My nephew Orson is worried about his students. He has noticed that “distance learning” and “distance teaching” have some real short comings. It’s much harder to get the experience and practice it takes to get good at something in an electronic environment. I know that from my own experience. I once taught an online summer school English course. It was torture. I realized that to teach well remotely takes much more effort than teaching someone face-to-face. To teach badly remotely is the standard. Online learning depends almost entirely on the student being self-motivated and eternally optimistic, which is not the nature of most students, or most people for that matter.
I want to write all the time, but I don’t do it nearly as much as I ought to. Imagine what it must be like for a student who really just wants to hang out with friends and be intimate with sweethearts. The distance system of study is not going to come naturally.
Back in the old days we used to refer to the skills and content that students forgot over summer break as the summer slide. I even remember experiencing it myself on the first day back to my Junior year in high school. We were writing our “What I Did this Summer” essays, and I could not remember how to spell really simple words. As a teacher I often noted the same sort of creaky re-adjustment in my students in the fall. The funny thing was, it came back. Much of the stuff I lost, and my students lost, over the summer came back when we tried to use it. It’s a little like taking a break from working out. The longer the break, the worse the slide. If school does start back in the fall, the summer slide is likely to be disheartening. Still, it will feel good to be back in school. It will feel good to be back in an environment that’s really social and full of talk and possibilities. Students might even truly appreciate their teachers after wrangling with their parents for an extended period of time.
Beyond that, I remember plenty of things I learned in the summer that I really value. I learned how to do origami. I learned how to play dominoes. I learned how to make taffy. I learned how to drive. My Grandma Jones taught me how to make Ojos de Dios with toothpicks and thread or embroidery floss. I read Jane Eyre for the first time the summer of my Freshman year of high school. I usually resisted reading the assigned books in classes, but during the summer I could choose anything I wanted, and I loved it. I read romance and mystery. I also flew kites and swam in the river.
Since I retired, I have been acting a little like I’m on a long summer break. Only now, when mother and I are dealing with quarantine and living on our lovely little island on the corner, am I beginning to try and overcome a desperately long summer slide.
Tonight my prayers are with all the teachers, students, and parents who will be facing the losses of a historic summer break. Let them find a good way through the hedge maze of these unknown coming days, and let them learn things that will give them joy their whole lives to come.