Covid19, School, ‘Punxsutawney Phil’, and Parenting

A bit of silly trivia for our times, which this week featured Groundhog Day, drives this casual reflection.

In the news this week was “Punxsutawny Phil,” the Pennsylvania critter of folklore predictions regarding the coming of Spring, and renowned in popular culture as the curse of the romantic-comedy film of 1993, “Groundhog Day,” a weather-based love story that annually revives the stardom of actor Bill Murray and actress Andie MacDowell.

Well, it happens that “Phil” saw his shadow this week, which is a folklore signal that Spring will not arrive for another six weeks at least, and if you ask anyone in the country living in the Northeast north of the Virginia border this week, they’ll underscore that prediction as they deal in many cases with about two feet of snow. (This includes my three sons and their families living in Maryland.)

However, it’s not weather that’s keeping lots of kids home from school across the United States—it’s a deadly virus.

I don’t want to discuss snow today, other than to include it in my reflection on the current COVID19 pandemic, and what it (and the snow) are doing to our notion of “learning” as it applies to our schools.

I shake my head in dismay, each time I hear a news commentator report that “Kids, are out of school again today, but many continue to learn through ‘distance instruction’!”

Let’s clarify, as we do each weekend, national holiday, summer season, and forced holiday, this blatantly obvious though often neglected truth: humans don’t need schools to continue learning!

A simple observation underscores this: kids don’t learn to love sports or cars or fishing or hunting or sewing or shopping in their schoolrooms! And, I’ll go one careless step further, most American kids don’t learn much about religion, philosophy, politics, or meteorology in their classrooms. Nor do they learn much about how to cope with medical depression, death, economic or family distress, or prejudiced and criminal neighbors in school. Nor are they taught how to swear, or hate, or play video games in their classrooms.

Here’s my point: Parents (instead of blaming schools for not properly educating their brood during a pandemic) should be living lessons to kids (which we are whether we want to be or not).

We don’t need classrooms to exercise the teaching we are responsible for.

Here’s a few current suggestions:
1) Blow up the TV (as the late John Prine advised in song) or better still, employ it to watch together and discuss the weather or the news. Don’t let the “talking heads”—be they on the tube or in the classroom—provide the only opinions and judgments your kids hear.

2) Jump at any opportunity at home to have a conversation about things in the news or in the lives of children. When I reflect on my years as a child-rearing father I finally recognize that every conversation I had with my boys about sports or cars or God or death or disappointment or pain was an educational moment. And that went two-ways: I was learning as I was going, just as they were.

3) Understand that learning doesn’t begin and stop at any school’s doors. In fact, it doesn’t stop—ever! I realized as an adult that I’m a “life-long learner,” but this isn’t a choice I’ve made; it is the nature of living.

Just as the old song asks, “How Can I Keep From Singing?” so life teaches us that neither we nor our kids can keep from learning. And they don’t need schools as much as they need parents who believe this and send this message to them daily.

The five most important questions to be asked every day remain: Who? What? When? Where? and How? And the most elusive sixth question that seems least likely to be asked (or answered) at school: Why? (and its partner, Why Not?)

Try this topic: COVID19–what? where? how? who? when? why? And add the perhaps startling but not cynical question, so what?

Keep asking these questions about everything and you’ll reduce the risk of ever becoming a victim of “fake news” or “conspiracy theories.” And, likewise, so will your children.

Enjoy your winter—and your kids. You’re a better teacher than Punxsutawney Phil!




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