A couple of months ago, I had written a pandemic pivot story about finding structure in my daily life. I had been able to do that, finding ways to keep busy and focused, while at the same time taking care of myself. For me, the depressive episodes were hitting pretty hard, but once I caught my stride, my emotional and psychological health improved.
And then the school year began.
Here’s the thing: education is a collaborative social process. Education is more than give-and-take; it’s more than learning vocabulary, methods, and theories by rote; it’s more than drinking and partying ‘til the sun comes up.
Now that online classes have begun, I’ve realized why getting an education in a university setting has always appealed to me. The reward isn’t that piece of paper with my name on it that I paid thousands of dollars for—it’s the connections I make, the people I meet, the discussions we have, and the lessons we learn. With online learning, the benefits of socializing and trading information and insights is drastically reduced. Almost nonexistent.
I feel as though I am doing more work for no reward.
What am I learning? Sure, I get the theories and methods and histories from the hundreds of dollars’ worth of texts we order for our classes. I get the lectures and discussions during the weekly Zoom meetings. Ostensibly, the reward will be a pass for the semester, and I will be able to pay to build on my learning for the next semester and eventually earn a diploma.
I’m reading hundreds of pages a week for these 3-hour online courses and attending lectures, which are delivered in American Sign Language (ASL), and for which participation is part of our grade. It’s a strain on the eyes, these hours of reading and receiving, and extremely fatiguing.
I’m learning that I hardly have time to cook myself a meal, let alone practice self-care.
What connections am I making? With technology, students and professors are able to connect almost instantly with one another. We can email, text, and video chat. It’s beneficial. But superficial.
To me, it doesn’t seem real—this online learning thing is not based in reality. It’s a failed experiment, a film flopped due to the audience’s inability to suspend their disbelief. American educators’ and students’ disillusionment in the institution is very real.
I remember reading this optimistic blog post in April. It gives a historical overview of academia’s responses to pandemics and epidemics, and ends on the hopeful note that technology means that educational progress is not at an “end” for students.
Here’s an idea: students’ academic progress will be at an end only when they die from policy-makers’ bad decisions. Learning, aka educational progress, is a lifelong endeavor. Learning doesn’t “end” because the institution prioritizes student safety and wellbeing.
To be clear: pausing a film doesn’t mean it’s ended. You pick up where you left off, or rewind a few minutes if in need of a recap before continuing.
America was not, and is not, prepared to offer safe, healthy, and happy lives to its citizens.