The new normal in education

Picture from the Austrian National Library archives

Oh wow, it’s been quite a ride these past few weeks, months, year. Lotus Blossoming is one year old today and a lot has shifted, metamorphed, but core principles have stayed the same. Happy birthday to us!

I’ve been dabbling into a long interest of mine, pedagogy. Mostly because of this new boom in online learning and how schools and universities and families are adapting to this transient new time of stay at home parents and teaching methods that differ so much from the normals we were all used to. It’s interesting to note, and also good meme content, that there is two types of people right now: 1) The I-Do-Everything-And-Love-It type of person and 2) The Omg-We-Are-All-Doomed type of person, and some of us dwell between both extremes on normal days. Whether we’re doomed and do everything all the same, we are now learning how different it has been since the days of the stay-at-home moms with little ability to move between villages to talk to other people. We are all turn of the century stay-at-home moms now, whether we are dads, even have kids or are learning to parentify ourselves all over again, or even if we’re very strong masculine alpha-males with a Rottweiller for companionship.

The media has been mostly focusing on human inneficiency, I’ve noticed. From the inneficiency of governments, to population’s innefiency, to school teachers inneficiency, to parent’s inneficiency, to online teaching inneficiency, Covid-19 treatments inneficiency and most of all, humanity’s inneficiency to deal with a crisis. But nothing could be further from the truth: from where I’m standing I’m seeing a boom in community solutions, a boom in environmentally friendly solutions, a boom in important and relevant discussions, a boom in the interest of parents in their kids better development, a boom in the teaching methods and how e-learning platforms are contributing to helping a not-so-easy transition, a boom in online learning and credentials, a boom in government actions to actually be in favor of the working class (oh, Marx, you should come see this!), a boom in treatment methods to covid-19 and vacinne experiments, and also the wider but lesser known effects of a boom in critical thinking in the general not so critical population, a boom in personal development search and needs, a boom in emotional speaking and emotional awareness, so many booms it’s like we’re watching humanity’s own fireworks show from a distance.

But I want to focus on something from all this that I’ve noticed happened: all of a sudden, parents have time to be with their kids, families are getting to know one another, and most interesting of all parents are taking charge of their kids educations which (in case you disagree, let’s be serious about this) has been widely delegated to schools and teachers up until now.

So I found myself having a Facebook discussion (something I loathe for very personal reasons), about the importance of online teaching methods. Because someone in my family is a public University teacher, it has come to my attention that public University teachers are very misinformed about the realities of microcredentials and current worldwide online education, and the benefits of it to the wider populations across the world, who by any other means would not have access to this superior quality education. So my family member posted an opinion article of a local prestiged newspaper about how online learning cannot and will never substitute true teaching, how it’s a neoliberal attempt to take-over education and how teachers are being used in this manipulative scheme to be even more precarious and have even less of a say on how their teaching methods apply. This makes sense if you are not in the reality of online learning on a normal situation, and think online teaching rests on Zoom meetings with an incomprehensibly written white board behind you, cellphone intereference in your mic and your students all in pajamas drinking white wine for breakfast inside their coffee mugs to cope, while attempting to teach 4 to 5 classes a day all in a synchronistic endeavour with a colleague you hated but right now are forced to be friends with. But I think it makes sense that people are angry and want to attribute fault and most of all, want things to go back to what was normal before.

The article detailed the world wide phenomenon on how teachers worldwide are accepting this reality: from how inneficient online teaching is for certain social interactions that can only happen in the campus of a University, something I completely agree with; how the “use” of teaching methods can never be the same, something I partially agree with, and most of all, that online teaching is harming the whole school-teacher-student relationship that took so many centuries to build, something I disagree with but applaud the undermining effort. Regardless, the objective of the article was to undermine the wanting of online learning in favor of everything returning back to normal as soon as possible, because this new teaching reality is a nightmare for both teachers and students alike.

So, lets dive in a bit into the online teaching reality that is happening here and why I think teachers are misinformed: their approach is based on Zoom meetings, overwork in homework and assignments, uncomprehensible deadlines due to the uncertainty of the going-back-to-normal timetable and lack of structure on how to adjust to the online teaching methods, mostly due to ignorance on how to use online platforms from both teachers and students alike, and mostly, lack of interest in it by the institutions, who have been very adamant in undermining e-learning as a ridiculous fad and not suited for proper academia. Another issue in elementary, pre-school and highscool is the teaching through TV programs, which has been such a weird phenomenon that even biologists are writting letters to the public education sectors saying how innacurate what they are teaching is. Do we all remember being taught that inside the earth is a giant ball of melting lava? I do, I still resent it.

Those of us who have spent the past few years studying in online platforms are learning that there is a new normal for teaching: remote teaching and learning, worldwide connections and community of students and teachers alike, courses made by cooperation between universities, assyncronous deep and interesting discussions, new methods rooted in logical pedagogy adapted to today’s needs, and most of all, respectful of the student’s times, social and even psychological, social and financial needs, with not too many assingments, and a curriculum you build yourself according to your own assessment of time and need, with plenty of reasoning that you’ll pay by module and not semester, giving you enough time and money to complete a higher education degree in the time you actually have and can spare for it. This is my reality with online learning, which in contrast, is a relief in my education pursuit ever since I turned 18, which was rooted in overworking, frustration with courses, colleagues and teachers and too many beers and bongs and not enough will to go to classes on a normal day.

One interesting nuance I’ve found with online learning is that, the fact I can do things with a normal pace, with enough time for myself and my regular activities outside of the school environment, the more I’m willing to spend time in diving into the course’s subjects. The level of anxiety I had before in a campus university and the need for benzodiazepines and antidepressants have droped to a level 0 boss, like on a videogame. Another interesting fact concerning course content, is the more it is similar to regular campus content university, based on lectures and overworking assignments, the less I’m interested in the course content, but the more it is rooted in new and didactic methods of teaching, based on real-life assignments and quizzes on the content of what is taught, the easier it is for me to get better grades and actually learn the subjects matters.

(This I wrote above is also based on the sort of intelligence I have, I’m more of a naturalist who learns in touching, experimenting and a hands-on approach to learning, instead of intellectual memorization. Which is interesting, and there is actually a very comprehensive free online multiple intelligence and different personality test rooted in current cognitive psychology research, that if you’re interested you can check out here.)

Online learning is much better suited to the different intelligences we all have, our regular human needs and most of all, created by our generation which clearly knows the realities of public and private education and was, and is, fed up with it to a point that we all know worldwide education needs a redirecting explosive boom-like revolution in order to even begin to be in tune with student’s realities.

So, clearly, this article is not rooted in my reality of online teaching methods and learning capacities, and I wrote a reply stating that “this is a transient and impermanent time, that will not overrun the regular teaching campus university methods, but create new avenues for students all over the world to find better solutions for themselves”, very succintely paraphrasing here. Clearly I angered both my family member and a colleague of hers, because immediately they began to disagree very vividly, by saying that it’s a neoliberal attempt to overrun public education, and almost stating my role as a university online student is irrelevant to the discussion. They didn’t say it, but I know they thought it! It became clear that their only concern in fact, was the future of the public teacher role and they becoming themselves irrelevant in the grand-picture of things. Which is understandable.

So the discussion went forward and I found myself saying to myself “Can’t wait to divorce my family!”, which is a natural reaction given the wider reality of my family’s disfunction. The discussion ended for me when it was stated along the discussion that education is built for courses and not for students, and I then replied it would of benefit to both public and private education alike to be more sympathetic to student’s needs. So, all my replies after that were a repetition of the first sentence I wrote of “but this is temporary”, in which I added in my head: “chill out weird people”.

But new pedagogy methods are here, and are being widely accepted worldwide as a solution for the new academic normal students worldwide so desperately need. And a lot of Universities, even Public Universities, are catching the new wave of teaching methologies and learning how to apply different teaching methods and once-thought-alternative pedagogic ideals to the new normal of teaching and learning.

Another interesting turn of events, is how parents are so engaged in homeschooling right now that the normal venues which I frequent online for naturalistic types of teaching, from Waldorf, to Montessori, to Forest Schools, Outdoor Learning, and other methodologies are absolutely booming right now. Parents are realizing, once confronted with the realities of their kids as students and how innefective for their development it has been up until now.

I found myself asking my mother about my early childhood experience with school, and her telling me that my favorite part of the day was the Forest After-School Program I attended, which was basically rooted in Waldorf type of schooling as I remember it well – from art programs, to hours-long nature teaching, to understanding math and languages in a new way, dancing and puppeteering and other methodologies which was a breath of fresh air from sitting in a row and having a number and only speaking when talked to. I began to remember that one of my favorite songs as a pre-teen was Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” and the why that was.

The reality today is much more rooted in environmentally friendly environments, opposing the lack of naturalistic realities of regular Campus University teaching, in which you sit there for hours listening to someone speak and go home at the end of the day not remembering much of it. For some, that is widely accepted and even preferable. But as I see my friends and me realizing we can all have a change of heart and focus on life-long education and learning, for the clear idea that we can have multiple levels of understanding of things and not a single unique specialization, it’s a completely different normal in teaching and learning. I realized I want to focus on being a part of the new education revolution, and this renewed my interest in diving into pedagogy, which I will be writing more about in the coming months.

Also, as a celebration of Lotus’s First Year: we’re opening a space up in the near future, and between other things, also starting a Shared Knowledge School Charter, with weekly classes for starters. It should be interesting!

Here’s a “good morning” to you from this side of the atlantic pond.

About fear

We live in weird times. It’s like the comfortable rug was taken away from our feet and now we have to deal with the bare earth underneat all the concrete. For many of us, this can be seen as an opportunity. I’m aiming this time alone at restoring my piece of land, it will take a while, but I have time. Also, to invest some time in my studying. Some are invested in spreading fear and paranoia, others in their political agendas, others in just surviving another day.

So now, we have to deal with the emotion we all run from: fear. We all have it. Perfectly natural human response to threat, or perceived threat. One thing about it is that it hasn’t evolved much since we were simple baby making machines, instead of capital for capital machines. Once we were chased by cheetas, now we get letters from the energy company. Once we feared being eaten alive, now we fear solitude, poverty, insanity and social outcasting. Have you noticed how much of your time is spent making others like you, so you can excell in life and not one of those things happen to you? It’s like a cheeta is following you, and you’re running as fast as you can so it doesn’t catch you. This current financial system is a good tree to jump on in order not to be eaten. If you climb high enough, it’s possible you won’t ever need to deal with what’s in the lower realms of the branches, the cheeta for sure won’t catch you. The thing is, in the end, you’re human too, propense to getting sick and dying as the rest mere mortals that walk on this land, even if you jump from tree top to tree top.

I’m delighted about a lot of things that are happening, and facing with uncertaintity the following weeks and months to come. I thank God for my Mindfulness practice because it has helped me discern when to act and when to lay low, when to speak and what to say. I’ve learned that all we can really do right now to help others is spreading kindness and good deeds, as a community this will serve us well.

But I do fear. And thankfully, just enough to know we’re walking in unknown terrain. What comes after this? Who will jump forth and deal with the debris of what will fall? Who will build the new? Will it be indeed new, or more of the same?

I, for one, think most countries are dealing well enough with this pandemic to think the death toll won’t be that massive — I think countries like the US, UK, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, and others, have it worse. It has to do with that high horse and a stone on the road, no one was ready, the leaders incompetent, or in the case of Spain, distracted, and everyone kind of just goes along with it because well, that’s how it is. I don’t think this will be like the Spanish Flu or the Plague, but will for sure rock our boat enough in order to create change.

We are being globally called to make a difference right now, every single being on this rock floating in space wonderland. What do each of us has to offer that can make lasting goodness and create genuine global community?

Will we abide to Yuval Noah Harari’s predictions of mass surveillance, or will we help build a brighter future for ourselves? What do we fear enough, that blocks us? What do we fear enough, that propells us to move forward?

A funny thing that is happening as a consequence, here in sunny Portugal is how apartment hunting has gone down, and land buying has gone up. It’s a nice change, particularly due to the centralism we see here in urban settings.

Another interesting turn of events, is how little people are actually concerned with a globalized world. Much less than I ever though. It made me realize the rise of nationalism comes from the need to protect cultural community, just “a bit” misplaced through racism and xenophoby out of ignorance and fear. But what those human beings need is love, we all know it, we’ve been denying it, but it is just that. When a society is faced with a threat, everyone comes together for what we perceive as the common good, good sense, common sense. What is more common, but a community?

Going back to fear, it is a response to threat, a very valid one. Like a protective mechanism that allows us to think twice about how to act in the world, how to respond appropriately and react accordingly. Fear is great. Too much of it freezes us, makes us fight for our lives ou flee to security, but just enough of it, makes us reconnect with our priorities. But also, too much of it, makes us deny compassion and empathy and turn to paranoia, hate spreading and other unuseful human tools of social survival, like bulk toilet paper buying of all things. “Because I’m better than you, can you see that?” That is coming to a halt, right now. We are all needed in different degrees, even the toilet paper hoarders. At least, they will have the toilet paper!

It’s also a valid response when it comes to realizing our importance in our circles of influence. For one, we start to understand the value of affection, compassion and empathy and start realizing we want to be close to the ones dear to us. Two, we start to understand how neighbourly connections are important for our survival. And three, we understand how global community efforts in time of worldly upheavel are so important, that they’re crutial for a well oiled society. Without these three things, it will all collapse on a local scale.

Fear is wonderful right now, it is keeping us alive.

Wash your hands, folks. Use your masks. Stay home. Plant a garden.