Children are like plants: they don’t stop growing as long as we feed them with water and nourishment. They, unlike plants, do not stop learning, either. They learn from the constant stimulation that surrounds them in whatever environment they exist. They learn from us even when we think they are not watching or listening.
In light of the pandemic, some people are worried that children are not learning in their remote situations. That’s not possible. Children learn every day no matter where they are. It might not be measurable on tests or in a grading system, but there is lifelong learning occurring every day. Some of it might be helpful. Some of it might be harmful.
Let me break it down.
Ask yourself what they are learning about democracy when they hear adults crying foul over the election results. What do they learn from the men and women in camouflage who are armed with AK-47’s as they march the streets or stand together to pose a threat to government officials? What do those armed militias look like through a child’s eyes?
What are children learning about government when they hear that Congress can’t compromise on a financial package that will save millions of families across the country? Months of bickering hasn’t gotten them closer to helping those families in need. What are the children in those families learning?
What are they learning about our legal system when they hear that powerful friends of those in authority get pardons for crimes they committed and were sent to prison? No longer in jail, they are free while many of our children see their own parents languishing in prison. Some for very minor offenses.
What are they learning about our security when they hear people talking about defunding the police or they are bombarded with videos that demonstrate police misconduct? So little is being said about the kindness and care that many officers provide their communities on a daily basis. How do children feel about their neighborhood officers?
What are they learning about science when people call the virus a hoax or say the vaccine is unsafe? Who do they believe when conspiracy theories are all over the internet? How do they define truth versus “fake news?”
What do they learn about education when everything is measured with an emphasis on test results instead of what is meaningful to them and might demonstrate individual initiative? How do they define learning?
What are they learning about history when they see people protesting for Black lives, when statues are being torn down or mascots being renamed to combat racism? What do they learn when conversations point out racial injustice and bias?
What are they learning about health when we tell them to wear masks and stay 6 feet from each other or they will get sick? What do they learn when they hear the daily counts of people getting sick and dying?
What are they learning about literacy when they communicate with each other by texting? When there is a purpose, literacy becomes vital even if it is in an unconventional (now becoming conventional) orthography. What do they really know about written communication?
What are they learning about kindness when they go to the food shelf with their parents?
What are they learning about economics when their parents tell them, “No. You can’t have that this year. Daddy or mommy, (or both) have just lost their jobs.”
These are just a few of the things we may be teaching our children that are outside the realm of traditional education. Some of this might be more important in their future than what they could get sitting in a classroom. Some of it will stay with them longer than the traditional skills and facts that they are exposed to in school. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have both classroom and practical learning, but I think we might be overlooking what is actually being taught to children today in favor of being blinded by thinking that traditional facts and skills are all that’s necessary.
Children won’t necessarily grow the way you think they should. They never have. They are like sponges who soak up everything around them. Life has a way of throwing events in ways we don’t expect. Perhaps we need to take another look at what it is our children are learning during this pandemic. Perhaps there are ways to put a positive spin on some of these that will turn into lasting memories.
Alis Headlam lives in Rutland.