It is not too soon to say that the coronavirus has fundamentally changed life as we know it, but what the “new normal” will look like remains to be seen. Some say that it will continue to shift and change for decades.
One aspect of that change is its impact on schools, teachers and students. I will zero-in here on high school. For members of the class of 2020, the big social items of concern are prom, graduation and senior trips. All denied. No listening to graduation speakers — even a boring speaker would be welcomed, as opposed to no graduation. No accepting a diploma from the principal; no gowns; no tossing mortarboards into the air (and ducking when they come back down).
One of my students, who had scoured thrift stores to assemble the perfect prom outfit, told me, “I’m going to prom, no matter what. Even if I have to be in an empty room, dancing by myself and singing the music.”
Students who graduated prior to 2020 were invited to share online their reminiscences, and perhaps their sympathy about the loss of prom, graduation and such with the Class of 2020. Wasn’t a lot of sympathy … the general reaction seemed to be one of “meh.” These seminal events may take on exaggerated importance when they are imminent, or when they are canceled, but those who have experienced them look back without a lot of nostalgia. (My own high school graduation still riles me. I had the second-highest GPA in my class, but was denied being salutatorian because the valedictorian was a boy and school policy required that the valedictorian and salutatorian be one each: boy and girl. So Leslie got it. I skipped my college graduation. I was only a few days away from being drafted and I had other fish to fry.)
Lest this seem too glib, SGN’s John Krasinski filmed a special graduation tribute to the Class of 2020, with guests Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Jon Stewart, and Malala answering questions posed by some of this year’s graduates. The high point of the show, for me, was not the celebrity advice but was when one of this year’s grads observed, “We might not have a grand stage to walk across, to celebrate this moment, but we will be walking … through history.”
Let’s move on to consider some of the other ramifications of COVID-19 as it affects school closures. According to UNESCO, as of April 27 this year, 1.725 billion students in 188 countries — or 98.5 percent of the global student population — has been shut out of schools and classes. The impacts are far-ranging, impacting student debt, credits and GPAs, meals provided by schools, homelessness, childcare, Internet access (and hence, access to remote learning opportunities), health care, disability issues and more.
In the US, dozens of colleges and universities are dropping requirements that applicants take the ACT or SAT, adding to the scores of campuses that had already eliminated that requirement prior to the pandemic. The May 1 response deadline, by which students accepted to colleges must state whether they will attend or not, has been put on hold. Schools that closed early must grapple with how, or whether, to issue grades and credits; and when and whether to resume classes, either to complete the 2019-2020 school year or to begin the 2020-2021 school year. Parents find they must cope with the challenges of providing home schooling.
It’s a big mess. Paul Reville, the former Secretary of Education for the state of Massachusetts, interviewed in the Harvard Gazette, thinks there’s a silver lining to all this. “We should be asking: How do we make our school, education, and child-development systems more individually responsive to the needs of our students? Why not construct a system that meets children where they are and gives them what they need inside and outside of school in order to be successful? Let’s take this opportunity to end the ‘one size fits all’ factory model of education.”
This will evolve. Stay tuned.