Remote Learning: Still Remote from Learning

Our kids’ school started remote learning today. It’s mediated by a platform called Seesaw which, despite having early notice of the likely surge in demand, hadn’t prepared the necessary servers and so crashed repeatedly (does this remind you of anything else?). We thus had three computers running different grades’ version of Seesaw remote learning, all timing out and crashing at once. The kids were already unhappy at the unexpected transformation of their parents into teachers. We know they can behave themselves at school, but they shed all those manners and pretenses of citizenship at the door, and now they had angry and impatient teachers who were beside them tapping at virtual buttons that were frozen, watching the precious fruits of twenty minutes’ coaxing suddenly vanish without a trace, and losing the point of the lesson (as well as any pedagogical authority). It was, in short, a rout, a fiasco, a débâcle, a hot mess, made worse by the thought in this parent’s mind that the graduate seminar due to be taught in a few days on an analogous platform will probably turn into a similar plate of slimy entrails.

It gave me a headache that is still going strong as of 8:13 pm.

There’s a form of learning that humans have engaged in for millennia: a bunch of learners, willing or unwilling, gather under a tree or in a room with a Subject Supposed to Know, who tells them stuff and maybe elicits questions better than the pre-planned palaver. Since remote learning is a skeuomorphic derivative of that, it is most effective when the game is played among people who have already developed the skills and instincts that go with sitting in a room with a bunch of other learners, giving side-eye to the loudmouths, locking eyes with the smartest or most attractive fellow seminarians, thinking (or not) before speaking one’s piece– it is therefore a foreign idiom to kids who are still learning to sit still and take turns. All the more when those kids are used to screens tempting and cajoling them with ready entertainment all the time: now, in an abrupt betrayal, it’s a dead video of their kindergarten teacher sitting on a sofa and trying to be cheery. To hell with that, they think, and behave accordingly. The parent, who has a million and two other things to do but is pushing them out of mind for the duration of the lesson time, gets stricter and stricter as discipline fails, and before long even a friendly inquiry (“is that how your teacher tells you to write an N?”) makes Child Two cut loose with a screaming tantrum and existential denunciations of all possible being and beings. I’d rather be on the golf course, and I hate golf.

Tomorrow, episode 2, and I wish I had a stash of happy pills.