The Value of Small Gestures

 

student_pajamas_virtual learning
This is how many kids are doing online learning during Covid days.

The end of this most unusual school year is finally upon us. Today was my last day of online tutoring . For the past five weeks I worked with students who bravely engaged with me through computer screens   Navigating through all this involved both huge challenges and delights. Along with hundreds of thousands of teachers and students, I learned two basic facts this spring: 1) we can teach and learn virtually–even with young children it is possible; and 2) it’s not nearly as much fun or satisfying to do school through computer screens (although it is nice to wear pajamas to school every day).

Society en masse experiencing shelter-at-home and safer-at-home orders has forced us to reconcile the lifestyle we all took for granted with a new way of living—apart physically, yet finding the most creative and innovative ways to still be together and connect human to human. We’ve had to be flexible and adaptable on the fly, and on all levels—mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. In my case, the emotional level has felt most extreme. Days and nights have been wide emotional pendulums, from feeling steady, happy, and even joyful at moments, to later in the day dipping down into anxiety, fear, and loneliness. We’re undergoing a grand human experiment of learning resilience in the face of adversity, and of experiencing grace under unprecedented pressure.

Through online tutoring, I observed that the kids adapted to the lockdown situation with surprising agility and often much less drama than many adults in the room. The biggest hardship for children, I’d guess, is their highly restricted social time with friends and limited opportunities for physical exercise. Teaching academic subjects is challenging enough through a screen; how PE teachers manage it is nearly incomprehensible.

Saying goodbye to my students, who are all between 7 and 9 years old, was an internal process that took many days. I realized anew how hard it is to say goodbye to people I grew fond of, and all the more so because of their innocence and vulnerability. The biggest learning for me during the past six months is that a caring adult can make a huge difference in a child’s life. Small gestures matter greatly—the few minutes that you give to really listen to a child so they can express what’s in their mind and heart will give them self confidence and trust in you.

This spring has shown many of us the value of small gestures. It has shone a spotlight on people that many of us casually take for granted—now deemed essential to the running of society. I believe that teachers, tutors, paraprofessionals, and school staff members are included in the group of essential workers for society. Although some parents and family members may disagree, I would argue that a child’s school community is a critically important part of their life, and what they experience within their school will either enhance their self-worth, intellectual, emotional, and social capacities, or do the opposite. Society as a whole must continue to support their local public education system, and not let corporate money interests dictate how the system is run.

As a last gift, I shared this music video with my students today. It’s an old song, and still sounds so good. I hope it brings a smile and few dance steps to your body, mind, heart, and soul.

 

 

It’s finally time for big, structural change

three_richest_people-graphic
image via commondreams.org

Dear Readers, usually I am careful on this blog to avoid sounding strident or provocative to the point where some of you won’t bother to read it. But today I feel that I must speak out about the absolute urgency of our common crisis moment here in America.

The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the American economy during the past six weeks. Congress has passed several unprecedented economic recovery bills, which they touted as helping everyday Americans and especially small businesses to get through the emergency intact. Yet, it is coming out into the public that a large percentage of the billions of dollars designed to help small businesses and their employees, is instead (once again) lining the pockets of corporations and billionaires who are siphoning off the money from the ones who cannot survive without it. Read the Forbes magazine article  here.

“We’re not going to be able to check all the loans before they go out the door because there’s over 26,000 of these loans, but before we forgive these loans, we’ll check every single one over $2 million,” Mnuchin pledged on Tuesday. “I encourage everybody to look at this and pay back these loans now so we can recycle the money if you made a mistake.”

More than 220 public companies have applied for at least $870 million in small business loans, according to data analytics firm FactSquared.

Under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, The Paycheck Protection Program was originally allocated $349 billion for emergency small business loans, but that funding was quickly exhausted amid overwhelming demand that has often caused glitches in the system. Despite weeks of controversy around the PPP, another $310 billion was injected into the program thanks to the latest $484 billion coronavirus relief bill passed last week. “–Forbes magazine

Among ALL of the immense lessons Covid-19 has been teaching us, this particular one is definitely in the top 3 for people to pay attention to. We watched as giant corporations consolidated their wealth during the 2008 Great Recession. We saw predatory companies buy up smaller ones, including many banks. During the past 12 years, wealth consolidation by the wealthiest corporations and CEOs has gone from terrible to inconceivable. It is inconceivable that literally a handful of humans’ net worth is more than well over half of the population of the United States combined. Let that sink in for a moment.

Top wealthy people US-Forbes-2019

Top wealthy people 2-US-Forbes-2019
www.forbes.com/forbes-400

Further reading:  https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/04/27/no-were-not-all-together-how-super-rich-are-cheating-america

Watching the news spectacle coming from Washington DC each day during the pandemic, many of us feel by turns angry, frustrated, sad, devastated, or perhaps even resigned to the ineptness and absurdity we are hearing from the POTUS and his administration. One author from Ireland commented about it this way (from Commondreams.org) :

The gifted Fintan O’Toole offers a fresh, brilliant, devastating perspective on a time when the sense of America as a great country “has all but evaporated.” Now the epicenter of a pandemic, he describes a nation “locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. This is not mere ignorance – it is deliberate and homicidal stupidity,” he writes. “It is one thing to be powerless in the face of a natural disaster, quite another to watch vast power being squandered in real time – willfully, malevolently, vindictively, often in the recurring horror show of briefings in which all the neuroses that haunt the American subconscious dance naked on live TV.” 

The question most of us wonder is, Where do we go from here? When will the citizens finally awaken out of the nightmare of what life in America has become for the majority of us? Isn’t it way beyond time to open our eyes and squarely face the obscenity of unbridled greed and power-mongering being flaunted right before our faces? And then say:  NO MORE. EVER AGAIN. The hundreds of millions of people who continue to suffer due to monstrous inequity by the power elite deserve better. The Covid-19 pandemic is showing us our collective neuroses like never before.  May we each have the deep courage and strength to finally, creatively, and loudly point it out, protest, petition our members of congress, and most importantly, to vote for real, structural change to the status quo. The criminals must be permanently stopped, and the time is NOW.

Looking for silver linings during the pandemic

 

cloud-silver-lining
image via https://www.flickr.com

Hello again, Dear Readers! I’ve been laying low during the past weeks of lockdown, like so many of you across the planet. One the one hand, it’s been difficult to find words to express all that I’ve been thinking and feeling during the past several weeks. On the other, I hardly know where to begin to articulate all the emotions, observations and insights that have flowed consistently through my soul.

Such paradoxical times we are living through right now! As Dickens once famously wrote, “the best of times, the worst of times” seems to sum it up in broad terms. The news cycle continues to find every detail and nuance of the pandemic to report on, to the near exclusion of everything else. Not a healthy emotional diet to subject myself to, so I’ve started limiting the amount of Covid 19 news I can stomach in a day.

Now that spring has arrived here in Colorado’s Front Range and May is nearly upon us, the energy has shifted. People are outside much more, despite the stay-at-home order still in place. The lovely park near my home was filled with folks exercising in imaginative ways as they enjoyed the balmy spring temperatures. Many of us are by now simply wishing to get on with our regular lives, go back to the routines and work/school life we all relied on, and have the nightmare of Covid 19 get behind us. Yet, we are still in the middle of the crisis that has touched everyone in one way or another.

Working as a literacy tutor this school year, I, along with tens of thousands of other educators around the US have had a steep learning curve on how to hold virtual classes with students. I am very lucky to be working at a school district that already had many resources in place for virtual learning. Through the support of my wonderful coach and the whole team at Colorado Reading Corps, some of us have been able to transition to online tutoring. It was an extraordinary and joyous moment when I first saw my students’ faces and heard their sweet voices again after a month of lockdown with no contact. One of several miracles I’ve experienced during these stressful days.

I am looking for silver linings now, no matter how small or subtle. Gifts of this time include: the quiet of my inner city neighborhood and closing of certain streets, giving pedestrians and bicyclists the luxury of space to walk and ride on normally congested roads; an appreciation of the vastly improved air quality in town and clear skies for stargazing at night; time to simply be—to meditate, pray, dream, nap, and relax; the general slowdown of human life on Earth, enabling our precious Mama Gaia to take a necessary breath and begin to heal from the constant destruction inflicted upon her by nearly 8 billion human souls.

A beautiful example of a silver lining hidden within the crisis comes from NPR this weekend. They ran a story about a migrant worker from Nepal, who with tens of thousands of others, ended up stuck at the Northern Indian border during the lockdown. Unable to return home, the migrants were sheltering at a school converted into a temporary camp. But, unlike many people who become stranded at borders, these migrant workers were lucky to have some selfless teachers there to help teach them literacy skills. One man, Pratap Singh Bora, now in his mid-50s, had never learned to write or read as a child or youth. He had never learned to write his own name. But during the past weeks at the border camp, a teacher taught him, along with other workers who were also illiterate, the Hindi alphabet and basics of reading. Now, for the first time in this man’s life, he is able to write his own name. (read the full story here)

A huge silver lining to the Covid 19 pandemic is that it is showing all of us, in high relief, the areas of our common society that are sorely in need of radical shifts. The problems, and their potential solutions, have been in plain sight for years. Yet, the pandemic and emergency measures that have been put into place have exposed vast inequalities in such an extreme way that it is impossible to continue to ignore them in the same ways as before. It has shown the public how vital having a social safety net is, just how vital essential service workers truly are, and how taken for granted they have been by the rest of us. It has shown even more starkly, how broken our government system is at the federal level. Eventually, the pandemic will lessen and life will return to its usual bustling pace. But, life will not, cannot, return to how it was before the coronavirus time. This pandemic is changing all of us in ways we can’t yet know.

Record these days in whatever ways you can, Dear Readers. These days, weeks and months of 2020 are epic and life-changing for humanity as a whole. Notice all the silver linings in your own lives and celebrate every single one. Although we cannot yet hug each other because of social distancing, we can still smile while acknowledging our common joys and sorrows.