By Mary Yorke Oates, Director of Admissions, Charlotte Latin School
More than a year ago, in late January of 2020, our school nurse talked to me about this strange virus that was spreading around the world. She cautioned me about hosting tours — a staple in the world of admission — and offered a few ideas. We could consider canceling them, which in the land of making first impressions seemed cold and inhospitable or we could give them by employing “social distancing.”
“What the heck is social distancing?” I asked.
“Staying 6 feet apart.”
I am sure I shook my head.
“That is even less hospitable than canceling,“ I replied.
Fifteen months later and with 6-feet apart the new normal, I stand by my first reaction. Social distancing is not very friendly. And while it has worked to combat spread, it has definitely created a barrier for connections.
I never thought I would hesitate to shake someone’s hand or pat a child on the back. No high-fives on the hockey field or bear hugs when someone tumbles down. Adding the glossy or grainy screen between teacher and child, with the bizarre micro-second lag of transmission, only confuses the brain more. The words distance and learning are in clear competition with one another.
Sure, we can push out Algebra. Sure, we can edit papers through Google Docs. And sure, we can prevent huge interruptions in curriculum when protocol says, “You are stuck in quarantine. Don’t come back.”
Again, pretty unfriendly.
And when all the information — delicate, confusing and sensitive at times — has to be delivered from a distance, we don’t get to soften the disappointments with a gesture of touch or nuance.
Technology has been a saving grace to schools and businesses that can afford to support it, deliver it and, for those with the ability to receive it. It has created a class of people more capable and better trained on platforms once foreign. My 88-year-old mother can read her Bible on an app and log in to Sunday school. My four-year-old friends know how to tilt the laptop screen down to show me their pencil grip. My Magnus Health screening app recognizes my face!
I am grateful for all of these things. Technology has kept me engaged, albeit from a distance.
Teachers, and even administrators, have reported that class management is easier in some respects. Six feet and no touching goes a long way in the lego corner when Billy has the lever that Sam wants. And as much as I dreaded phone calls from the teacher that my child had pushed someone or snatched something, I know now that those are transgressions that can only happen if personal space is invaded; I also know they may be some of the most important lessons of childhood.
I never thought I would say it, but gosh I long for the days when I can separate a squabble, not to mention lend a hand, or crowd together with six of my favorite Lower School friends in the back of a classroom to watch the class hamster be the one spinning on a never-ending wheel. What is most clear to me is this fact: that hamster and I have a lot in common these days.
Educators have long known that “hands-on learning,” singing, movement, and small group workshops are key to absorbing information. For the young child, learning engages all the senses and distance learning only accounts for two: seeing and hearing. If my mother’s warning from my childhood that sitting too close to the enormous console television might make me go blind during a thirty-minute program, I wonder what the heck an iPad in the hands of a pre-reader can do six hours a day?
With hope on the horizon, my colleagues and I dream about the day we get to disband the malapropism “distance learning.” While I have a newfound appreciation for webinars and certifications that can be done from my desk, when it comes to working with children, and especially young children, the only apt term should be “smushed-together learning.”