Learning in the Dark

Last year, during graduation, the students held candles that they lit when they graduated. That day was pretty windy, though, and the candles kept blowing out.

That meant that everyone who had formally graduated was able to come back and share their flame. The students kept relighting the candles of their companions. The wind couldn’t ever blow them all out at once. So they just kept relighting each other’s candles.

The Pandemic, supported as it has been by Authoritarian regimes since its inception, is crushing us. Students are sleeping poorly almost to a one. I’m sleeping poorly. All students, even those in abusive families and residential programs (these are prisons for children), have to study remotely, as one of our students tested positive for COVID.

We see each other on screens and ask each other what we said. We try to troubleshoot each other’s internet and figure out why we can’t log in to a thing.

We’re all tired. We’re doing the best we can, and the best we can is to not infect ourselves or others with COVID-19.

And yet, through this, every day I teach (that’s four days a week now, as I was asked to pick up a class that was underplanned and fell on another teacher’s overburdened shoulders), I come out of the experience energized. My students are stunning. Creative, perceptive, funny, curious. One is learning that drawing and coloring is not only an acceptable activity, but an actual talent to pursue. Another is figuring out how to assemble the structure of her own mind so she can recognize that someone else can be wrong, even when she respects them. Many are 15-18 years old (my youngest is 13), and should have the liberty to start exploring new relationships, having adventures with their friends, figuring out how to have romantic partners, getting bruised physically and emotionally and still having a home that will support them. And they’re working really hard, knowing that the world isn’t working well.

They’re not angry, but they also have no illusions that the systems that exist will support them. They have watched as their parents went from being “essential workers” to “unskilled labor” overnight in the debate over their pay. They have watched the system failure that gave them a quarter of their lives under an authoritarian buffoon draining resources from the society they are growing into.

These are hard developmental processes. They’ve never been teenagers before. The oldest were 14 when Trump came to power. They are gaining an understanding of the world that the rest of us have to struggle to see.

Their hope is in what they can do to support each other; they can look at power as a system of support, and those with the most power are those with the most support. They respect each other’s differences and gain the ability to stand on their own feet when they feel support from each other.

But the support is far away, at the other end of a Discord chat.

I want this to end soon. We need the sleep. We need to be able to have quiet time and to share space.