits back when I tried and failed to teach my daughter how to write her name, and while my recollection is foggy, I was probably swearing then too. I am not patient. I am not nice. I am not remotely trained in how learning works and skills and knowledge are delivered. Teaching is hard. This is why I am not a teacher. If we tried to replicate the school environment right now, it would go very badly. And not just because of my character flaws even, or that I have work deadlines coming up, but also because everything in our current situation is so far from school that it’s sad, and maybe Zoom lessons have their purpose (my children are doing piano lessons via Skype that are going well so far!) but I can think of a million better ways for my children to spend their time.

Going to school is an opportunity for so much learning beyond the academic, as I’ve already noted. But so too is this moment in which school and everything has been suspended. To learn about science, and public health, and geography, and sociology, and leadership (an also its absence). To think about the different ways that this virus is affecting everybody so differently, from us who are cozy in our apartment to children who are precariously housed and who might not be safe at home. To think about community, and connection, and what it means to have to isolate ourselves from the people around us. What kind of society do we want to build when all this is over? (We had a conversation the other day about how so many things that would make the virus less dangerous—wider sidewalks, say!—would make things better for everyone.) Right now is an opportunity to cook meals together, and eat them properly at the table, and bake banana bread, and draw on the sidewalk with chalk. To read that book that’s been lingering on the shelf for years. To use all the art and science kits you’ve received for birthdays through the ages, but never had the time for. For puzzles, and YouTube karaoke, and reading comics, and having your mother tell you that “Only boring people get bored.” For observing the weather, and watching crocuses sprout in front of neighbours houses, and watching snails on the garden wall. For writing Warriors fan fiction, even, or reading poetry, or starting a blog. For building blanket forts, and Lego towers, and I’d even say learning to knit, but then I’d have to teach them, and you know how that is going to go.

For spending afternoons in the bathtub in your bathing suit (this was my husband’s idea—he called it a “bathternoon”), and planting seeds in egg carton soil, and reading random entries in the encyclopedia, and making collages out of old magazines, and drawing comics on the back of scrap paper, and learning about tarsiers (which apparently are nasty), and playing UNO, and Pokemon, and drawing city blocks on kraft paper, and watching clouds, and drawing trees, and making disappointing bath bombs from a kit. For watching movies, and TV, and riding scooters in circles on concrete pads which are far too limited for such things.

For learning about courage, and resilience, and sacrifice, and gratitude. For counting blessings, and thinking about how maybe we can distribute these more widely.

We will get through this. There will be school again. But in the meantime, there will be something different, and let’s not discount the educational value in what we’re all going through. As my perpetual fave Ann Douglas wrote the other day, “If our kids emerge from this crisis (a) feeling loved and supported by their parents; and (b) mastering some all-important coping skills, the truly important learning—the life learning—will be massive.”

12 thoughts on “There will be school again, but in the meantime…”

  1. Sarah says:

    This is beautiful Kerry!

    1. Kerry says:

      So glad it resonated. xo

  2. Roseanne says:

    Yes to everything! This Essay is a Richard Scarry book. I’d call it Home and School.

    1. Kerry says:

      I’d buy that book. (But let’s face it. I buy all the books…)

  3. Judy Wigmore says:

    This is a wonderful post, Kerry. As a (retired) teacher, it warmed my heart to read your words and I just wish your post could go way farther out there.. I love your attitude towards what to do with your kids during this time and I wish more parents felt the same way—it would certainly relieve a lot of the stress they are feeling. If I were close, I’d teach your girls to knit!

    1. Kerry says:

      Thank you, Judy! xo

  4. Rachel Giese says:

    Kerry, this is fantastic. Especially this: “I am not patient. I am not nice. I am not remotely trained in how learning works and skills and knowledge are delivered. Teaching is hard. This is why I am not a teacher. If we tried to replicate the school environment right now, it would go very badly.” I can relate. It sounds like you and your husband and doing a great job keeping your kids engaged and safe. Much love to you in this scary time

    1. Kerry says:

      Thank you, Rachel. Hope your family is well too. xo

  5. This is great, Kerry. I especially liked your itemization of all the advantages of public schools. Your approach to the present is wiser than what we’re trying to do, with regular science, cursive, French, Spanish, math hours in the week, which is giving our kids complexes….. By trying to implement full replacement school, we’ve become the parents in the Phillip Larkin poem!

    1. Kerry says:

      Oh, DO WE EVER! Thanks for this, Stephen.

  6. Carly Steinman says:

    I absolutely loved this and shared it with others who felt the same. Made everyone laugh and feel better! Thank you.

    1. Kerry says:

      You’re welcome. So happy you enjoyed it.

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